We started the morning with a “Dr. Leacock I Presume?” event at the Leacock Museum, with Jenny, Alex and Tom. It turned into more of an harangue than a workshop, because they were delightfully receptive and wanted to know all that we had learned in the months past. This was an harangue well harangued, because these are the folks who will interpret to visitors at the old Leacock summer home.
Then on to the Public Library for an “Unsolved Riddles” talk-and-tell, with a lively group of five. It has occurred to us, and we said to them, that Orillia is perhaps the most difficult place anywhere to talk about Stephen Leacock, because he is someone they know, at least by local reputation and, in the case of the tourist people, by some extent of branding. The Stephen Leacock they know is theirs, and they are perfectly entitled to hug him to their breasts, and to resent efforts to import another one. Stephen Leacock is wide, he contains multitudes (cf. Walt Whitman) and the one they remember is quite okay with us.
He is not the one we carry, however, and we would like them to know about him, and perhaps even elaborate their own. Because local memory and branding tend, quite naturally, to somewhat more diminished, simply through the natural processes by which local memory and branding become established and maintained. The Stephen Leacock of Sunshine Sketches has become immensely important to Orillia, in many ways, not least because many people believe that Mariposa is, or may be, Orillia.
Our Stephen Leacock tries embrace the man of the other 52 books, the 1,500 articles and pieces, and the 800 public lectures and speeches, the man of well researched and serious ideas as well as humour, the man of The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and the Plan for the Depression as well as My Financial Career and all the others.
So far no one has risen up to smite us for our attempts to enlarge on the local guy, wo we’ll keep doing it. I suspect that our interactions with the Orillia Leacockians are only beginning, even though the supper concert tomorrow will be the end for this round.
At the very least we will be back to wade through the magnificent Leacock Museum collection. We will be suggesting that a little TLC for the collection, and particularly its catalogue, would serve the community and Canadian literary interest well, would attract the right kind of attention, and might even make them a doubloon or two by attracting people to it. Preservation is vital, cataloguing is vital, interpretation is the revenue generator. The facility and its park are glorious. We can only admire what Orilllia has done with them. Much work remains to take advantage of the base they create.
Stephen Leacock would not want to be thought of simply as an personage of cultural heritage, although he is that. He would not begrudge Orillia its desire to make money and live well out of his work. After all, he did that, and spread the benefit around liberally. Orillia deserves its share, which is within reach, with simply a little investment in money and effort.