Stephen Leacock

Stephen Butler Leacock, Canada’s pre-eminent humorist, was born in Swanmore, England, in 1869 and as a young child moved to Canada with his family. They settled in southern Ontario close to the shores of Lake Simcoe (on a 100-acre farm near the village of Egypt). Leacock attended Upper Canada College, the University of Toronto, and obtained his Ph.D from the University of Chicago. He became a professor in the Department of Economics and Political Science at Montreal’s McGill University in 1903. 

In 1908 Leacock purchased 19.73 acres of land in Orillia, Ontario, on the shores of Lake Couchiching. (Eventually the entire acreage of the property was 33 acres.) The property came to be known as The Old Brewery Bay. It was here (in 1928) that Leacock built a magnificent summer home which today has been transformed into a national historic site and museum. 

In 1910 Stephen published the first of his humorous books, Literary Lapses, and thus began a humour-writing career that gained him fame throughout the world. In 1912 his most famous book, Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, was published. In it, the author lampooned the residents and the foibles of his summertime home. His fictional Mariposa was undeniably real-life Orillia.

From 1910 until his death in 1944, Leacock produced an impressive string of best-selling humour books which still sell remarkably well over sixty years after his death. Ironically – and perhaps that is fitting considering his gentle style of humour – it was Professor Leacock’s 1906 book, Elements of Political Science, a university textbook, that was his most profitable effort in the publishing field. His lecture tours of Canada, the United States and Europe were hugely successful. 

Leacock reluctantly retired from McGill in 1936 , having been head of his department since 1908. Among the honours heaped upon him were being elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1919 and winning the Mark Twain Medal in 1935. 

Stephen Leacock passed away in March 1944 and was buried in his family’s plot at Sibbald Point. In 1947 an award was instituted in his name: The Leacock Medal for Humour, awarded annually to the book deemed best book of humour published in Canada the previous year.

Stephen Leacock Image

For more information about Stephen Leacock and his works, please visit the Library and Archives Canada  website 

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