Wealth, Power and Taste–Sam McLaughlin Style: Parkwood Estate

Queen Sophie, NHS Pickering Oshawa 017Queen Sophie, NHS Pickering Oshawa 024Queen Sophie, NHS Pickering Oshawa 027 Queen Sophie, NHS Pickering Oshawa 032Queen Sophie, NHS Pickering Oshawa 033search I’m a hardcore fan of CBC’s “Murdoch Mysteries.” It’s a quirky crime drama which follows the activities of Detective William Murdoch and his colleagues at Toronto Police Station #4, circa 1900.   But viewers in Season 3 got more than mystery and murder when the characters of James and Sally Pendrick were introduced.

 James, a wealthy entrepreneur and inventor, and his wife Sally, a woman with a dubious past, were seen living in considerable luxury in a palatial estate somewhere in the fledgling city Toronto. “I wonder where that gorgeous mansion is,” I asked my Murdoch-watching companion, and Toronto-raised spouse. No help there!  

Further research uncovered the answer. The Pendricks’ uppercrust home- sweet-home was in reality the Parkwood Estate National Historic Site in Oshawa. From 1915 to 1972, Parkwood was the family home of industrialist and philanthropist Sam McLaughlin. Colonel Sam, as he was known, was the founder of General Motors Canada. And for this mover and shaker, his wife Adelaide and their five daughters, only the VERY BEST would do.

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Robert Samuel McLaughlin came about his entrepreneurial gifts  naturally. He was the son of Robert McLaughlin Sr., an early pioneer in automobiles in Canada. On Sam’s 21st birthday, he and his brother George became partners in Robert’s successful Oshawa company, The McLaughlin Carriage Works. The business was, at the time, the largest carriage company in the British Empire. With an eye for form, Sam took the role of designer.

But revolution was in the air.  In Michigan, circa 1908, one Henry Ford had built the Model T automobile. And while resistance to Ford’s “horseless carriage” was formidable at first, it did not take long for public opinion to change. Sam, an innovative young businessman was convinced that the automobile was the way of the future.

He convinced his father and brother to come along for the ride. In 1908, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company was founded, with Sam as its President. The McLaughlin-Buick was the first Oshawa-built car to be built. By 1915, the Chevrolet had been born in Canada. Three years later General Motors Canada was open for business.

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Lore says that when Isabelle was pregnant with her fifth and last child, Sam was convinced that, finally, the babe would be a boy. And, he was going to be named Billy! When baby Eleanor arrived, Sam got his wish fulfilled—at least as far as the wee one’s name. For the rest of her life, Eleanor McLaughlin was called “Billy.”

The fabulously -wealthy Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin  had ambitious plans for the place they’d call home. In 1915, they’d purchased the former Prospect Park on Simcoe Street in Oshawa. And while Sam made money at the plant to pay for the elegant Beaux-Arts home that rose, Adelaide looked after the planning, design and construction of Parkwood. The 55 room estate took 2 years to complete.

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Houses of the rich and famous invariably reveal the personalities of those who build them. Parkwood is no exception. Clearly Sam, Adelaide, Eileen, Mildred, Isabel, Hilda and “Billy” were a sports-loving family. Wander Parkwood’s lower floors and come across an indoor  bowling alley, a heated indoor swimming pool, a games room whose centerpiece is a massive slate billiards table. Outside find tennis and squash courts.

Colonel Sam was a racehorse enthusiast too and kept a large stable of thoroughbreds.  Three times, horses from McLaughlin’s  Parkwood Stables  won Canada’s most prestigious race, the Queen’s Plate. In 1950, Mclaughlin sold the stables to industrialist E.P. Taylor who renamed them Windfields Farm.

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Innovation was also near and dear to Sam McLaughlin’s heart. Hence, Parkwood featured technological advancements that would take a generation or more to become available to “the middle class.”  Central vacuuming and an in-house phone system were installed when the house was built in 1915. Central air conditioning to combat humid Oshawa summers was added to the entire home 15 years later. No Depression here!

One of the home’s most curious pieces of technology is a central clock. Situated in Parkwood’s main door vestibule, the timepiece ensured that every clock throughout the house ran in synchronization with the “master clock.”  One didn’t become as wealthy as Sam McLaughlin by wasting time!  

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Horticulture was also a McLaughlin passion. A virtual army of garden professionals–24 in total– designed, planned, planted and maintained the sumptuous grounds of Parkwood Estate. The McLaughlin grounds and gardens had been inspired by the English Arts and Crafts Garden movement so popular in England at the time.

Designer William Morris and playwright Oscar Wilde were its chief spokesmen.  For “eyebrow arching” tidbits on the Arts and Crafts movement—starring the eccentric Wilde– go to www. nancyshistoricsites.com. Blogs on Annandale House in Tillsonburg and the Woodstock Museum will leave you wanting to know more!  I promise.

The English Arts and Crafts Garden Movement called for strict design formality near the house. As the garden visitor moved gradually away, the mood turned less formal—and eclectic.   For the gardens at Parkwood, a design team had created a number of themes . They include the Italian Garden, the Japanese Garden, the Sundial Garden and the Sunken Garden.  Parkwood’s formal water features–pools, fountains and waterfalls also lent a refined European air to the dazzling property.  

To maximize the outdoor experience, most of the rooms on the lower level of the home opened onto outdoor terraces. Family and visitors guests could open the French doors to catch the fragrances of lilac, roses and lily of the valley. Ah! that’s the life!

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Colonel Sam McLaughlin predicted that he would live until he reached 100. And like most of his other peeks into the future, the great industrialist was right on target. In 1972, entering his 101st year, he passed away. Adelaide had passed some years before. And the McLaughlin daughters? All were married and chose to live away from the family home.  

On Sam’s death, the ownership of Parkwood Estate passed to the City of Oshawa’s Hospital Board, then on to the Parkwood Foundation who presently administer it.  Parkwood Estate was designated a National Historic Site in 1989. 

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Today, with government funding limited to non-existent, Parkwood attempts to pay its way thanks to visitors, charitable donations, and fees from television and movie filming. Among other big budget “Hollywood” films, scenes from “12 Monkeys,” “Chicago” and “X-Men” were filmed, at least partially, at Parkwood. TV has come calling too. In addition to “Murdoch Mysteries,” the series “Bomb Girls,” “The Kennedy’s” (mini-series) and “Monk” have filmed in and around Parkwood.

Parkwood Curator Brian Malcolm will be welcoming “Murdoch Mysteries” back for the series’ 9th season. “They’ve used the exterior of the house, the gardens, the parlour and a number of other rooms for quite a number of episodes,” he indicates. With 55 grand and glorious rooms, and 2 acres of “designer gardens” Parkwood has so much to offer.

2 thoughts on “Wealth, Power and Taste–Sam McLaughlin Style: Parkwood Estate

  1. David Silcox May 23, 2015 / 4:28 pm

    Nancy — More goodies pouring in. Congratulations. I’ve started saving them, and I should have started right at the beginning. Keep ’em coming, David.

  2. Yvonne Hertzberger May 24, 2015 / 8:25 am

    I, too, am a hard-core Murdock fan. That ‘home’ is fabulous and I hope to see more of it.

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