Road Trip: Orillia Ontario

I recently traveled to Orillia, Ontario. Orillia, known as the "Sunshine City" is a summer destination city 1.5 hours from Toronto situated between the "Twin Lakes" Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching. Famous for being home to folk singer Gordon Lightfoot as well as humourist Stephen Leacock, it is also "in town" from where my parents live and a city I know very well. One of the best things about Orillia is their ability to throw a street party on the downtown strip. They close it a few times each summer and the street is packed for various fairs and events.

I wanted to check out the Orillia Museum of Art and History who are currently hosting an exhibition called The Hidden Shilling. Arthur Shilling is from Rama, a native reserve across the lake from Orillia, which is where my parents live. I grew up knowing his work as he is somewhat of a local art celebrity. I found a National Film Board documentary about him at the local library as a kid and have been fascinated with his style ever since. This show is made up of works from private collections that have not been recently exhibited. It included a few self portraits, some sketches and comics and a number of significant portrait works. 

Shilling was a successful artist, quite prolific and was inspired by what he called "the beauty of [his] people." He wanted to inspire pride and togetherness in his community, and as a result his colourful style of painting isn't easily compared to other art that was being produced in the 1960s. He studied and worked in Toronto, but eventually returned to his home to build a studio and settle to have children. 

Shilling's widow Millie still resides at the artist's studio/home in Rama Ontario. She appeared last summer in Southampton, Ontario where a major exhibition of his work was held. Shilling traveled to Southampton to study art as a youth and maintained a connection to the area. His sons Travis and Bewabon are also artists, who showed alongside their father at the Southampton gallery showing. They both work in Toronto and Rama Ontario.

I have always found his style inspiring and it influences my painting as well. Not accurately called impressionism, it is vibrant, expressive work that is moving and emotional. He has a way of capturing the depth and beauty of human emotion with swatches of colour and I can't accurately compare his work to any other artist I know of. Probably compared to expressionism or impressionism, it is infused with the region and culture of his life and that presents a distinct style to the work. In person it is interesting to see the contrast in how his paintings appears up close and how it changes and evolves as you stand back. The exhibition is on until October 29th so if you have a chance and are headed through Orillia, be sure to stop in and see this impressive show.

On the same day I went to see the Shilling exhibition, the Classic Car Show was also happening. Bringing in over 400 cars, the entire downtown is filled with Cadillacs, guys who seriously love Elvis and a number of old muscle cars too varied in finish to mention. My favourite car was probably a Studebaker, who were in business from 1852 until 1966. I believe it was this model, a mid-1960's Studebaker Gran Tourismo Hawk.

The Gran Tourism Hawk was considered competition for the Ford Thunderbird and Pontiac Grand Prix. One of the last models of Studebaker manufactured, it did not sell enough to save the company who were already in bad a financial state. In 1964, the last year of production, less than 2000 were sold, whereas the Thunderbird sold almost 100,000 units.

The car isn't really a famous car. I thought I'd see if any film characters or celebrities were associated with the car, and while I didn't find that I did find something online I wasn't expecting, the Internet Movie Car Database, a database of what films cars appeared in. Fascinating! Here's the result for this car.

If you are planning to make a trip to Orillia, there's a few things you should be sure to catch. Here are some links to my recommended stops, other than the usual fare of fishing, swimming and boating.

Mariposa Market - best bakery, cool shop, excellent candy selection, authentic tin roof, old timey goodness
Era 67 - best restaurant in town with a great menu and unique take on local ingredients
Orillia Opera House - a real opera house with theatre throughout the summer season
Plum Loco Vintage Clothing - 114 Mississauga St E
Carousel Collectibles - vintage stuff! 
Downtown Orillia Farmer's Market - a great one that is year 'round.
Guide to Downtown Orillia Events - Starry Night is a favourite of mine

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