News Local

Orillia Library kicks off 150th celebrations with inventions exhibit

Mehreen Shahid

By Mehreen Shahid, Special to the Packet & Times

A collection of items are on display all January as part of Orillia 150th Launch, which was held Saturday at the Orillia Public Library.

MEHREEN SHAHID/THE PACKET & TIMES A collection of items are on display all January as part of Orillia 150th Launch, which was held Saturday at the Orillia Public Library.

The rattling items in the back of Gordon Brown's station wagon got the wheels in his mind turning on an invention to capture the loose items.

After testing prototypes and producing a net from the rope made at his factory, Brown was successful in inventing the first cargo net for car trunks.

"We were making rope in those days," said Barbara Brown, Gordon's widow, who was at the Orillia Public Library for its Orillia 150th Launch. "So he said, 'If we can make rope, we can make a net.'"

And just with that one thought, he became one of the many inventors and innovators who were being celebrated through the event Saturday.

The library will celebrate Orillia's sesquicentennial with a different theme each month, giving visitors a chance to indulge in local history.

"This month is creativity, innovation, invention and industry," said Jayne Turvey, community services co-ordinator at the library. "We partnered with the Orillia Heritage Centre (OHC) and they've brought artifacts and information on inventions that were done in Orillia, as well as made in Orillia."

Later in the month, speakers from the OHC will be at the library to give a talk about Orillia historical inventions.

"We are having a different theme every month, because our plan is to showcase something about Orillia that's never been displayed before," said Turvey.

As visitors milled about, some spilling over from the farmers' market, (which is organized indoors during winter) many were surprised to find so much information hidden in the folds of Orillia's history books.

"I didn't know about the banana-split scoop," said Sharon Hancock, who has lived in the city since the '60s. "I knew Des Messenger and his wife. They were very big supporters of the opera house, but I did not know of his part in this project," she said, pointing to a chart detailing Messenger's involvement in the Antarctic.

According to OHC notes, in the mid 1950s, Otaco designed and built a wide range of over-the-snow equipment for Operation Deep Freeze, an Antarctic expedition led by the U.S. Navy. Messenger, who was chief engineer at the company became its expert on sleds, which could carry up to 20 tonnes in weight in the harsh climate of the southern pole. In addition to the sleds, Otaco also designed and produced, for the U.S. Navy's Antarctic expedition, the "wanigans," which were mobile shelters to be outfitted for sleeping, storage or eating, complete with stove-top and oven facilities.

For most, the Tudhope car is one of the most well-known pieces from Orillia's history, but some were surprised to find out that items stowed away in their attics could bear historical significance.

"I like old tools and stuff, so it was interesting seeing all those here," said Werner Rohmann, of Orillia. "I got a couple of these antique ice-cream scoops at home."

Just as he could identify items from his collection at home, Hancock said she also had a unique connection with industry in Orillia.

"We lived in the shadow of the Lloyd baby carriage factory at the Hermitage," she said. "And I had a Lloyd's baby carriage."

Local historian Marcel Rousseau, who is volunteer member with OHC, said the turnout of more than 70 people at the launch was a good start.

"There have been a lot of people coming through after that," he said. "They're taking time to go through the items."

Some themes residents can watch out for in the upcoming months include Orillia's sporting history, 150 years of food in Orillia and celebrating Orillia's firsts. More information can be found on the city's website at

Featured Businesses

Go to the Marketplace »