Remembering Gordon Lightfoot in Orillia

Remembering Gordon Lightfoot in Orillia

Canada’s troubadour, singer-songwriter, and international folk legend, Gordon Lightfoot once called Orillia home and never forgot those humble beginnings. Lightfoot often returned to Orillia to perform at the Mariposa Folk Festival, Orillia Opera House, community events and fundraisers, or just to stop by for a visit. He never forgot his hometown, and it never forgot him. Visitors and locals alike have explored the Sunshine City for decades sharing stories and experiences of Gordon Lightfoot and his music. If you find yourself in Orillia, looking to celebrate the author of Canada’s great songbook, we’ve compiled a list of places where Lightfoot’s legacy lives on.

Orillia Opera House – Lightfoot Auditorium & Bronze Bust Sculpture

In his youth, Lightfoot started out performing in church choirs, then in a barbershop quartet called “The Teentimers” during his time at ODCVI, and then as the local duo “The Two Tones” with Terry Whelan. The Orillia Opera House stage was one of his first performance venues, and one he would return to many times in his illustrious career. In October 1997, the venue’s large auditorium was renamed the Gordon Lightfoot Auditorium to commemorate “Orillia’s most famous son”. Five years later, he was set to perform at the Orillia Opera House in 2002 when he suffered from a life-threatening aneurysm. After a miraculous recovery, Lightfoot would go on to perform again at the Opera House and in 2017 a bronze bust sculpture, by world-renowned portrait sculpture Gino Cavicchioli, was erected outside the entrance of the Orillia Opera House.



J.B. Tudhope Memorial Park – Golden Leaves Sculpture

Orillia’s Tudhope Park runs along the shores of Lake Couchiching and has become the current home of the Mariposa Folk Festival. It is also home to the four-metre tall bronze sculpture by Timothy P. Schmalz entitled “Golden Leaves“. Out on the point of the park’s peninsula, the sculpture depicts more than 26 songs, primarily from the album “Gord’s Gold”, visualized through scenes on maple leaves encircling the artist himself, sitting cross-legged with guitar in hand. The sculpture was unveiled in 2015 to nearly 700 spectators and can be visited at any time at the park.



Mariposa Folk Festival

The Grand Dame of folk festivals has hosted some of the top folk musicians in the world, but none so belovedly (or often) as Gordon Lightfoot. Both started from humble beginnings in Orillia in 1961 and though Lightfoot auditioned for the inaugural festival with his singing partner Terry Whelan, they were not accepted to the festival. In Lightfoot’s words, they were rejected as they sounded “too much like the Everly Brothers, which we took as a compliment.” Lightfoot did go on to play the festival solo the following year and throughout the festival’s nomadic time over the next few decades.

After its time away, the Mariposa Folk Festival set to return to Orillia in 2000 and Gordon Lightfoot agreed to not only headline the festival but donate his time to do so. After that, Lightfoot returned to the festival at Tudhope Park year after year, either as a headliner, “surprise guest”, or purely as a spectator. Everyone has a “Gord Sighting” story – be it his iconic 2007 performance in a turbulent storm or inadvertently finding him enjoying a workshop under a shady tree. In 2022, Lightfoot was inducted into Mariposa’s Hall of Fame and musicians and attendees alike congregated at the festival to celebrate Lightfoot’s legacy. The Mariposa Folk Festival continues as a gathering place for all who remember him and carry on that hometown pride.



Lightfoot Trail System

Gordon Lightfoot always held cherished memories of his time growing up in Orillia. Upon visits to the city, he would recount slice of life stories of his youth in the city. The Lightfoot Trail System is part of the Trans-Canada Trail, and expands across Orillia as a multi-use trail to take in the sights of the town. 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.



Learn more about Lightfoot’s Legacy


Step through Orillia’s historic downtown for even more scatterings of Gordon Lightfoot’s impact throughout our local community. In the summer months, visitors may find public street art from Streets Alive Productions with odes to Orillia’s hometown hero. Stop in at the Orillia Museum of Art & History to see a pop-up display of Lightfoot’s legacy and pick up local books featuring stories of Gordon Lightfoot including The Mariposa Folk Festival by Mike Hill, The History of Orillia in 50 Artefacts and more.


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