Re-Casting Stephen Leacock: Geography I

Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town fills the discriminating reader with the conviction that Stephen Leacock was, concerning geography, frequently (a) confused, and (b) obfuscating. Whether this was deliberate or simply the result of his habitual carelessness remains a question for scholars to contest, and will no doubt so remain as long as graduate schools persist.

For example: He would have us believe that Mariposa is a town, which it is not. It is an Ontario township lacking any town with the population he gives to his Mariposa, that is, around 5,000 people. You may find it in the bottom southwest corner of what used to be Victoria County and is now the City of Kawartha Lakes. The southern edge of Mariposa Township is formed by the north end of Scugog Lake; Highway 7 between Manilla and the curve west of Lindsay bisects Mariposa Township about half-way way up.

Depending on where they live in the township, Mariposans may be close to Lindsay, Port Perry, or Beaverton. Perhaps Leacock’s Mariposa is a composite of these three, with perhaps some others thrown in such as Uxbridge, where he taught school for a while, or Orillia, where his mother had lived and where he eventually found his beloved cottage. His Mariposa is of course widely believed to be Orillia, a belief that cannot be supported by any credible evidence.

He would have us believe that Tecumseh [sic] Township forms part of Missinaba County, in fairly close proximity to Mariposa. This is not correct. Tecumseth Township is in Simcoe County, surrounding the Town of Alliston, but his Mariposa cannot be Alliston because Leacock never lived there and the town was too small in his day. He could not possibly have been thinking of the Town of Tecumseh, because it’s away southwest in Essex County. Or could he? Some graduate student will have to figure that out. Until I see proof I will persist in the belief that Mariposa is Mariposa, that the Town of Mariposa is either a composite or completely fictitious, and that Leacock’s “Tecumseh Township” is Mariposa Township.

It is interesting to note that the mid-point of a triangle whose points are Lindsay, Beaverton and Port Perry lies pleasingly close to Mariposa Station, in the middle of Mariposa Township, half-way between Oakwood and Little Britain, its two largest villages. Simple geometry adds weight to my conviction.

Leacock’s Town of Mariposa requires a lake, which he calls Lake Wissanotti, shallow enough for a sinking paddle- or side-wheeler to settle on the bottom without hazard to its passengers. Clearly Lake Scugog would do just as well as Lake Couchiching by this criterion, or even better.

Leacock is extremely coy about the extent and boundaries of Missinaba County, which may or may not be coterminous with the electoral Riding of Missinaba. It would make perfect sense that if the Town of Mariposa is a fictitious place in Mariposa Township within striking distance of Lake Scugog, and is the political and economic centre of the region, then the rest of Missinaba County would most probably surround Mariposa Township, and would have the conventional shape and composition of counties in that part of Ontario, being more or less rectangular, long and narrow, and made up of some number of townships.

I believe, therefore, that Missinaba County could very well run from Reach, Cartright and Manvers Townships in the south, surrounding Lake Scugog, to Ryde and Longford in the north, including the eastern shorelines of Lakes Simcoe and Couchiching, making eighteen Townships in all, with Mariposa Township smack in the middle of the bottom nine where most of the people live. And so I shall assume it to be. Orillia, while not included, is a close neighbour.

The following map comes courtesy of the Ministry of Transportation (MOT), in my young days more modestly called the Department of Highways.

Missinaba

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