The Orillia Public Library is set to kick off a short series of online history talks beginning on May 11. The free public events will be held on Zoom and will begin with ‘The Riots of ’42,’ featuring speaker and Orillia historian Dave Town.
Town will be telling the stories of two different riots that happened in Orillia almost 100 years apart. The first riot took place in 1844 when Orillia was only five years old.
“There was a big sailing race which was a huge deal back in those days. Five hundred men from around the region showed up to see this race, and mostly to bet on it,” Town explained.
“By the end of the day, those 500 men where all down on the waterfront where Couchiching Beach Park is now, and they were brawling, and of course there was no police, no jails, and something had to be done about it.”
The second Orillia-related riot story took place in 1942 during the Second World War, he explains.
“A group of soldiers who were doing basic training at Camp Borden got a weekend off and came here for some (rest and relaxation), and there was no alcohol in Orillia as it was a dry town back then,” he explained.
"So, they got the great idea to head out to Brechin where there was a bar, and they started a fight there which spilled out onto the street and into the dance that was happening next door, and it started a fight in the middle of the dance floor," said Town.
"In the end, there were 75 men at midnight in the middle of the main intersection of Brechin fighting it out, with just two policemen there to bring order.”
Town says sharing stories of yesteryear to the citizens who live in Orillia today is one of his biggest passions.
"I’ve always loved history, I’ve always loved reading history, and once I discovered that people like the way I write and tell a story, I’ve been very encouraged,” he said.
“It’s just a great hobby and I love doing it.”
Sharing the history of years past is also an important teaching tool to help the people of today better understand the city and world they are living in, Town says.
“History is a way to help people interpret how they see the world today,” he said.
“You can understand how and why things happened in the past and the motivations of people by looking at the world today and seeing the same motivations going on, which can give you some insight into what’s happening today.”
Town says the two riot stories he will be telling on May 11 are relatable to today’s world.
“We can look at the riot in 1844, which is almost 200 years ago, and you can see it was all about alcohol, sports, and gambling, and it degenerated into violence,” he said.
“Well, there is a lot of alcohol, sports, and gambling today and it’s been known to breed violence. So, the same things are happening today as they were back in those days.”
Town believes those who attend his virtual talk next week will benefit from not only learning about Orillia history, but also having an escape from the current stay-at-home order and its tedium.
“You are going to get an hour of entertainment because these are some pretty entertaining stories, and there isn’t much to do right now in this COVID world. So, hopefully, it provides some fun as well,” he said.
To register for the event, click here.