The CNE: Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. Much More than the Midway.


A little tad—let’s call him Louis—counts the hours until the CNE, the Canadian National Exhibition opens in mid- August of 1956. Called the “Industrial Exhibition of Toronto” when it opened in 1879, in Louis’ day, the CNE was a “must see” for every kid in Toronto and its sprawling suburbs.

Young Louis is setting his 9-year-old sights on the food, the rides and the midway, but in years to come he’ll take an interest in the buildings that make up the mega-acre site along Toronto’s waterfront.

He’ll learn that around the turn of the century, Toronto’s city fathers had hired George W. Guinlock, one of the province’s premier architects to design a series of 15 buildings to showcase Ontario’s accomplishments during the duration of the Exhibition.

Inside these classically-designed structures, the best, and the most modern of Canadian commerce, arts, science, agriculture, horticulture and industry promised to  “wow” visitors over the CNE’s two-week duration.

Between 1902 and 1912, Guinlock’s buildings would rise over the massive 350-acre site of the Industrial Exhibition’s grounds, close by the Lake Ontario waterfront.

In 1912, the “Fair” took a new name, The Canadian National Exhibition” and Guinlock’s buildings became the showcases among the showcase of the CNE itself.


By 1956, when Louis and Marjorie Silcox arrive for their day at “the Fair,” several of Guinlock’s marvels, designed in the elegant Beaux-Arts architectural style have been demolished–the victims of “urban renewal.” Some have burned to the ground.

But little Louis doesn’t care much about history. He’s itching to hit the midway. Too young still for the Flyer and the Wild Mouse, he might talk Mom into letting him try the Tilt-a-Whirl or the Whiz-bang.

Marjorie has her priorities too. They’ll be sure to stop in at the Honey Dew booth. It’s the only time her taste buds will be satisfied by the orange-honey beverage.

The bus lets them off at the gates of the Fair and the pair head for the Horticulture Building. Marjorie’s a gardener and is anxious to see the glorious displays mounted by Toronto’s various horticultural clubs.

Guinlock’s building itself is a beauty to behold. Laid out in the shape of an E, a magnificent glass dome allows sunshine at the intersection of the building’s three wings.

The Horticulture Building has a history too. Between 1942 and 1946, it was claimed by the Canadian Armed Forces as their Quartermaster’s Store.

In 1949, Guinlock’s Horticulture Building served temporarily as a morgue for over 100 casualties of the sinking of the liner Noronic in Toronto Harbour.


Enough of flowers, next stop is the Food Building where Louis edges up to the front of the mouth-watering displays of food and the latest kitchen gadgets coming on the market. If he’s lucky, he might get chosen for a free sample– a donut, hot from the new-fangled fryer. Egg choppers are the latest time-saving tool and the young lad at the front of the crowd might get to sample some tasty egg salad too.

It’s time for the pair to move on. Marjorie stops to admire the CNE Administrative Building, the oldest of Guinlock’s CNE structures. While she’s not familiar with the architectural style—Beaux-Arts, she does admire the intricate ornamentation on the face. Colour has been incorporated into the Ontario crest design of Guinlock’s 1905 building.

The pair is finally on the midway and Marjorie fishes a quarter out of her change purse. Louis has his eye on The Flyer. It’s a monster of a ride—a noisy wooden coaster that, from the sound of the screams coming from the riders is exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

He’ll have to be content with the tamer Tilt-a-Whirl. This whirling dervish still offers a shake-up to a lad’s innards.  


For a change of pace, the pair is heading to Guinlock’s Railway Building. Considered by many architecture buffs as the most beautiful and unique of his CNE structures, the Railway Building was designed as three octagonal domes connected to form a triangular inner space.

Inside, it showcased rail travel and achievements. As the popularity of rail travel waned in the 1960’s, the Railway building was reborn as the Hydro Building where advancements in energy development, then nuclear power were showcased.


Louis is anxious to get a seat for the afternoon Grandstand show. The entertainment will feature a pack of testosterone-fuelled Daredevils, jumping cars over each other, stunt driving and the usual automotive mayhem.

On the way to the Grandstand, Mom and son pass by the CNE Fire Hall and Police Station.  It’s the only one of the 15 Guinlock-designed buildings that veers from the ornate Beaux-Arts architectural style. Quirky in design, it features a clock tower and a copper pitched roof.

The building continues to serve today as Toronto Fire Department Number 90 Station. It’s occupied during the CNE by the Toronto Police Services too.


It’s been a packed day and both Louis and Marjorie are ready to call it a day. Mom has promised her son a final treat before the bus ride home. It’s a tough choice between the caramel corn and a Shopsy’s hot dog, but the beef wins.

Heading back to the Dufferin Gates where they’ll wait for the Clarkson bus, they pass by the Government Building. “What in there, Mom?” Louis asks. “I have no idea—government stuff I guess,” she answers. She’s thinking on that Honey Dew drink, wishing it was available at her corner Red and White. “I guess that’s why nobody’s lined up to get in,” Marjorie adds.

The CNE’s Government Building does much more business in 2018. It’s the home of the popular Medieval Times Theatre Company. Jousting and armour are more fun than blueprints and documents any day.





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.


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.


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.


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.


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!  


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. 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!


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. 


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.



I lead a professional life that necessitates frequent trips to Toronto. But I’ve recently sworn off road travel—even if Louis is driving. Intimidating tractor-trailers barreling down on us, consistent traffic backups and mayhem have convinced me that the only (if expensive) option for my piece of mind is train travel.

And from my home in south central Ontario, all train trips lead to Union Station. On a recent journey to “the Big Smoke” I took the time, for once, to look around, up and down and all around the Station.  This “old “lady” dazzled me.

So come along for a visit to National Historic Site, Union Station– the one- time centre of the Canadian transportation universe. We’ll cover a bit of its storied history, as well as its regal and elegant “face.”

You’ll be glad you came! 


Today’s Union Station is actually the third incarnation of Canada’s largest train station. Begun in 1914—mid-way through “The Great War,” it was complete in 1920, two years after the War ended.

The main station was not officially opened to the public until 1927. Prince Edward, the Prince of Wales  used a pair of gold scissors to cut the ribbon. Among other dignitaries at the event was the Prime Minister of Canada, William Lyon MacKenzie King. Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom dropped by too. This was one BIG DEAL!

The seven-year interlude between the end of construction and the official opening saw new train tracks being laid and the original builder, the Grand Trunk Railway going bankrupt. It was reborn as the Canadian National Railway (CNR).

So by the beginning of the Great Depression, train stations as far west as Oakville were now connected to Kingston and Belleville in eastern Ontario. Union Station was the hub of the Canadian transportation universe.

The Subway Comes to Toronto

The next step in modernity came with the opening of the Toronto Transit Commission (subway) in 1954. Union Station was to be the southern terminus to the great underground people mover.

The fortunes of Union Station suffered a blow during the early 1970’s when competition from airports and improved highways caused multi-million dollar losses to Canada’s two major railways, the CPR and CNR. 

As a result, passenger service was reduced to the bare bones and both railways looked for ways to stave off bankruptcy. The solution came when a significant portion of railway property was sold to the City of Toronto for the construction of the Gardiner Expressway.

In a move to increase traffic round Union Station, CN began an ambitious project to build a state of the art communication centre –today’s CN Tower. With the rapid expansion of GO Transit, which saw traffic at Union Station rivalling that of Toronto airport, the grand “old lady” was saved from the wrecker’s ball.


With no agenda to follow, no appointment to meet, I’m free to wander Union Station at a leisurely pace. And what a vision she is. “The best word, I think, to describe it is ‘monumental,’” I offer to Louis. He agrees.

Taking up the entire block between Bay and Front Streets of Canada’s largest city, Union Station’s size is not the only evidence of “monumental.” The shoe fits too when considering architectural style, materials and artistic statement.

The Grand Beaux-Arts

Few architectural styles are more grandiose and opulent than the Beaux-Arts. Named for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, it had its birth after the French Revolution of the late 1800’s.

Beaux-Arts influence was felt more heavily in the United States than in Canada. The San Francisco Opera house is one of Beaux-Arts’ most luminous examples.

Taking its inspiration from classical Greek and Roman architecture as well as the Italian Renaissance, buildings of the Beaux-Arts style stressed symmetry and grandeur.

The heavy use of balustrades and pilasters lend classical elegance to Beaux-Arts buildings like Union Station. Its colonnaded Front Street “porch” features 22 Roman Tuscan columns made from limestone. Each measures 40 feet (12 m) high and weighs 75 tons.

Beaux-Arts windows are invariably massive and arched, letting the maximum light inside. And reminiscent of a Roman palazzo, its peaked, hipped roofs create the illusion of flatness.

Union’s Grand Interior

Union Station’s front entranceway opens onto the “Great Hall,” the building’s expansive ticket lobby– 250 feet (76 m) long and 88 feet (27 m) high at its highest point. Its vaulted ceiling is two-stories.

Each end of the Great Hall shows off four-story tall windows, based on the model of the Roman baths.

The Interior Touches

The Beaux-Arts staircase is always a grand one. The image of Scarlett O’Hara making her appearance at the Wilkes party of Gone with the Wind flashes immediately past my eyes.

Interior decorations match the grandeur of the exterior with a generous helping of statuary, sculpture, mural work and mosaics.

Only the finest of materials have been used to create Union’s testament to longevity and permanency. They include bronze, limestone, marble, porcelain tiles, and translucent glass.

Below the cornice (where the wall meets the ceiling) of the “Great Hall” are carved the names of many Canadian railway destinations, from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans. Sault Ste. Marie is mis-spelled.

Before modernization came to Union, the cavernous building was fuelled by coal which produced 150,000 kg/330,000 pounds of steam per hour.

Union Today

Over the years, Union Station has filled several non-transportation needs. Until 2000 the CN Railway police maintained a shooting range there. The film industry has added revenue as well. Union has appeared in various films and television series, often representing settings in other cities.

In 1975, Union Station was designated as a National Historic Site. In 1999, it was inducted into the North American Railway Hall of Fame as being a significant building in the railway history.

Today Union Station remains Canada’s busiest public transportation structure, handling an average of 200,000 passengers each day, 65 million passengers annually.