Arts & Culture

Orillia's long standing arts and culture scene is interwoven throughout the fabric of the City's history. Once called home to Group of Seven painter Franklin Carmichael, world-renowned sculptor Elizabeth Wyn Wood, literary humourist Stephen Leacock, and international folk legend Gordon Lightfoot, Orillians have nurtured and celebrated their relationship with the arts for over a century.

Here are a few ways you can explore the City's cultural side.


Public art sculpture in tribute to Gordon LightfootOrillia Arts District

Perfectly situated within the heart of the City's cultural hub, downtown Orillia, the Arts District encompasses over two blocks of independent galleries, studios, and creative spaces.

The district is also a home to the annual living art project, Streets Alive, which presents life-sized sculptures throughout the downtown core from spring to fall with a dedicated theme. With the help of sponsorships by local businesses, several iconic pieces from prior festivals are permanently erected throughout the City. It’s in the downtown core where one of the event’s most recognized pieces is situated, four towering sculptures presented in the form of hand-painted letters that spell out the word GORD.  

Keep an eye out for additional pop-up installations from Streets Alive, including holiday-themed creations during December and special tributes throughout the year.

District directory Streets Alive Festival


Public art sculpture depicting deer familyPublic art piece on Orillia's trails

Public Art

Orillia packs a robust public art scene which populates the City's winding waterfront trails, major points of interest, and heritage sites. If you're looking to take a self-guided tour, follow the City's Public Art Map, which pinpoints 18 original artworks leading up to 2022. These installations are featured both outdoors and within public art spaces such as the Orillia Recreation Centre and City Hall.

The newest addition to Orillia's public art lineup, Crossroads, Connections, and Intersections is a series of 9 original art works installed at 7 sites in 2023. With the City’s strategic location along the shores of the historic Trent-Severn Waterway, between Highways 11 and 12, the Trans-Canada Trail, and within the heart of the four neighbouring communities, Oro-Medonte, Ramara, Severn, and Rama First Nation, this public art project acknowledges Orillia's history as a gathering place for Indigenous peoples for more than 5000 years. These installations can be toured with the series' own art map.

Public Art Map Crossroads, Connections, and Intersections


Orillia Opera House buildingOrillia Opera House

For over 100 years the Orillia Opera House has served as a cultural hub for the City's residents and visitors. The largest and only professional live theatre venue north of Toronto, the historic theatre brings a long lineup of international names to the stage year-round.

Weekly shows include concerts, comedy, live theatre, and dance performances. Each year, a new professional live Summer Theatre series begins, where three hilarious and heartwarming shows are brought to life on stage featuring an impressive lineup of Canadian actors. 

The theatre is also a frequent venue for the over 50-year-old community theatre group, Mariposa Arts Theatre. With sold out shows nearing 700 seats, MAT has received rave reviews for their impressive renditions of big name productions such as Chicago and Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Picture Show. Check out what's coming up next from the theatre group on their website mariposaartstheatre.com.

See what's coming up next Summer Theatre 


Artist performing on main stage at Roots North Music FestivalMusic scene

Orillia's live music scene packs a robust lineup of Canadian talents who perform at various late-night pubs, restaurants, and major annual festivals and events. Pop a seat at the bar for some weekly live shows, check out what bands are coming up at St. Paul's Centre, or, drop into one of the City's many special events

If you're looking to see what local talent is playing at a venue near you, head to Local and Live 365 to search Orillia's listing. A monthly music flyer can also be found at downtown Orillia's Alleycats Music & Art

Every spring, the Roots North Music Festival kicks off the festival season. This one-of-a-kind music event brings dozens of artists to perform across both paid and free stages throughout downtown Orillia and beyond in celebration of Ontario's deep-rooted love for live music. Main stage passes grant you access to headliner performances at St. Paul's Centre Friday and Saturday evenings, while pop-up shows are hosted over four days at local shops, restaurants, bars, and breweries. 

Into the summer season, a variety of events hosted by the Port of Orillia, Downtown Orillia, and the Orillia Farmers' Market incorporate free live music into their events. And of course, summer marks the return of the grand dame of folk festivals, the Mariposa Folk Festival. Check out our events page see what else is coming up.

Local and live music Roots North Music Festival St. Paul's Centre


Gordon Lightfoot

Canada's troubadour, international folk-legend, and Orillia's favourite son Gordon Lightfoot was born and raised in the Sunshine City and has left an indelible mark on the City's cultural makeup. If you're in town and looking to tour the folk legend's early beginnings and public tributes, here are a few places to get started:

The Golden Leaves Statues

Gifted to the City of Orillia by the Rudolph P. Bratty Family Foundation, this 4 metre high bronze sculpture by artist Timothy Schmalz depicts over 26 songs from the Lightfoot songbook in the form of small leaves which border a sculpture of Gord playing his guitar. Located at the furthermost shoreline of Tudhope Park along the Millennium Trail, this sculpture has had two additions to its collections, The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald and Black Day in July. These complimentary sculptures depict carved scenes from each song onto a bronze maple leaf.

To learn more about the sculptures and plan your visit, please visit GoldenLeaves.ca

Golden Leaves Statues at Tudhope Park Golden Leaves Statues at Tudhope Park

Orillia Opera House

Created by world-renowned sculptor Gino Cavicchioli, Lightfoot's bronze bust is situated outside the historic Orillia Opera House, a venue which boasts a long history of performances from the singer songwriter dating back to his Opera House debut during an 8th grade talent show. Inside the theatre lobby, the inscription for the Lightfoot Auditorium - of which was named in 1997 - can be found on a brass-cut guitar below the theatre's grand staircases. 

For a peek behind the scenes, the Orillia Opera House offers historical building tours where you can take a look at the very piano Lightfoot trained on as a young artist, donated by his music teacher. Backstage, over a thousand signatures from prior performers line the historic brick walls. One of which, though they won't tell you where, belongs to Lightfoot. 

Lightfoot Bronze bust at the Orillia Opera House

St. Paul's Centre

Lightfoot attributes his affinity for music as originating from his time as a young choir boy at St. Paul's United Church. These historic halls remained a special place for Lightfoot and his family throughout his life, and despite his international fame, the church remained Lightfoot's requested location for a service after his passing. 

St. Paul's Centre is a hub of cultural activity in Orillia today. Home to the annual Roots North Music Festival, the 400-seat Great Hall also hosts concerts, workshops, cultural events, and public services throughout the year.

Lightfoot Trail Network

Orillia’s existing trail network, part of the Trans Canada Trail System, is named the Lightfoot Trail. It is composed of granular and asphalted trail sections. The existing linear asphalt trail system through Orillia is referred to as the Millennium Trail, whereas the remaining separate asphalt trail spurs and granular trails are referred to as the Lightfoot Trail. The Lightfoot Trail system connects to the Uhthoff Trail in the north, the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail in the south-west and the Ramara Trail in the east. 

A signpost depicting one of the network's trailheads can be found at the Leacock Museum National Historic Site. 

 

Lightfoot Trail signpost

Streets Alive Festival

Each year, the Streets Alive Festival returns from spring to fall with an astounding 50+ hand-painted sculptures from local artists. These installations like the downtown Orillia streets and are dedicated to an annual theme.

In 2023, after the passing of Gordon Lightfoot, Streets Alive curated their newest project, "A Painter Passing Through" in tribute to the folk legend. Over 60 hand painted guitar sculptures lined the core, along with four large letters that spelled out GORD. 

Select pieces, in thanks to sponsorships from local businesses, remain permanently installed during the year. Visit the Streets Alive Productions Facebook page to view a gallery of the season's pieces and keep up to date with new installations.

Gordon Lightfoot tribute art piece

Mariposa Folk Festival

An frequent performer at the "grand dame" of folk festivals, Lightfoot is recognized for his contributions in ensuring this annual music event survived the changing of times. His first performance at the festival dates back to 1962, and was followed up with dozens more shows before his final festival in 2022. In honour of the singer songwriter's remarkable contributions to folk music, culture, and the event itself, the festival's main stage has since been dubbed the Lightfoot Stage. 

For a deep dive into musician's esteemed history with the festival, visit the Mariposa Folk Festival webpage The Gordon Lightfoot Connection.

Gordon Lightfoot live at the Mariposa Folk Festival

Gordon Lightfoot performing at the Mariposa Folk Festival, photography by Kerry Jarvis.


Looking for help? 

Email: visit@orillia.ca
Facebook: @VisitOrillia
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Visitor Information: (705) 238-8761
Orillia Opera House, 1 West St. N. Orillia, ON. L3V 3A6
Current hours: Thursday to Saturday, 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.
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© City of Orillia, 50 Andrew Street South, Suite 300, Orillia, Ontario, L3V 7T5, Tel: (705) 325-1311, Fax: (705) 325-5178, Email: info@orillia.ca

By GHD Digital