Wendy Hutchings – Tribute

by Mary Ann Grant – OMAH History Committee

The Orillia Museum of Art & History believes that it is important to acknowledge its supporters, those who have made a contribution to the culture of our community and to keeping our local history alive for future generations.

Today we celebrate Wendy Hutchings.

In 1958, Wendy and her husband Al moved to the Town of Orillia (Orillia was incorporated as a city in 1969) from Toronto to raise a family. Wendy embraced Orillia and became involved in the community in a big way.

We celebrate Wendy’s numerous accomplishments and contributions to the Orillia Historical Society (OHS), the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH), the Orillia Naturalists Club, and other organizations over those years. Quietly, without fanfare, she made a difference.

Passionate about our history

Passionate about our local history and preserving it, Wendy has been a long-time dedicated member, supporter and promoter of the OHS and OMAH.

Attendee OHS and OMAH History Speaker Series

Dr. Richard Johnston said,

“Both Al and Wendy have been such stalwarts of OHS, then OMAH, as long as I can remember. Back in the ‘70s, OHS met in the banquet hall at St. Paul’s before the amalgamation of the OHS with The Sir Sam Steele Art Gallery to become OMAH, Wendy and Al always sat in the front row enthusiastically supporting the various speakers and the entire program.” 

Both Wendy and Al have really made such a huge contribution to the cultural life of Orillia

From its inception, Al and Wendy were also super supporters of the John A. Macdonald dinner. Between the two of them, I don’t think there wasn’t any area of Canadian history that they were not familiar with, including, of course, Simcoe County. There should be an award in their name recognizing their enormous contribution.”  

Orillia Historical Society

Longtime Valued Member and Executive Member

Wendy was a longtime member of the OHS, joining around 1978. She was an active participant on the Committee and made many valuable contributions over the years.

This podium belonged to the OHS. It is still in use by OMAH’s History Committee, for their in-person History Speakers Series events.

The Orillia Historical Society Collection

When Wendy joined the OHS executive in 1983, president Sue Mulcahy suggested that Wendy and fellow member Catherine Drinkwater be responsible for locating and listing the various items that had been donated to the OHS over the years. Their large collection was being stored in various locations, such as the Orillia Public Library, member’s homes etc. This was huge job and an important one, as there was no formal list of the items and their location.

Wendy and Catherine set to work and wrote a detailed list of all the thousands of possessions and where they were located. No small task!

Wendy commented in March of 2009, when the OHSartifacts were moved to the storage in the jail cells of the Sir Samuel Steele Memorial Building (home of OMAH):

“When I look at the museum (OMAH) today and see the thousands of items we acquired, I think it all began with us!”

And indeed, it did! Her work to complete the inventory made the task of cataloguing and moving the collection to OMAH a lot easier and more efficient.

A Chronological History of the Orillia Historical Society by Wendy Hutchings

Wendy took it upon herself, as an orientation for new members in March of 1990, to draft a history of the OHS. Wendy: “I thought that with the number of relatively new members now attending the history meetings, that it might be of interest to look back on what the old OHS was like 30 years ago – roughly when I first joined at the changes that have occurred… from when the OHS was first formed in 1921 under the auspices of the local Canadian Club.”

This chronological history of the OHS is very important, as it documents the club from the beginning to the move to OMAH. This recent find will be included in the Research Room at OMAH.

Wendy Hutchings Study of Tunnels in Orillia – Rogers Production in Focus: Orillia Opera House – Center Stage (Video available at the Orillia Public Library)

Wendy was a contributor to this Rogers’ documentary about the incredible history of the Orillia Opera House, from its 1895 construction.

A cast of individuals including former MP Bruce Stanton, Gordon Lightfoot, Wendy Hutchings and others were interviewed about their memories of the Orillia Opera House and its fascinating past.

Did you know there were rumours that there were underground tunnels under the Orillia Opera House? Did they exist and if they did, what were they used for?

Wendy, interviewed by the producer Steve McEown, is featured sharing the research she had done (using the original drawings of the Orillia Opera House) on the possibility of a tunnel located under the Orillia Opera House to a brewery (The Orillia Brewing and Malting Co.) where Fred’s Meat Market was located on the corner of Mississaga and Andrew Streets, and what is now the Eclectic Café.

Click on the LINK to hear Wendy being interviewed about the rumoured tunnels!

Orillia Brewing and Malting Co Circa 1910) – OMAH Collection Photo

Wendy Hutchings Author – Early Days on Gull and Silver Lakes (Available at the Orillia Public Library)

Wendy and her husband Al have spent every summer at the cottage at Gull Lake. Wonderful family memories have been made since they purchased the cottage in 1966. This is their ‘little piece of heaven”.

Wendy being Wendy, her curiosity was peeked when she saw a photograph in an advertisement in the Gravenhurst newspaper. The photograph was taken around 1909. It showed the shoreline of the Gull Lake Park area with buildings that no longer existed. Wendy: “Well, I had fallen hook, line and sinker. I had to learn more about this picture.”

Her interviews with cottagers, research of the microfilm of local newspapers, historical papers, Gravenhurst archives etc. culminated into her book, Early Days on Gull and Silver Lakes.

A well-written history of the people and places at Gull and Silver Lakes, the book’s important documentation is a great reference for future generations to enjoy and learn the storied past of the lakes. Every summer since she published the book, now over 25 years ago, she continues to sell several copies to new and existing cottagers on the lakes.

Wendy Hutchings, Editor

Wendy edited books two books written by Donald Hunter, a descendant of Hunter Boats, a fixture on Orillia’s waterfront. Hunter depended on Wendy to edit the manuscripts prior to publishing this important industry in our local history. Sadly, Hunter died before his book History of Orillia’s Waterfront could be published. At the request of Hunter’s wife, Wendy took on the task of editing and assembling the book so it could be published. 

Books edited by Wendy

  1. History of Orillia’s Waterfront, by Donald A. Hunter (Available for purchase at OMAH)

From Couchiching Point to Orchard Point, to Cedar Island and French’s Stand and a lot in between, Donald Hunter documented the history of the development of Orillia’s waterfront. 


  1. The Story of Hunter Boats, by Donald A. Hunter (Available at the Orillia Public Library)

Founded in 1932 by Alestair Hunter and located on Orillia’s waterfront, Hunter Boats built wooden pleasure craft and small passenger boats. In 1939, Donald Hunter joined his father’s company and they began building the Fairmile, motor patrol boats for the Ministry of Defence. They built seven of the boats.


  1. Beautiful Olde Orillia – Su Murdoch (Available for purchase at OMAH)

In June 1992, Wendy joined the Orillia Book Committee. The goal of the committee, in cooperation with the OHS, was to publish a book featuring Orillia’s historic buildings. The result is a well-researched book, showing beautiful images of sixty of Orillia’s finest heritage buildings and anecdotal histories.

Photo of Wendy and the Orillia Book Committee

Wendy – Member of the Local Architectural Advisory Committee (LACAC)

Wendy was a member of the Local Architectural Advisory Committee (LACAC), later renamed the Orillia Heritage Committee.

This was a group of people interested in the preservation of Orillia’s heritage, particularly its buildings, structures and streetscapes. Several properties have been designated by City Council on the advice of the committee.

Wendy developed a slideshow showcasing and celebrating our local heritage homes, and presented it many times over the years.

She was also involved in leading local walking tours of Orillia’s historic downtown in conjunction with LACAC and the OHS.

Orillia Naturalists Club

Photo Wendy waiting for the Nature Quiz to start – from Nancy Ironside

Wendy was a long-time member of the Orillia Naturalists Club, devoting nine months of the year for this purpose. She is an avid hiker and has an enthusiastic interest in nature and a passion for its preservation.

As a member of the Orillia Naturalists Club, Wendy did the Christmas bird count every year.  She also did the feeder watch. The data from this is reported to Bird Studies Canada. She participated in Muriel’s Spring Frog Walks.

Wendy was an active participant in the Orillia Naturalists Club Find of the Month:

  • Find of the month Hawk Owl was observed by Wendy 1991-92 McMurchy’s Farm line 15 Oro-Medonte
  • Find of the Month Wendy Hutchings and Nancy Ironside March 2012 White Squirrel at Bayshore Village on Lake Simcoe (leucistic colour variation)
  • Find of the Month November 2016 Wendy Hutchings reported two Cattle Egrets near the Oro-Medonte Rail Trail with cattle.

Nancy Ironside commented: “There is a bird called a horned lark, which returns very early (and nests early), and is common in Minesing. But there is one farm in Ramara where we regularly found it, which I think is the northern most nesting of this bird (in this area). Wendy and I regularly checked this farm in February. Sometimes we found it and sometimes we missed it. But I think the little colony is still there.”


Thank You Wendy

Ninette Gyorody, Executive Director of OMAH summarizes Wendy’s contributions in a nutshell:

“Wendy has been a stalwart supporter of the Orillia Museum of Art & History. Through the years, her keen interest in local history has been shared in her contributions to OMAH’s programs through the History Committee as well as through fundraising events. What a delight to learn more about her and her invaluable research that was included in print and video publications. It is an honour to shine a light on Wendy’s contributions to our community.”

Wendy took initiative, worked alone and in collaboration with others, to get our history documented and recognized. What she contributed is special and as Dr. Richard Johnston said, “Great idea to do a long overdue tribute to Wendy.”

With Thanks To:

  1. Nancy Ironside
  2. Richard Johnston
  3. Jamie Hutchings
  4. Early Days on Gull and Silver Lakes Gravenhurst – Wendy Hutchings
  5. History of Orillia’s Waterfront – Donald A. Hunter
  6. The Story of Hunter Boats – Donald A. Hunter
  7. Beautiful Olde Orillia – Su Murdoch
  8. Deanne McCallum – Rogers TV
  9. City of Orillia Website
  10. Orillia Naturalists Club Website