IN THE STEPS OF THE MCLAUGHLINS
by Jane Clark
Theme: History and Culture, Art and Architecture, Philanthropy and community service
Accessibility: Fast Paced
The McLaughlins aren't just the First Family of Oshawa, they had a profound influence on all of Canada. From the beloved Lakeview Park to Windfields Farm to the north, home of thoroughbred champion Northern Dancer, we’ll explore how one family left their indelible mark. We’ll visit some of the many diverse McLaughlin-related locations in Oshawa—all on or near Simcoe St, the city’s main north–south drag—and learn how this family of industrialists and philanthropists changed Canada forever. Some special guests will be joining us, too!
Clockwise from lower left: Robert McLaughlin with his sons John James (“Jack”), Sam, and George. Robert also had two daughters, Mary Jane and Elizabeth Ann.
Who Were the McLaughlins?
You can hardly travel anywhere around the City of Oshawa without bumping into something McLaughlin-related. In fact, this family’s fame and influence extend well beyond the city limits, mainly due to their philanthropy. And 2021 is a good time to revisit their story, as it’s the centennial of Robert McLaughlin's death in 1921, and the sesquicentennial of the 1871 birth of his son R.S. McLaughlin, affectionately known as “Colonel Sam.”
As the founder of General Motors Canada, auto baron R.S. “Sam” McLaughlin (1871–1972) is now the best-known McLaughlin, but it was Sam’s father, Robert (1836–1921), who brought his successful carriage company to Oshawa and along with his sons Sam and George (1869–1942) launched the McLaughlin auto empire in 1907 when he switched from building carriages to manufacturing automobiles. In 1918 the company became General Motors of Canada Ltd. Sam was named president and his brother George, vice-president.
Sam, his wife Adelaide, and their five daughters lived at Parkwood Estate, now a National Historic Site just north of the downtown. Sam stepped down as president of General Motors Canada in 1945 but stayed on as chairman until his death in 1972 at 100. He donated millions to charities over his lifetime, including many Oshawa institutions, such as Camp Samac, the maternity wing at the Oshawa General Hospital, the McLaughlin Bandshell in Memorial Park, the Union Cemetery War Veterans Plot, and the McLaughlin Library. In 1967, Colonel Sam was appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada.
Let’s head up Simcoe Street, Oshawa’s main north–south street, and meet some McLaughlins. Keep an eye out for some Mac Facts along the way!
Sam and George’s elder brother, John James, known as “Jack,” had a career as a successful pharmacist and manufacturer, but was known chiefly for creating Canada Dry. Capitalizing on the supposed health benefits of mineral waters, he received a patent in 1907 for "Canada Dry Ginger Ale," still going strong today.
STOP 1: LAKEVIEW PARK, 55 Lakeview Park Ave.
Lakeview Park sits on the lake at the southern end of Simcoe St., and has long been a beloved spot for R ‘n’ R for the citizens of Oshawa. In 1920, Alexandra Park north of the downtown was the only public park in Oshawa, and R.S. McLaughlin and his brother George recognized the importance of the lakeshore area for recreation. The McLaughlins purchased the 40-acre property, gifting it to the (then) Town of Oshawa to be used in perpetuity as a public park.
Lakeview Park continues to serve as a relaxing community park that contains many historic and natural features, including a beach, the Jubilee Pavilion dance hall, the three historic houses that make up the Oshawa Museum, and the adjacent Pioneer Cemetery. The Park and the Second Marsh, to the east of Oshawa Harbour, were both recently designated under the Heritage Act.
Moving north into the downtown, we’ll take Simcoe Street, which roughly follows an ancient Indigenous trail known as the Scugog Carrying Place or the Nonquon Road, and ran from Oshawa’s harbour to Lake Scugog.
Simcoe Street was first planned by the government of Upper Canada in 1822 as one of their “Colonization Roads” intended to improve access to lands away from the shores of Lake Ontario and encourage settlement northward. It was one of the first paved streets in downtown Oshawa, in 1911.
Lakeview Park today
Oshawa-on-the-Lake, 1910. Courtesy of Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG), Thomas Bouckley Collection
View of the three historic homes that make up the Oshawa Museum in Lakeview Park.
STOP 2: ADELAIDE HOUSE (YMCA), 1 Mcgrigor St.
Adelaide House, a Neo-Gothic–style home built in 1929–30 by Colonel Sam for his daughter, Eileen and her husband, was gifted in 1944 to the YWCA as a working-women’s residence and named for Colonel Sam’s wife. It now serves as a women’s crisis centre. The home is one of two outstanding examples in Oshawa of a rare residential project by the famed architectural firm of Darling and Pearson. The other is Sam and Adelaide’s own home, Parkwood Estate. Darling and Pearson designed Toronto General Hospital, the University of Toronto, and the Royal Ontario Museum, as well as the iconic Peace Tower of Parliament’s Centre Block.
Colonel Sam’s eldest daughter, (Mary) Eileen, eloped in 1918 with a WWI war hero, Eric Phillips. Colonel Sam contracted Darling and Pearson again around 1929 to design a dwelling for his daughter and son-in-law. Although his father-in-law liked him and set him up as the president of his own company, Duplate Safety Glass, Phillips and Eileen’s marriage ultimately failed, which led to their divorce c. 1945, after which Eileen moved away and the house sat vacant until Sam and Adelaide announced they were giving the Young Women's Christian Association the property, house, and furnishings of the former Phillips mansion. They also paid to refurbish the property as a residence for around 35 young women.
The McLaughlins were reportedly concerned that "the women of Oshawa had no place to hold meetings, the working girl needed a place to live, and the teenagers had no suitable place to gather." Today Adelaide House continues to serve the women of Oshawa.
Mary Eileen McLaughlin
STOP 4: GIRL GUIDE HOUSE, 121 Simcoe St. S — Now Cornerstone Community Association
According to some accounts, a home may have stood on this corner property as early as the 1850s, possibly the c. 1859 parsonage for Simcoe Street United Church.
In addition to her support of the YWCA, the hospital, and many other community organizations, Adelaide McLaughlin (1875–1958) was also very involved in the Girl Guide movement. The Oshawa Museum notes that there have been Girl Guides in Oshawa since 1911, and Mrs. McLaughlin was a member.
The McLaughlins donated this property for the use of the Guides in 1947, extensively renovating and furnishing it down to the dishes and kitchenware. In 1963 the McLaughlins made an additional gift to the Girl Guides of a gym complex and custodian apartments.
After a decline in the number of Guides and the need for the space, the Guides sold the property in 2014. It is currently the home of the Cornerstone Community Association.
Architect Harold J. Smith’s drawing of potential renovations to the house donated by Col. R.S. McLaughlin to the Oshawa Girl Guides in 1948.
STOP 4: MEMORIAL PARK, 110 Simcoe St. S.
Located in the heart of downtown, this 1 ha (3-acre) park contains two significant architectural features: the McLaughlin Bandshell and the 1924 War Memorial/Cenotaph. There are also numerous plaques, monuments, and gardens. The Bandshell, which opened in 1942, was a gift from Colonel Sam. As the patron of the Ontario Regimental Band, for several decades Colonel Sam funded the purchase of the band's instruments and uniforms, then had the bandshell constructed to provide the bandsmen with their own venue to entertain Oshawa's citizens. Although no longer associated with the Regiment, the band plays on as the Oshawa Civic Band, providing summer concerts at the bandshell.
A series of murals located on the east façade of the Bandshell commemorates 130 years of the Ontario Regiment, of which Sam was Honorary Colonel until his death. The murals were painted by John Hood of Toronto in 1996. The detail in this set of murals is exquisite; all the medals depicted at the bottom of the murals are accurate representations of Canadian military decorations.
Bandshell murals by John Hood, 1996, depicting the military service of the Ontario Regiment.
STOP 5: CANADIAN AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM, 99 Simcoe St. S.
Since 1963, the Canadian Automotive Museum has preserved and shared the history of the automobile in Canada.
A car dealership since at least 1921, the building was purchased in 1924 by Ontario Motor Sales (OMS), which maintained a showroom and service centre at this location until 1931.
The Museum, a charitable, not-for-profit institution, was established in 1962 as a community project to promote tourism in the area and the history of the automotive industry. A number of prominent Oshawa residents contributed to the purchase of the former car dealership, which was converted into a facility where antique automobiles and artifacts could be displayed.
Today the Canadian Automotive Museum continues to maintain this century-old former car dealership. The main floor holds mainly European vehicles, while the second floor tells the story of automotive manufacturing in Canada. A gift shop and reference library complement the displays, and the adjoining lot hosts drive-ins and car shows.
Take a look as our Special Guest, Automotive Museum board member Greg Johnston, shows off a few of the McLaughlin-related treats at the Museum.
STOP 6: MCLAUGHLIN BRANCH OF THE OSHAWA PUBLIC LIBRARIES, 65 Bagot St.
When it became clear that Oshawa’s 1909 Carnegie Library at the corner of Simcoe and Athol was too small, Colonel R. S. McLaughlin offered the city the gift of a new library building, which was located a short distance to the west on Bagot St., and opened in 1954. He said, “I would feel honoured to have the city of Oshawa accept from me a library building which would be a cultural centre adequate for the needs of our people.”
Two views of the Carnegie Library at the corner of Simcoe and Athol, demolished in 1957
The McLaughlin Branch of the Oshawa Public Libraries, opened in 1954.
STOP 7: ROBERT MCLAUGHLIN GALLERY, 72 Queen St.
The RMG was founded in 1967 after George McLaughlin’s son Ewart McLaughlin (1898–1968) and his wife Margaret (painter Alexandra Luke) saw the need for a public art gallery for the City of Oshawa. The couple offered both major financial support and works from their own private collection. We’ll meet them again at their home a little further north.
The gallery was incorporated in the name of Robert, founder of the McLaughlin Carriage Company, grandfather of Ewart, father of Sam, and a keen amateur painter. Sam’s daughter Isabel McLaughlin, a prolific Modernist painter and Ewart’s cousin, also became a life-long patron of the gallery. A founding member of the Canadian Group of Painters, Isabel worked with the Group of Seven, specifically under Lawren Harris. She provided ongoing financial support as well as significant gifts of over 100 important Canadian and international works.
The original Modernist structure was built in 1969 under the guidance of architect Hugh Allward. In 1987, a $5.4-million dollar expansion was designed by renowned architect Arthur Erickson, who designed Roy Thomson Hall and Simon Fraser University. Erickson built his design around the existing structure, incorporating the original stone façade into the dramatic new lobby.
Robert McLaughlin at his easel at home.
Original Robert McLaughlin Gallery, late 1960s.
Robert McLaughlin Gallery today, featuring Douglas Coupland’s 2010 Group Portrait 1957, a tribute to the gallery’s Painters Eleven collection.
STOP 8: ST. ANDREW’S UNITED CHURCH (FORMERLY ST. ANDREW’S PRESBYTERIAN), 71 Simcoe St. S. (now Oshawa Community Church)
Colonel Sam’s funeral was held at this church in January, 1972.
Regimental pallbearers carry Colonel Sam’s casket from St. Andrew’s Church, January, 1972.
STOP 9: THE MCLAUGHLIN CARRIAGE COMPANY FACTORY, 50–54 Simcoe St. N
In the late 1870s, Robert McLaughlin was newly widowed and looking for a more urban location for his growing carriage business than the tiny hamlet of Enniskillen. He wanted to take advantage of the labour and railway access available in Oshawa, so he purchased this lot in 1877 and constructed a brick building as his factory and blacksmith shop around 1878. Originally known as the Oshawa Carriage Works, the company would later be called the McLaughlin Carriage Company. Feeling the north section of the lot was surplus, he sold it to the Town of Oshawa, which then built its Town Hall and jail there. The Carriage Company remained at this location for just over ten years before moving into the much larger Gibb Brothers Furniture Factory at the corner of William and Mary St. North.
Since the 1920s the building has been home to numerous businesses, including a T. Eaton Company catalogue store in the 1930s, and the Motor City Bowling Club on the third storey from 1926 to the late 1940s. The bowling alley lanes are still in place today. Currently the building is home to Lovell Holdings Limited upstairs, and the Bent Willow and the Charity Hub on the street level.
In 1928, the original east façade was replaced with the brown brick that is now on the building.
STOP 10: R.S. McLaughlin Armoury, 53 Simcoe St. N
With war on the horizon, the Colonel R.S. McLaughlin Armoury opened in 1914, just a couple of months before the start of WWI. Once the “Oshawa Armoury,” as it was known then, was completed, the Ontario Regiment (a reserve armoured regiment now based in Oshawa), which was founded in 1866 and celebrates its 155thanniversary this year, was moved from Whitby into the new building.
McLaughlin was appointed as honorary lieutenant-colonel of the 34th Ontario Regiment in 1920, a position he held until 1931, at which time he was appointed honorary colonel of the same unit (later the Ontario Regiment [RCAC]). This led to his nickname of “Colonel Sam.” McLaughlin served in this role until 1967, thereby becoming the longest continuously serving colonel in the history of the Canadian Forces.
Colonel Sam’s financial support of the community extended to his military brothers. When government funding was cut back severely between the wars, he quietly paid the salaries of some of the soldiers.
But it wasn’t just Sam who served the soldiers of the Ontario Regiment at the Armoury. At the start of WWI, when Sam’s father, Robert, learned that the men had neither beds nor bedding, he bought every comforter and blanket available and donated them to the Armoury. He then went door-to-door in Oshawa to ask for further donations.
Another McLaughlin son-in-law also distinguished himself on the battlefield: Major-General C. Churchill Mann, husband of Sam’s youngest, Eleanor (“Billie”). Mann won many commendations during wartime and later, including the Distinguished Service Order. When Sam died, Major-General Mann became honorary colonel of the Ontario Regiment from 1973–1975, followed by his wife, Billie McLaughlin Mann from 1983 until her death in 1993. In fact, one story says that as Billie arrived for a regimental event at the Armoury, she had a stroke, collapsed, and died.
C.C. Mann and Billie at the stables.
Col Sam in his regimental uniform
The R.S. McLaughlin Armoury shortly after construction.
STOP 11: ROBERT MCLAUGHLIN HOUSE, 195 Simcoe St. N
This handsome c. 1887 Classical Revival–style house, only a block from Parkwood Estate, the much grander home of his son, Sam, is the only surviving home of McLaughlin pater familias Robert McLaughlin, who lived here with his third wife, Eleanor, and their servant, Elizabeth from 1901–1919. Over its life as a family home, it sheltered not one but two Oshawa mayors: Robert McLaughlin and R.H. James.
In the 1960s, it was converted to office space, and served as the dental office for Dr. John Maroosis, among other medical professionals, as was the case for many of the older homes along this stretch of Simcoe St. from Bond to Adelaide.
Unfortunately, the property was eventually allowed to sit vacant and unsecured in a classic case of demolition by neglect, and the inevitable happened. On the night of April 21, 2019, a man fleeing police barricaded himself in the house and set a fire to cover his escape. He was apprehended, but the house was badly damaged, especially the roof. With the exception of covering it with a light tarp, which was quickly reduced to tatters, the owner has done nothing for the past two years to stabilize and restore this historic piece of Oshawa’s history. After a concerted campaign by citizen-advocates, Oshawa City Council was persuaded to reverse their 2018 decision and designate this property to protect it—for the moment, at least—from the wrecking ball. Its fate remains unclear as it awaits a more visionary steward.
Before the fire. The south façade.
West façade, winter 2021.
STOP 12: PARKWOOD ESTATE, 270 SIMCOE ST. N — NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
Parkwood is Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin’s Darling and Pearson–designed Beaux-Arts–style 55-room home and estate, set in nearly 5 ha (12 acres) of gardens designed in part by award-winning landscape architect John Lyle. It was the McLaughlin family home from 1917 until Sam’s death in 1972. In 1989 it was designated a National Historic Site.
Peek inside the exquisite mansion and gardens in these virtual tours:
https://youtu.be/_9Ioam7KsqY(“Inside Parkwood Estate,” CBC)
(“McLaughlin House,” Parkwood) https://youtu.be/XemoAZRA-i0
Notice the stone gates on the east side of Simcoe St. opposite Parkwood, which mark the former entrance to the home, now demolished, of Colonel Sam’s brother George and his wife Annie McLaughlin.
Stone gates opposite Parkwood marking the location of George and Annie McLaughlin’s former home
STOP 13: MCLAUGHLIN HALL, 1 HOSPITAL COURT (NURSES’ RESIDENCE)
In addition to her work with the YWCA and the Girl Guides, Adelaide McLaughlin was a key player in establishing Oshawa’s first general hospital. A group of 60 women from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, led by Adelaide, began fundraising for its construction in 1907. By 1910, the land had been purchased and the two-storey building opened. In the 1920s, the McLaughlins funded extensions, including a maternity wing, and in November 1946, a nurses’ residence, called McLaughlin Hall, was opened. Since nursing education in Oshawa moved north to Durham College, the Hall has been used for the administration offices of Lakeridge Health, and the original east entrance and stairs have been removed.
View of the east (Simcoe) façade of McLaughlin Hall nurses’ residence, c. 1960. Door and stairs have since been removed.
STOP 14: GREENBRIAR, 705 Simcoe St. N
The property at 705 Simcoe St. N is known as “Greenbriar Estate,” and was built in 1928 as one of the original homes constructed on the east side of Simcoe Street, north of Rossland Road. The lot was sold to Clarence Ewart McLaughlin, son of George McLaughlin and nephew of Sam, in 1927 for $5000. Ewart McLaughlin (1898–1968) married Margaret Alexandra Luke (1901–1967), who was a noted abstract painter and founding member of the Painters Eleven. Mrs. McLaughlin, who was known professionally as Alexandra Luke, painted in her third-floor studio and organized the first Canadian travelling exhibition of abstract art beginning at Oshawa’s Young Women’s Christian Association (Adelaide House, the former home of her husband’s cousin, Eileen) in 1952.
Ewart and Margaret McLaughlin provided major financial support and works from their own private collection to establish the Robert McLaughlin Gallery, named after Ewart’s grandfather. After Ewart’s death in 1968, his son Dick also helped to support the gallery. Dick was an accomplished skater and sailor, and was inducted into Oshawa’s Sports Hall of Fame.
The house is an excellent example of “Stockbroker’s Tudor,” an English style that reflected the success of its owner. It features steeply pitched rooflines with multiple chimneys and gables, half-timbered upper storeys, and often includes multi-paned or leaded windows.
Greenbriar front entrance, west elevation
Alexandra Luke in her studio at Greenbriar, painting “Interior with Relics,” 1950. Robert McLaughlin Gallery.
STOP 15: CAMP SAMAC, 1711 Simcoe St. N
On our route up Simcoe St in the steps of the McLaughlins, we’ve arrived at the last major gift to the people of Oshawa: Camp Samac, a 63.5 ha (157-acre) parcel of land given to the Boy Scouts Association (now Scouts Canada) by Colonel Sam in 1944, and named in his honour. The property is now a privately-owned green space characterized by active and passive recreational areas and mature vegetation that includes extensive valley lands and a section of the Oshawa Creek.
It includes several administrative buildings, an outdoor swimming pool, an outdoor chapel, the former Ranger’s/Camp Chief’s residence and a number of winterized log cabins used for overnight accommodation. The Camp officially opened on Sept. 6, 1946, making 2021 its 75th anniversary. Over this time, many thousands of Oshawa’s children have learned to swim in Samac’s pool, including me.
Colonel Sam was first introduced to Scouting by his older brother, George, who was an enthusiastic Scouter. Interestingly, Sam arranged for the Camp’s distinctive log structures to be designed by Lieutenant John Engh, who had created wartime “Little Norway” flight-training camps, one in Toronto and one in Gravenhurst, for the Royal Norwegian Air Force-in-exile. In fact, the white pine logs for Samac were from the same Huntsville contractor’s land as those sourced by Engh for Gravenhurst, and were trucked down from Muskoka for the Samac lodges and cabins.
Camp Samac’s western gate, now designated under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Aerial view of Camp Samac, with pool, lake, lodges, and dam, c. 1960. Oshawa Public Libraries.
Chief Red Dog of the Star Blanket Cree Nation presented Colonel R.S. McLaughlin with a Cree eagle-feather headdress and made him an Honorary Chief, with the name Kitchie-Kahso-Kin-Esko in Regina, Saskatchewan, Dec. 1928. This name was later given to one of the Samac lodges in Colonel Sam’s honour. The headdress was returned to Chief Red Dog’s descendants in 2008.
Colonel Sam officiating at the opening of Camp Samac, 1946.
STOP 16: WINDFIELDS FARM, 285 BRITANNIA AVE W (SURVIVING BUILDINGS AND BARNS)
Windfields Farm was a beautiful 607 ha (1500-acre) thoroughbred horse-breeding farm founded by businessman, entrepreneur, and philanthropist E.P. Taylor. In 1950 he purchased the farm, then called Parkwood Stables, from Col. Sam. Sam had previously moved his stables from the Parkwood Estate grounds for more room further north. Two of the barns located at Windfields Farm were originally built between 1914 and 1917 at Parkwood Estate. The arena and stable associated with the main structure at Windfields were on the Parkwood property until the reflecting pool and fountain of the Formal Garden area were added in 1935. They were dismantled—in some cases, stone by stone—marked, and rebuilt at the new property.
Taylor’s thoroughbred stables at Windfields were renowned in North America. The farm’s most famous resident was thoroughbred-racing champion Northern Dancer, who won the Kentucky Derby in 1964. Northern Dancer also won the Queen’s Plate and the Preakness Stakes.
Several of the barns survive along with two horse cemeteries where Northern Dancer and other racers are buried. One of these cemeteries, the Trillium Horse Cemetery, was designated under the Ontario Heritage Actin 2015.
In 1917, ten years before R. S. McLaughlin bought land on the west side of Simcoe St. N. for his Parkwood Stables, his older brother George purchased 81 ha (200 acres) on the east side for his Elmcroft Farm. George had been vice-president of GM Canada until his retirement in 1924.
Pursuing his lifelong interest in farming, he purchased the McLaughlin family farms at Tyrone and the land on the east side of Simcoe, establishing progressive livestock-breeding and dairy-farming operations, and importing pure-bred cattle. By the 1950s, under George’s son and grandson, the farm had expanded to over 162 ha (400 acres).
Built in the late 1920s, George’s beautiful Craftsman Bungalow-style stone farmhouse, known as the Foreman’s House, was the subject of a community campaign to save it from the wrecking ball when the land was sold to developers. Sadly, these efforts were unsuccessful, and it was demolished in December, 2013.
Of all the McLaughlin-related properties covered by this Walk, only three are currently designated by the municipality under the Ontario Heritage Act: Lakeview Park, the Robert McLaughlin House, and the Trillium Horse Cemetery. (Parkwood is a National Historic Site, so is protected federally.) An additional potential designation, of Camp Samac, is currently pending.
George and Annie (nee Hodson) McLaughlin with Dorothy, Ray, and Ewart, c. 1900
The Foreman’s House / George McLaughlin Home at Elmcroft Farm, demolished 2013.
Sam McLaughlin’s hobbies—including bicycle racing, thoroughbred horse-racing, and yachting— reveal a lifelong love of speed. As a teenager, Sam indulged in what he called “furious cycling,” often riding the thirty miles to Toronto and back in one day. Almost every day of the week he took his penny farthing high-wheeler bicycle “on a sixteen- to eighteen-mile swing around the Oshawa-to-Whitby-to-Columbus circuit.” Once for a holiday he rode from Oshawa to Brockville and back over dirt roads, a distance of more than 483 km (300 mi)!
Sam entered races at all the fairs and meets he could find, with, he said, “pretty fair success.” Sam said his brother George joked that Sam “brought home so many cups and cruets and pickle dishes that I would be able to furnish a house when I got married.”
Sam with his penny farthing bicycle, c. 1890
Thanks for coming along on this virtual wander up Simcoe Street! Hope to see you on the real thing soon.
Many thanks to Alexander Gates and Greg Johnston of the Canadian Automotive Museum and Samantha George, Curator of Parkwood Estate National Historic Site for their kind assistance in putting together this Walk. Thanks too, to the Oshawa Museum and Local History Room at the Oshawa Public Libraries for sharing their extensive collections.