Mariposa : celebrating Canadian folk music : Origins

Planning a festival

In a neat cursive in an unassuming notebook, Mrs. Ruth Jones McVeigh noted that on 11 January 1961:

"John Fisher addressed Chamber of Commerce dinner at Pav - gave talk on improving tourist attractions in Orillia.  Caught flu- had time to think for a change - top interests folk music - Orillia setting - together - why not?"

So began Canada's first folk music festival. 

McVeigh reminisces that at the time, she was a 33-year-old mother of four, living on Bay St. in Orillia. She remembers Fisher saying "each community in Canada should have a hook to hang tourism on” so that visitors would have a reason to visit every corner of the country. She then recalls:

“A day or two later I came down with the flu. As any mother knows, quiet time alone is rare. It gave me time to think. I loved folk music. Orillia (at that time) was pretty tame. Therefore, I should bring a folk festival to Orillia!

While I was still convalescing, I wrote letters – to see if the idea would fly. I received encouragement from Alan Mills, one of Canada's best-known troubadours, from The Travellers (who remained an integral part of the Festival for decades) to the Newport Festival for warnings about possible pitfalls and to Pete Seeger from whom there was never a response. I shared my idea with my husband, the late Dr. Crawford (Casey) Jones, who put up the money for the first festival and with my brother David Major. I talked to Pete McGarvey, then manager of the local radio station. From there on, life got very interesting indeed! David put me in touch with Ed Cowan who became Mariposa's first producer. Musicologist Ted Schafer was Artistic Director and MC. His brother Larry designed the wonderfully medieval stage with its side tents of striped canvas with pennants flying. Ian Tyson, a graphic artist in addition to being one of Canada's most popular folk singers, produced the striking promotional sun motif.

Meanwhile, I arranged that all milk delivered to summer cottagers would have a promotional collar attached. Every piece of mail that went through the Orillia post office for the month preceding the event, got a special cancellation stamp. I travelled all over Ontario doing newspaper, radio and TV interviews and made a trip to my hometown, Halifax for a special media event. During this time, my grandfather, who at 80, made his very first air trip from Halifax to Toronto, stayed with the kids. We sent out hundreds of news releases, – every one sealed and stamped by my four children, David, Bruce, Nancy and Barb, while they learned and sang folk songs.”


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