Description of Historic Place
The Stephen Leacock House, and historically known as 'The Old Brewery Bay' at 50 Museum Drive is situated on a 3.9-hectare property between Atherley Road and the south shore of Lake Couchiching, in the City of Orillia. The two-storey wood-frame building was designed in the Arts and Crafts style by architect Kenneth Noxon and constructed in 1928.
The property and exterior of the house are protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement (1983). The property is also designated by the City of Orillia under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (Bylaw 1978-271). Designated a National Historic Site in 1992, the property now functions as the Leacock Museum.
The property is situated on the tranquil shores of Lake Couchiching, which provided Leacock with a source of inspiration and creativity. An avid fisherman, Leacock enjoyed the strategic location of the property which is west of the narrows that connects Lake Couchiching to Lake Simcoe. This area had also been used by First Nations people as a prime fishing area. The 3.9-hectare property which comprises informal gardens, mixed woodland, and undeveloped shoreline serves to recall the era when Leacock enjoyed the property as a rural retreat. Some of the mature plantings, such as the giant catalpa tree in front of the house were planted by Leacock himself. While reduced in size from its original 16-hectare status which allowed Leacock to indulge in his orchard and small scale mixed farming, with its incredible views over the lake, wooded trails, and buffered situation, the property retains the peaceful quality which so endeared itself to Leacock.
The Stephen Leacock House is historically significant for its association with the renowned Canadian author and academic, Stephen Leacock (1869-1944). Though writing extensively on topics ranging from political science to economics, Leacock became famous worldwide as a humourist. His early masterpiece in this genre, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town (1912), was published four years after his purchase of this property, and is said to have been greatly inspired by his time spent here.
Additionally, Leacock's satirical writings on the incongruity of the modern world, which comprised much of his work, may have been influenced and formulated during his time in this contrasting, peaceful environment. While in residence, Leacock derived much pleasure from gardening, hobby farming, fishing, sailing and entertaining family and friends at this summertime property which he named 'The Old Brewery Bay'.
The present residence was built in 1928 and is reflective of Leacock's financial success as a prolific author and head of the Economics and Political Science Department at Montreal's McGill University. Characteristic of his frugality, the present house incorporated much material from Leacock's original, 1908 cottage which was located closer to the lakeshore. The rebuilding of the residence also recalls Leacock's interest in continually improving his beloved property. Leacock himself was designated a National Historic Person in 1968.
The Stephen Leacock House is architecturally significant for its Arts and Crafts design, highly personalized by Leacock himself. While planned by architect Kenneth Noxon, of the Toronto firm Wright and Noxon, Leacock was very involved in the design of the residence, constructed in 1928. As an outlet for Leacock's creativity, one of his great interests at The Old Brewery Bay consisted of continuous, small scale building projects. The construction of this residence was first seriously considered in 1921,being the apogee of this pastime.
True to Leacock's distaste for anything pretentious, the house is substantial and comfortable, but informal in character, much like a large cottage. This informality is obvious in the rustic interior finish, comprised entirely of Norwegian Pine with V-joint wall and ceiling treatments and simple brick fireplaces. Indicative of its leisurely purpose the house is fronted by a loggia perfect for enjoying the views over Lake Couchiching, and a multitude of French windows for easy outdoor access.
The rear of the house features a sky-lit sunroom frequently used by Leacock for his writing. Imparting a rural, picturesque quality to the design, the house combines a variety of compatible Arts and Crafts style elements such as a rough-cast exterior stucco cladding, multi-pane casement windows, a steep, hip roof, and lattice filled loggia archways for climbing vines.
Source: OHT Easement Files
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Stephen Leacock House include its:
- incorporation of materials from Leacock's original 1908 cottage
- symmetrical, two-storey, 'H' shaped plan
- steeply pitched, hip roof with cedar shingle cladding, hipped roof dormers and exposed rafter ends
- four, tall, red-brick chimneys
- rough-cast, stucco exterior cladding of the first storey and cedar shingle, exterior cladding of the second storey and dormer windows
- wooden, multi-pane, casement sash windows and French windows
- open, front elevation loggia with arched openings, lattice filled spandrels, supported by classical, Tuscan columns
- three second storey balconies with lattice work balustrades
- rear elevation sunroom with glazed roof
- location on the south shore of Lake Couchiching west of the narrows connecting Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching
- composition of undeveloped shoreline, a broad front lawn, informal gardens, and pebbled pathways
- rear garden sundial
- mature plantings, especially the huge catalpa tree fronting the house planted by Leacock
- views from the house to Lake Couchiching