Canadian Music Festival Profiles

Mariposa Folk Festival

Orillia, ON

The first Mariposa Folk Festival happened in 1961, at the height of the folk revival, and it’s still alive and well today. Named after the fictional berg of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, the festival takes place in Mariposa — or Orillia, ON to most. 1964 was a landmark year, when a last-minute arrangement was made to hold the festival at Maple Leaf Stadium in Toronto, where Gordon Lightfoot would introduce his new song “Early Morning Rain” (a recording that can be found in the Mariposa Archives House). But rapid festival growth, coupled with rowdy behaviour on the part of attendees in its early years caused town council to ban the festival from Orillia, and from 1964 until 2000, the festival was nomadic, travelling through venue spaces like Toronto Island, Toronto Harbourfront and Innis Lake to keep the music alive.

Joni MitchellLeonard CohenJoan Baez, and many more of folk’s most influential names graced the stages through the 1960s, with James Taylor spearheading a performance in 1970 for a fraction of his normal performance fee after then-girlfriend Joni reportedly told him it was “the cool thing to do.” Bob Dylan showed up as a visitor for the 1972 fest on Toronto Island, and was famously turned down a last-minute chance to perform; show organizers wanted to keep scheduling egalitarian, as well as re-structure away from big name acts after their debut festival turned into a maelstrom.

The year 2000 returned the Mariposa Folk Festival to its roots in Orillia at Tudhope Memorial Park, where it has been executed every early July since. Mariposa houses hundreds of music, dance and spoken word performances on its 11 stages yearly, committing to the proliferation of Canadian culture and arts. The Mariposa Folk Foundation’s mandate prioritizes inclusiveness and active social consciousness, taking responsibility for the welfare of the planet and its people — and it won an award in 2015 for Excellence in Sustainable Tourism from the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario. Not to mention Mariposa’s influence otherwise: the collaborative musical workshop format, established by Estelle Klein in the 1960s at Mariposa, has grown to become a staple throughout North American folk festivals.