Orillia Commercial Papers was founded in 1975 by Bill Hamilton. We purchased it August 1st, 1983. Originally located at 35 Peter Street South, we were selling drafting supplies and doing blueprints. The old blue printer took a long time to warm up, and the people in the adjacent garage knew when we fired it up, because it would dim the lights!. We weren’t long buying a new, instant-on, more energy efficient blueprinter.
As business grew and evolved, we needed more space, prompting the move in 1993 to our current location across the street and down the laneway. Soon after the move we talked the city into cutting off the race track outside our door (the laneway as a ‘shortcut’ to Peter St) and turning the parking lot of the Sir Sam Steele Bldg next door, into the Courtyard. We’ve had art markets & displays, and have set up a patio in the courtyard over the years. We pipe music outside making a lovely and relaxing place to take a break!
Another part of the evolution of business was that the original name was no longer applicable. Tiffin’s Creative Centre gave more latitude and was a better descriptor of what we had become. But how to sign it? Bill’s dad had a barbershop in downtown Orillia for over 40 years, and we still had his shop sign. We pulled the hand-lettered name from the sign, and incorporated the heritage colours as our logo.
We knew the sign had been painted by Lloyd Annis shortly after the war. But what we found out only recently was that Lloyd had set up shop just after the war – so the barbershop sign would have been one of his first jobs – not only that, but his shop was in our current location! The sign has come home!!
When we expanded into the Art Scene we hosted numerous shows for local artists.
One of the most memorable was a show we did with Marta Brestovansky. This remarkable woman narrowly escaped the Prague Spring and came to Canada, specifically to Orillia, because she had read Stephen Leacock’s book ‘Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town’.
This talented artist shared her passion for art with hundreds of students and patrons. We were honoured to be a part of it. We have a few of Marta’s prints available at our store.
When the Orillia Museum of Art and History was undergoing renovations, they took a space across the street which included storage. We helped them move many pieces from their collection, including some very valuable Group of Seven originals. This was the most nerve-wracking 2 block drive of our lives!
2005 was a pivotal year for us. On April 26th there was a fire in our building which completely destroyed the front. While Orillia and Rama Fire Services battled the fire from the front, Oro-Medonte firefighters, working from the parking lot, pushed the flames back from our store, beating the flames away from us.
We survived the fire with ‘only’ smoke damage, but repairs and restoration took almost 6 months. Drywall on the adjoining wall of the store was scorched and partially charred – it got that close! As a result, Chris deMunnik (our landlord and owner of Mr. Henry’s at the front of the building) had us incorporate his office space, which was built into one corner, as part of our store, and they rebuilt from there forward. With this additional space we re-organized and expanded again, including a Christian section specializing in cards, music, gifts, bibles and books.
Just as we were ready to re-open, we joined 12 other Downtown galleries, studios and art shops for the first ever Starry Night Studio & Gallery Tour – a collection of art businesses all holding an open house on the same evening. The group hoped we might attract 150 people that first evening. We were overwhelmed when over 500 showed up – despite dire weather predictions! We actually had a glorious, balmy summer evening that year, though a major thunderstorm raged around us. In years 2 through 9 we were not so lucky weather-wise, but people still came out. Attendance has grown, and Starry Night now averages around 2,000 patrons. We were blessed with good weather in years 10 through 15, …but unfortunately Covid-19 dashed plans for 2020 … and 2021 … and 2022! Maybe next year! Tiffin’s Creative Centre has been an integral part of the Starry Night Organizing Committee all 16 years, and along with the other organizers, we are thrilled with the enthusiastic response . . . year after year!
As a result of the Starry Night Tour success, the group began discussing other ways of working together to promote art sales. Out of a meeting in April 2012 the Peter Street Arts District was born. Working together we’ve been able to leverage Street Sales, hold special events like AutumnFest and SpringFling, and host regular Art Hops. In November 2013 the City of Orillia officially designated Peter Street South, between Mississaga and Colborne Streets, as the Arts District. We are pleased with the support and recognition this designation has given our little area for the importance of the Arts in the local economy and abundance of talent this small City boasts.
In 2015 we took a wonderful trip through Western Canada. One of our stops was Jasper, and while browsing through the many gift shops, we came upon an incredible line of artistic table linens. Bill was quite taken with the beautiful watercolours and unique designs, and took note of the manufacturer – April Cornell.
At the Toronto Gift Trade Show in January 2016, we discovered the April Cornell booth, and April herself was there! We spent a lovely couple of hours discussing the product line and placing an order . . . and we’ve been carrying it ever since. New lines are introduced each spring and fall, and each season she seems to out-do the last! Do come in and check it out. As her tagline says: Feel Beautiful, Live Beautiful, Be Beautiful.
The product lines we carry have expanded in other directions as well, as we see art and craftsmanship in so many products in our lives. Functional things are essential, but artful things also play an important role in our lives. From warm and cozy blankets, capes, pillows and scarves in traditional Celtic symbols and tartans – a nod to Linda’s Scottish Heritage; to art, posters and knick-knacks tipping the hat to the beauty of designs behind planes, trains, automobiles and boats – Bill’s passions. We also hooked up with Springwater Woodcraft to offer a line of Canadiana style furniture of solid eastern white pine, made by a family business out of Minesing, Ontario – just outside of Barrie. Initially we thought of beautiful shelving units, but decided the furniture was too good not to share, so we carry the full line. We have samples in stock, but can customize your order, with delivery in 6 to 8 weeks.
In January 2020 we learned that Creations Christian Bookstore in Barrie was closing. We felt the void this was going to leave for Christians in our whole region, so decided it was time to up our game. We met with suppliers and sales people, went to trade shows and put together a much expanded offering for our Christian Section, as well as booking ads with Life 100.3 Radio to get the word out. We re-organized, painted shelving and display units, got orders in and on the shelves, and were pretty much set by Friday, March 20th. Ontario businesses were ordered to close effective Monday, March 23rd due to Covid-19. Bill said “Well, at least He didn’t tell me to build a boat!” (like Noah). We were able to offer delivery and curb-side service, particularly for the copying end of things, as we were providing services to essential services, but business was very quiet
Gradually we’ve been able to re-open (and close and re-open and restrict …). customers have come back. Proper protocols are in place and evolve as recommended by Public Health, and we’re so pleased with people being willing to abide by them.
Well . . . that about brings us up to date. It’s been quite a journey, and it’s not done yet!
You should come visit us!