Parkwood – A little slice of Oshawa’s history

Photo courtesy of Parkwood Estate

Parkwood Estate, a little piece of Oshawa

“Our morning routine would be to go to the garden and pick the strawberries for Mr. McLaughlin’s breakfast,” says Brian Keys, the kitchen gardener who worked at Parkwood in the 1960’s.

Parkwood Estate has been a National Historic Site since 1989. The 55-room mansion was built on a 12-acre property in 1917. Col. Robert Sam McLaughlin and his wife, Adelaide Mowbray bought Prospect park which used to exist where the estate now stands.

Photo courtesy of Parkwood Estate Old Simcoe Street

Parkwood Estate was not just a home for the McLaughlin’s and their five daughters, it was also a huge contribution to the Second World War. Tours of the McLaughlin home are open to the public to take a step back in history.

“I never met Mr. McLaughlin, just saw him up-close, mostly when he took his head nurse for a ride on his golf cart through the gardens,” says Keys, now 73.

“Mr. McLaughlin would usually take the stairs down in the morning, but being 90 at the time, he would be too tired to get back up so he would take the elevator,” says Samantha George, curator of Parkwood, National Historic Site.

The McLaughlin home tour starts with the self-supporting staircase in the front hall which was made from steel in 1917. The carpet on the old squeaky wood floor is a one of a kind from Scotland.

“The elevator in the main hall was used up until Col. McLaughlin’s death in 1972,” says tour guide, Elizabeth Glenney. She is one of the 150 volunteers who take the public on tours.

“One of the most famous rooms used in the McLaughlin’s home is the billiard room,” says Glenney, who has volunteered for seven years at Parkwood.

The billiard room has paintings of all sports Mr. McLaughlin’s took part in including, swimming, croquet, snow shoeing, canoeing, soccer, horse racing and much more. The billiard room is also famous for gatherings of the officers from Camp X.

Camp X was created in 1941, it was a special training school for agents who were involved in the Second World War.

Before the war began, supplies and recourses needed to be collected for the military. The war effort was a way of raising those things needed.

In 1939, Elizabeth and father King George were on their royal tour of Canada and the United States to bring attention to the war effort.

Col. McLaughlin’s is also known for the McLaughlin Car Company, a family business of creating vehicles. The company also supported the war effort by making a car specifically for the royal family’s arrival and tour, as well as giving the family a place to rest through their journey.

 Photo courtesy of Parkwood Estate One of the first vehicles by McLaughlin Carriage Car Company
Photo courtesy of Parkwood Estates. One of the first vehicles by McLaughlin Car Company.

Many other guests frequented Parkwood as a place to stay. One person was Col. William Eric Phillips. He later on married one of the McLaughlin’s daughters.

Col. William Phillips also started Research Enterprises Ltd, which was a building in Toronto that made espionage tools for the war.

“Lipstick cameras, lipstick knives, and even bicycles that turned into suitcases,” says George, who has now spent 17 years learning about the history of Parkwood.

One of the McLaughlin’s neighbours was William Stephenson, the creator of Camp X, which was also was involved with making prototypes of espionage tools used during war.

Every Sunday night, the officers of Camp X would come to Parkwood to discuss future plans and play some pool.

“If only the pool cues could come alive and tell me what was discussed over brandy and pool,” says George.

“Col. McLaughlin was doing everything he could before the war started, the McLaughlin Car Company which made and supplied tanks, personal carriers like trucks and fuselage lodges for the war,” says George, who dedicates her life to Parkwood.

A fuselage is an aircraft used in the Second World War that carried people or equipment.

Col. McLaughlin’s company also supplied the war with mosquito bombers, which is an aircraft that sits a pilot and passenger, often used in the Second World War.

Adelaide, Col. McLaughlins wife, loved to throw parties and fundraisers for the war effort at Parkwood.

“The McLaughlin’s would have an annual chrysanthemum tea fundraiser where a hat or shoe would be passed around and people would give money for the sailors who went to war, says George.

Six men who served Col. McLaughlin and his family from 1930-1940 were sent off to fight in the Second World War. All six men returned and were greeted with thanks.

“Sam McLaughlin gave all six men that returned, a key to a brand-new house for them and their families which to this day are still standing,” says George.

Col. McLaughlin was also involved in many groups around Oshawa, including the Ontario Regiment located in Oshawa.

In 1921, Col. McLaughlin became the president of the Ontario Regiment. Which helped him become the producer of a film.

The short film produced in 1941, There Too Go I is about the support from the women and children in Canada during the war time. The film was played locally in late 1941 in Oshawa and all earnings were put towards the war effort.

The war ended in 1945. Shortly after, Adelaide, the wife of Col. McLaughlin fell ill and passed in 1958.

“After the death of his wife, Col. McLaughlin had then realized he was getting old and decided to write a will,” says George. She says the hospital contributed to Parkwood and helped Adelaide quite a bit in the end, and in return, Sam left Parkwood Estate to the hospital.

In 1960, the hospital had plans to turn Parkwood into the new Cancer centre, but Col. McLaughlin out lived his will.

Col. McLaughlin passed in 1972 at the age of 101. The hospital was still trying to turn  Parkwood into a Cancer centre but was unsuccessful because of Heritage Oshawa, which is a volunteer run committee who conserve education and culture.

 Photo courtesy of Parkwood Estate Col. Robert Sam McLaughlin.
Photo courtesy of Parkwood Estate. Col. Robert Sam McLaughlin

“Heritage Oshawa stepped in and said you can’t touch Parkwood because of its historical background, it’s become a heritage site,” says George, who has always had a love for history.

Heritage Oshawa owned Parkwood until the late 1980’s. The National Historic Site company then bought over Parkwood and made it official.

Marking Parkwood with the title of National Historic Site, it became a place where the public could come tour the 55-room mansion, home to Col. McLaughlin who created General Motors.

“We’re not owned by Parks Canada, so we don’t have a big boss we can go to and ask for money, so we have to earn it all ourselves by fundraising and throwing events,” says George.

To this day, Parkwood is still being used for film making.

“Since 1980, I bet there’s been over 500 different films, not just movies but TV shows as well,” says George, who’s favourite film is Hollywoodland, which was filmed in 2006 at Parkwood.

Many popular films like X-men and Billy Madison along with hit TV shows like Bomb girls and Anne of Green Gables have been filmed at Parkwood.

Actress Anna Kendrick stars in the new role as ‘Anne’ in Anne of Green Gables, filming took place this past summer at Parkwood.

The tours that take place in Parkwood are another way the Estate earns money.

During a tour of the family home, the smell of antiques and dust will tickle your senses. Without giving any secrets away, the original furniture was from the 1930’s. The carpet flown in from Scotland is also an original.

Tourists like Jane Elliot and her husband Tom who are from Edmonton, Alberta are one reason Parkwood is still functioning today.

“We came here to visit my sister who’s always lived in Oshawa, she told us about this place and how old it was and we were so intrigued we just had to come see it for ourselves,” says Elliot.


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Kaatje is a Durham Journalism student. She enjoy's reading, writing. She uses her writing as way to express things. She enjoy's being in nature and writing about it.