Parkwood wants to hear your stories about Oshawa’s storied grand old estate

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Published September 6, 2022 at 1:11 pm

The grand estate of Canada’s richest man for 55 years, Parkwood Estates in Oshawa celebrates 50 years as a public museum this year and wants to hear your stories from the last half-century.

The estate was the home of Col. Sam McLaughlin – the founder of General Motors of Canada – and his family from 1917 until his death (at 101!) in 1972. The museum was immediately turned into a museum and early visitors would remember tours being run on select days with blue-smocked Oshawa Hospital Auxiliary members stationed in the mansion rooms offering interpretive content.

Initially run by an arms-length group from the hospital, the Parkwood Operating Committee oversaw those early years of the museum, with summer and paid student guides taking over the interpretive role. But eventually Parkwood developed its own volunteer program and in the late ‘70s Isabel, Hilda and Eleanor – daughters of Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin – signed over the house contents to the museum, creating the artifact and archive collection visitors enjoy today.

Colonel Sam McLaughlin

The 55-room mansion has 15,000 square feet of space, including the basement and third-floor servants’ rooms and includes an indoor swimming pool, billiards room (reached from a secret door) and its own bowling alley. Other unique amenities included a squash court, a grand conservatory and a rare Aeolian organ

The period interiors at Parkwood are a complete representation of early 20th century design and grand estate function. Complete room settings showcase the designers’ works and illustrate the lifestyle of the wealthy family as well as the hospitality they extended to guests. Crystal and china, silver, linens, books, family photographs and memorabilia, needlework and trophies are all preserved and displayed in their original settings. The collection is complete down to the monogrammed linens, creating an impression that the family is still in residence

Significant murals adorn the interior, including works by renowned Canadian artists Frederick Challener and Frederick Haines. The hand-painted murals and decorative artwork, sparkling chandeliers, custom furniture designs, European and Canadian fine art, photographs and family mementos are all remarkable. Interior decorations in the mansion include lavish architectural finishes in carved wood and plaster, decorative plaster ceiling treatments, mantles and fireplaces, marble, tile and wood flooring, and charming architectural novelties such as hidden panels and stairways.

A wedding at Parkwood Estates

The home includes pieces like Louis XVI furniture, elaborate window treatments, oriental carpets and custom-loomed carpets, ornamental metalworks and decorative clocks, planters and vases and countless objects of original artwork.

Regrettably, most of the people who got to enjoy those creatures of comfort and beauty are long gone, as are their stories. But thousands of visitors have toured the interiors since the museum opened – including a team from the Paranormal Seekers, who found evidence of a Poltergeist and supernatural spirits throughout the home.

The gardens were designed by some of the best in the business and during their heyday the grounds contained eleven greenhouses, staffed by two dozen gardeners.

The mansion itself represents a rare residential design by architects Darling and Pearson, the team who are widely credited as an outstanding influence on Canadian institutional architecture, including more than a thousand Edwardian Baroque revival Beaux Arts style buildings across the country. In addition to Parkwood, they designed such monumental structures as the Toronto General Hospital, the University of Toronto and the Royal Ontario Museum. It is said that Pearson created a Canadian icon when he designed the tower of the new Centre Block of Parliament in 1917.

Scenes from the Umbrella Academy, Season 2

Perhaps some of the tales of Parkwood will come from Hollywood, as the estate has hosted scores of movies and TV series filmed on premises, including Billy Madison, Bomb Girls, Canadian Bacon, The Gathering, Hollywoodland, Killjoys, Monk, Murdoch Mysteries, Queer as Folk, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Trump: Unauthorized, Umbrella Academy and X-Men.

That means scores of celebrated actors have graced the grounds as well, including Tom Cruise, Brad Pitte, Drew Barrymore, Kathleen Turner, Adam Sandler, Ben Affleck, Alan Alda, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Cooper, Richard Gere, Jackie Chan, Woody Harrelson, Shirley MacLaine and Mike Myers, to name a few.

The gardens have also been one of the most popular spots for weddings over the years: also a wonderful place for stories, and not all of them filled with roses and romance.

Whatever your Parkwood story, Oshawa and Durham residents, and in fact anyone who has been touched by Parkwood over the past 50 years are encouraged to email their stories, photographs and visitors to [email protected] or call (905) 433-4311.

For more information on the 50 Years of Parkwood: A Community’s Story initiative, check out https://mailchi.mp/f911cc27d938/the-parkwood-post-13472413?e=fbe788429c.

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