Mariposa Folk Festival

Orillia, ON

After decades of transience, this long-running festival has settled back in its original home of Orillia

The first Mariposa Folk Festival happened in 1961, at the height of the folk revival, and the event is still going strong nearly six decades later. Named after the fictional berg of Stephen Leacock’s Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, the festival takes place in the real-life city that inspired Mariposa — Orillia. 

Though the festival spent its first three years in Orillia, rapid festival growth and rowdy attendee behaviour caused Orillia's town council to ban the festival from the city following the 1963 edition. A last-minute arrangement was made to hold the 1964 edition 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), and until 2000, the festival was nomadic, travelling through venue spaces across Ontario including the Toronto Islands, Innis Lake in Caledon and Molson Park in Barrie 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's Centre Island, but his offer of a last-minute performance was infamously shot down by the organizers, who wanted to keep away from big name acts to avoid repeating the furor of earlier editions.

The year 2000 returned the Mariposa Folk Festival to its roots in Orillia at Tudhope Memorial Park, where it has been held in early July ever 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.