About Mariposa

The name “Mariposa” comes from the Spanish word for butterfly. In Canadian reality it is a cottage centre on Lake Couchiching in central Ontario, and a township to the east of there, now subsumed into the City of Kawartha Lakes. Its literary identity is more important and enduring than any real one, however.

In 1912 Mariposa was, famously, a little town. Just exactly what kind of little town it was remains, or should remain, controversial although largely irrelevant. Now it is a middling city, and unlike Stephen Leacock I am going to be very careful not to give you even the slightest grounds for guessing which city it is. He said that Mariposa was “seventy or eighty” little towns, but strewed hints of Orillia all around, quite unfairly it seems to me, because I doubt very much that Orillia was anything like Leacock’s Mariposa, except very superficially. “Seventy or eighty” remains not a bad estimate for today, however, as Canada now has around seventy and eighty middling cities, taking that to mean a population roughly between 20,000 and 500,000. Orillia is on the list, of course, but so are a lot of other places all across the country.

In census terms, Mariposa is a municipality, a population centre, and even a metropolitan area. What its population may be depends on which of these identities you choose. Not that the question matters of course, except for bragging purposes, and Mariposa is not about bragging. It’s about understanding, and acting with justice. Very few places, if any, brag about their understanding and justice, perhaps although not necessarily with good reason. They brag about their size, beauty, excitement, and wealth. You can decide whether they have good reason for that.

Mariposa is many things, from hockey leagues to chamber concert series to seasonal carnivals to promenades along Main Street to coffee shops to pubs to churches to schools to all kinds of stores to factories to train and bus stations to service stations to medical clinics and hospitals to a university and a community college to a fine public library in a new building to a city council and all the trappings in an architecturally significant city hall and in short the whole panorama of contemporary middling urban life. It is also, somewhat unusually, a City of Literary Refuge, as it likes to style itself, officially a UNESCO City of Literature, which is not exactly the same thing. Most of all, of course, it is a city of people, diverse people, women and men both dong and ding summer autumn winter spring reaping their sowings and wenting their came sun moon stars rain and all the rest of it.

Most importantly, Mariposa is exactly the right place stage a hunt for the wild Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, because we are not only as likely to find it there as anywhere else, but we may be able to corral and tame it. It’s a both-and place, both large and small, both singular and plural; it has two hands, on the one and on the other; it is a “simeonic” place, as in Charles Simeon and his bi-polar Truth. Very large places are overwhelmingly plural, very small ones overwhelmingly singular. Middling places neither over- nor underwhelm. They don’t even whelm. They are what they are. Mariposa is like that, the 2019 one I mean. The 1912 one was quite different.

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