Stops Along The Way: 1991-99

Following a tumultuous five-year interlude in Barrie, the Mariposa Folk Festival returned to Toronto in 1991, where its office, staff, and board of directors were already residing. 

The first Mariposa Festival in Toronto, since 1982, was held at Ontario Place. With 39 hectares of parkland, Ontario Place seemed like an ideal venue for a festival, and it was booked for the first weekend in September. 

Richard Flohil signed on as artistic director, and was determined to put the ‘folk’ back into the Mariposa Folk Festival. He engaged acts like Barenaked Ladies, Dave Van Ronk, Guy Clark, John Prine, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Ani DiFranco, whose career took off immediately following the 1991 festival. 

Lennie Gallant in 1999
Source: Mariposa Folk Foundation

Despite the talented acts and 18,000 attendees, Mariposa incurred a deficit of $37,000 that weekend and the trouble wasn’t over yet. While Toronto’s weather in June is typically warm and pleasant, the following year’s festival aligned with an unexpected cold front in Southern Ontario. Flakes of snow fell on Ontario Place as musicians like Tom Paxton, Tom Russell, and Eric Weissberg hit the stage. Underwhelming attendance meant that the festival once again found itself under financial burden, with nearly $125,000 of debt on the books. 

The following year, the festival took a fresh approach. The daytime activities returned to Toronto Island while the evening concerts were held in bars and venues across the city. Another new addition in 1993 was the release of a CD that included tracks from the eclectic mix of performers including folk favourites: Oscar Brand, blues artist Colin Linden, and singer-songwriter Roy Forbes.

In 1995 Mariposa landed on the “spider plant” concept for the festival—smaller franchise festivals held in towns across Ontario. The first festival, held in Bracebridge in 1996, was moderately successful, with the town and cottage community embracing the festival and recognizing its potential for the future. The second took place, less successfully, in Cobourg later that same summer. Many concerts and workshops were free, providing little incentive to spend money on the paid events, and the town lost more money than it was prepared to. 

Festival line-up included performers like Lennie Gallant, Eric Nagler, and The Burns Sisters. However by 1999, the Mariposa Folk Festival had dwindled to a single-day affair in the Parkdale neighbourhood of Toronto. Many of the original components of past Mariposa festivals remained—from the children’s play area to arts and crafts workshops and a beer garden—but the festival had become a shadow of its glory days. As Flohil remarked, the Parkdale event was not really a Mariposa Festival at all.