Our History

OMAH’s home, the Sir Sam Steele Memorial Building, has it's own rivetting history before The Orillia Museum of Art & History was even conceived.


The building was initially designed by architect Thomas Fuller to house a federal post office and customs house. Fuller's work on post offices across Canada used design principles he learned as the architect working on part of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Begun in 1892 and completed in 1894, it served as a post office and federal customs house for Orillians for twelve years.


After twelve years of service as Orillia's post office, the building was considered too small and problematic for the needs of Orillians. Contractors Mssers. E. Webb and Son were hired to demolish nearly the entire building with the exception of the north wall. The front of the building was extended closer to the street , while the back and south sides were also rebuilt. At this time the significant addition of the 70-foot clock tower and mansard roof were added in 1914 along with 4 six-foot clock faces that still light up downtown Orillia to this day.


While subsequent renovations were done in 1932, 1935, and 1938, the next major changes happened in 1956 when the federal government moved the Post Office and the building was purchased by the City of Orillia. It then housed the Orillia Police Force and Court Office and was named after Sir Sam Steele in the 1970's. Born just outside of Orillia, Steele made significant contributions to the development of the North-West Mounted Police. in 1977 the Police Station also moved and the building became office space for various charitable organizations.


When the Orillia Art Gallery Foundation applied for incorporation in 1994, a name was needed. It became the Sir Sam Steele Art Gallery. The gallery ran out of the main floor of the building for six years, promoting art and culture in downtown Orillia.


In 1999, the Orillia Historical Society (incorporated June 16, 1953) and the Sir Sam Steele Art Gallery Foundation (incorporated March 11, 1991) were amalgamated to create the Orillia Museum of Art and History. 
The building has undergone a series of large renovations in its lifetime and every bit of the space is now used by the museum. OMAH’s presence in the Sir Sam Steele Memorial Building has helped revitalize the Peter Street Art District as a cultural hub of Orillia.