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Exhibit at Leacock Museum is First of Its Kind in North America

An upcoming exhibit at the Leacock Museum, Decoding Anne Lister: History’s First Modern Lesbian, opening on Sept. 9, explores the life of one of the most famous code writers and diarists, who hid her private life inside a series of journals containing five million words and her own complex system of code. “This is the first Anne Lister exhibit in North America, introducing her to an entirely new audience and providing a unique opportunity for Orillia,” Mayor Don McIsaac said in a news release. “As stewards of the Leacock Museum, our growing city is honoured to be able to present diverse figures in literary history that so often go overlooked in a museum setting.”

The focus of a popular TV show, Gentleman Jack, Lister meticulously captured the details of her life, including love affairs, business deals, and politics in a partially encoded diary scholars have worked for decades to transcribe. The exhibit focuses on her life while exploring themes of Canadian queer history, the art of code breaking, and the world in which Lister existed.

On Sept. 9, the Leacock Museum is hosting an artist-led painting workshop and an exclusive look at the new exhibit, with a guest speaker discussing topics in queer literature and art. The museum’s social media accounts will reveal the identity of the painting instructor, and guest speakers will be announced in the coming weeks. Two sessions are available: 12 to 2:15 p.m. and 1:45 to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $25, plus HST, per person and are available for purchase at leacockmuseum.ca.

“History is filled with individuals getting creative to hide their personal letters and journals for various reasons. For Stephen Leacock, that meant a hidden compartment in his closet. For Anne Lister, the famous diarist, that meant a complex and personal code,” said Amanda Marino, Leacock Museum experience development officer. “This exhibit is a year-and-a-half in the making and we are so excited to share Anne Lister’s story with Orillia.”

The Leacock Museum has collaborated with Calderdale Museums in the United Kingdom, the makers of the Gentleman Jack TV series, Lake Country Pride, ArQuives, and Mariposa Arts Theatre to bring the story of Lister to North America. The exhibit can be viewed during self-guided tours Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Last entry at 3 p.m.) The exhibit is expected to run until January.