Re-Tour Day Three: Orillia Day Two

Only one event today, instead of the two we had planned.

The concert in the evening at the Leacock Museum went very well, with 22 people present and apparently enjoying themselves.

We had intended to hang out at the Public Library around mid-day, but ran into a crisis with our Leacock display, one of whose large panels broke. We therefore had to replace it, and the other large one, because we couldn’t match the originals. This took quite some running around, followed by hasty re-arranging with the help of facilities at Staples. We made it, but the Public Library went unvisited, much to the disappointment of at least one person who came looking for us. We were fortunately able to explain things to her later.

Afterwards back to base near Craighurst with more conversation and gracious hospitality until we went to bed rather later than would be convenient the next morning.

If anything of lasting Leacockian significance happened this day we haven’t thought of it yet.



Day Two: First Orillia Day: Events and Conversations

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.

Day One: Towards Orillia via Sibbald’s Point, Ontario

Thursday, October 19, 2017: On the Road

To go from Northern Bruce Peninsula, where we live, to Orillia, where we will launch our Re-Tour (see is more straight-forward than most routes in southern Ontario. This is thanks to Georgian Bay, over which the voyaging crow would have to fly if he wanted to do it his way. The motorist must loop around the shore, and once on the other side Orillia is not far away.

Lake Simcoe, south of Orillia, which lies in the way of many routes across northern southern Ontario, does not need to interfere this time, but we made it do so. We sent around the south of the lake in order to visit Leacock’s grave.

Triumphs for the day: Everything fit in the car; weather was glorious, warm and sunny; traffic was tolerable except coming back through Bradford when we encountered Bradford’s rush hour — stop and go for a while; First Conversation of the Re-Tour with Peter Sibbald Brown, and what a good one!

Leacock is buried in the churchyard at Sibbald’s Point. The church is remarkable.

No time to write more. Orillia events begin soon. These posts will evolve. Or not, as the case may be.





Stephen Leacock Re-Tour Preview Divines Audience Tastes

Recapitulating, the Re-Tour Previews began October 5th in Owen Sound, dashed down to Lion’s Head on October 11th, then set off last Friday, October 13th, on a loop through southern Ontario, visiting Harriston, Fergus, Guelph (14th) and Burlington (15th). The expedition returned to base mid-day today. The entire loop was 475 kleacocks.

A reminder that a kleacock is one kilometer travelled in pursuit of Stephen Leacock.

In Burlington we received a most notable addition to our party: a bust of Stephen Leacock himself, rescued from an impending dumpster by Karen Blair of Storytelling Toronto many years ago and carefully nurtured until a suitable home could be found. She decided we were that home, and travelled all the way out on the GO train in order to pass him along. We therefore now have a physical representation of the man, so that when we collect his ghost, as we hope to do, from the graveyard on Thursday the 19th, he can remain as ectoplasmic, or not, as he chooses. Thank you Karen!

We presented two of our Talk-and-Tell events, called The Unsolved Riddle(s) of Stephen Leacock, in public libraries in Fergus and Guelph. We presented two of our A Field of Mariposies Concerts in Harriston, at the public library, and in Burlington at A Different Drummer Books. Our local partners were Wellington County Libraries (Harriston and Fergus), Guelph Public Library, the Burlington Storytelling Guild (thanks to Brenda Byers), and the bookstore.

We say it now, and will say it again, and again, and again: this Re-Tour would not have happened had we not received such enthusiastic response and support from our local partners. We are now prepared to claim, on the basis of Preview experience, that the audiences amply repaid their commitment. They were wonderful. They had a great time, and so did we.

We are ready for Leacock’s ghost when he joins us on Thursday, if he will, and can assure him a most gratifying time. We desire that people should remember him, not in some diminished way, but in his full breadth. It looks as if we are succeeding, so far at least.

Thursday the whole shebang begins. Please join us in Orillia on Friday and Saturday. We’ll be there, ready to add to your Knowledge, stimulate your Imagination, and arose your Compassion, just as Stephen Leacock would have wanted.

Stephen Leacock Re-Tour Preview Roars in Lion’s Head

by Paul Conway, Voyageur Storytelling
Thursday, October 12, 2017

For a tour that is all about long distance, this preview was a piece of cake. Twenty-five kleacocks each way from our home, a familiar hall attached to the Anglican Church with comfortable chairs for the audience, a room full of people we know: this was as easy as it is going to get.

A kleacock, by the way, is simply one kilometre travelled for the remembering of Stephen Leacock, the full remembering, not the fragmentary, diminished kind.
There’s a pleasant anecdote out of the University Club in Montréal, Leacock’s favourite watering (actually scotching), billiarding and conversing hole. Shortly before his death the Club board met to consider granting him an honorary life membership. Some board members were concerned about the precedent such a move would set. They were uncomfortable, both ways. Finally one member set their minds at rest. The concern about precedent must mean, he said, that they expected one day to see another Stephen Leacock. The Board then promptly and unanimously voted to make him an honorary life member.

When Stephen Leacock wrote about Lion’s Head, which he did once, he had trouble with the name, and only the vaguest idea of the location. It was “a little place called Something- Head”, somewhere out beyond Wiarton.

The lion’s head for which the place was named must indeed have roared mightily when it fell into Georgian Bay, one hundred or so years ago, but has been quiet since then. The audience at our preview last night did however roar most heart-warmingly, with laughter of course, because the stories were by Stephen Leacock.

We performed our “A Field of Mariposies” concert, straight through, with a minimum of chat. We made it with only a few pauses to acknowledge our aging memories, only one of them severe. The willingness of well-known bits of text to vanish as if off the face of the earth (a Leacock phrase) at the crucial moment is a new phenomenon for us, not a welcome one. But I suppose we must expect new phenomena of this kind, at our age.
It turned out that Stephen Leacock was just the right shade for many in this audience, those who had earlier that day attended the funeral of the rector-pastor of the Anglican-Lutheran parish, killed by a careless motorist while riding his motorcycle along the Ferndale flats. A sad day, relieved by laughter.

The two longest, laughingest stories in this performance came from Nonsense Novels, the second of Leacock’s humorous collections, published in 1911 when he was forty-two. In the Preface he expressed the hope that for his readers “this little book may bring some passing amusement in hours of idleness, or some brief respite when the sadness of the heart or the sufferings of the body forbid the perusal of worthier things.” For these listeners, it seems it did.

A Ghostly Presence Presents: Stephen Leacock to Re-Appear in Western Canada

In November and December of 1936 Stephen Leacock appeared in the flesh in western Canada for the first time. From Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay) to Victoria and seven cities in between he regaled audiences with his humour and challenged their thinking with his ideas. People expected a humorist, and got one. They may or may not have expected a teacher and a pundit.

In October and November of 2017 Leslie Robbins-Conway and Paul Conway, who are Voyageur Storytelling of Northern Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, will represent him in presentations of his wit and ideas along the same route. They do not pretend to impersonate Stephen Leacock, only to represent him, by performing his works and talking about his ideas.

Stephen Leacock died in 1944. His presence on this “Re-Tour” will be in the spirit, as what he called a phantasm, phanogram, phanogrammatical manifestation, psycho-phantasmal phenomenon, or perhaps even a phantoid.

He himself was sceptical of all suggestions of an etherial existence in any real sense. Re-Tour audiences need not be. Stephen Leacock’s spirit remains fully vibrant among us through his fifty-three books, most of which can be found on-line, and through dedicated performers such as Leslie and Paul.

The Re-Tour will launch from Orillia on October 20th-21st, and proceed to Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Vancouver, and Victoria, ending back in Vancouver on November 28th. The weather in northern Ontario, the prairies, and the mountains will, of course, be glorious and snow-free at that time of year, at least some of the time. Leslie and Paul are old hands, however, and know the country.

Looking across the range of their different events, the Stephen Leacock they present will be the full one, a man of humour, as is well known, but also a man of ideas and opinions, some still relevant, some not. Times change and ideas evolve, like the living organisms they are. He himself evolved in his exceptionally energetic lifetime, from a teacher of modern languages, to a political economist, to a social-political economist, to a primitive articulation of the need for enviromental-social-political economics, a scope highly relevant to our times. His role in the progression of these ideas may be largely forgotten, but it was real.

He never pulled them all together with a catchy label. He was not that kind of thinker. He came close in 1919 when, in the shadow of World War I and its aftermath, he wrote a book called The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. In the “thinker” parts of their Re-Tour, Leslie and Paul, with the help of their participants, will develop the idea of a “General Theory of Unsolved Riddles”. He laid the foundations, but the edifice remains unbuilt.

In the “laughter” parts they will perform his works and tell his stories, the cream of them, the ones that ensure that however narrow his memory may become, it will never entirely die away. When at his best, he reigns supreme. Leslie and Paul have a style in performing his humorous works, which is to set them to music and perform them together, along with more conventional storytelling. Their performances are thus highly diverse.

You can find details on their web site,

Stephen Leacock Re-Tour Strikes Owen Sound

by Paul Conway, Voyageur Storytelling
Friday, October 6th, 2017
Stephen Leacock’s narrators are frequently being struck. “It struck me with a thrill of indescribable terror that Annerly had seen Q.” “Then it suddenly struck me that of the figures on the street, all had looked alike.” Not to mention more physical kinds of striking, as by sausages, bananas, lightning, etc.
If the audiences at our two events in Owen Sound yesterday were struck by anything except the brilliance and funny of the man, they gave no evidence. They laughed and clapped and joined in the singing and generally carried on in a most gratifying way. We were struck again, as we often have been, by what extraordinarily nice people come to our performances.
Not that everything went entirely smoothly. We were putting on a pair of firsts, both designed for our impending (a Leacock word) Re-Tour of western Canada. The whole idea began when we were struck by the coincidence (as Leacock’s characters often are) that 2017 is exactly the 81st anniversary of Stephen Leacock’s only visit to western Canada. He had reached the age of 67 in a long and brilliant speaking career without venturing west of the Lakehead.
The fact that this year also celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation, not to mention the 147th of Manitoba’s entry thereinto, the 146th of British Columbia’s, and the 112th of Saskatchewan’s and Alberta’s, made for a whole series of numerological coincidences, too striking to ignore.
In the afternoon we held a “Talk-and-Tell” where we unrolled for the first time our hypothesis about Stephen Leacock’s General Theory of Unsolved Riddles. It permeates his writing from his 1903 Ph.D. thesis on The Doctrine of Laissez-Faire, which launched his career as a political economist, through several striking books both academic and humorous, until it leaped into full view in The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice in 1920. Our participants seemed struck by the ingenuity and plausibility of the hypothesis.
Then in the evening we performed, for the first time, our new storytelling concert, called “A Field of Mariposies”. A “mariposie”, in our vernacular, is a story (or song, or poem) by or about Stephen Leacock.
Leslie and I were not, if the truth be told, quite as polished as we like to be, and as we trust we will be when the Re-Tour actually launches on October 20th, in Orillia. But that didn’t seem to matter to this audience, many of them familiar with our work. “We love it,” said one to Leslie afterwards, “when you two make mistakes.” How striking is that?
We did not expect to find Leacock’s ghost hovering about on this occasion, because as far as we know he never came to Owen Sound—never came closer than Meaford, in May of 1917, on behalf of Belgian Relief.
His spirit was there, however, in the generosity and laughter of the audience, and the quite respectable collection of his books in the Owen Sound and North Grey Union Public Library, all arranged in display by the staff in the entrance-way to the hall.
We were struck by the reality that Stephen Leacock may be largely forgotten in some circles, but not there, not last night.