Walk up Simcoe Street, north of Adelaide Avenue, and you’ll come across a National Historic Site that takes up a city block and has been a celebrated part of Oshawa’s landscape for more than 100 years. Through the gates, past an immaculate lawn with pristine gardens full of luscious blooms, stands a 15,000-square-foot palatial abode built in 1917 that’s steeped in history and acts as a monument to the city’s storied past.
Parkwood Estate is an institution in the city. Built on the grounds of what was once Prospect Park is the 55-room mansion that was once the home of the “first family of Oshawa” — the late Robert Samuel McLaughlin (affectionately known as Colonel Sam), an industrialist and the founding president of General Motors of Canada, his wife, Adelaide, and their five daughters. The home, inspired by Beaux-Arts architectural design, and the surrounding 11 acres of gardens have been dutifully well-maintained for more than a century (thanks in part to the Parkwood Foundation). It remains open to the public for guided tours and delicious lunches at the Tea House, plus it serves as a spectacular venue for a plethora of events, pop-up shops, film and television shoots (including the X-Men movie franchise), weddings and corporate functions.
According to the curator, blueprints for the estate date back to 1914. When it came time to design and build their lavish dream home, the McLaughlins were inspired by classical and picturesque chateaus and villas in Europe and intended to build their home using the latest in technology and innovation. Designed by masters of institutional architecture, the team of Darling and Pearson (who designed the University of Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum and Toronto General Hospital, to name a few of their projects in the province), Parkwood’s style is described as Classic Revival, with nods to Georgian architecture and Art Deco features. The corridors and rooms were adorned with impressive works of art and hand-painted murals (by significant Canadian and European artists), as well as opulent architectural features such as carved wood, ornate ceiling treatments, fireplaces and intricate mantles. No elaborate mansion at the time would’ve been complete without highly decorative window treatments, embellished chandeliers, custom-loomed carpets, Louis XVI furniture, a vast and enviable collection of objet d’art, as well as hidden stairways and panels. While there was certainly a nod to Old-World style and craftmanship, it was just as important to the McLaughlins to ensure their home was filled with the modern conveniences of the day, such as an in-house telephone system, air conditioning, climate control for the art gallery and an elevator. These were rare in homes at the time, but the wealthy, sophisticated family enjoyed entertaining and sharing these luxuries with those closest to them.
Their majestic estate also housed a conservatory, indoor swimming pool, bowling alley and squash court.
Outside the manor, the family took great interest and care in the property’s landscaping and gardens. They were just as devoted to ensuring the exterior of their estate was as meticulously maintained as the interior, so their staff of 24 gardeners and horticulturalists worked out of 11 greenhouses to create beautiful gardens evocative of those in England. Cedar hedges were used to divide the spaces — not only were there formal gardens, but there were recreation spaces and a dedicated area for growing fruits and vegetables.

The McLaughlins lived on the property for 55 years until Colonel Sam’s death at the age of 100 in 1972 (Adelaide died in 1958), the same year it opened to the pubic, and the federal government designated Parkwood a historic site in 1989. Today, the estate is preserved as if the family still lived there, with room settings and vignettes designed to give guests a realistic view of the McLaughlins’ lives. Visitors can stroll through the estate and experience the photos and cherished mementos that adorn the space. Silver, monogrammed linens, needlework, crystal, China, trophies, awards and other memorabilia are displayed with care inside, while the gardens outside represent how they appeared in the 1930s. Every space on the property tells a story and celebrates the contribution of one of the city’s most prominent, respected and remembered families.
Visit parkwoodestate.com to learn more about the home, event services and to book a tour.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Parkwood NHS Archives.

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