The “Basement tour” Eva did this past August was really on another level!
Sam McLaughlin was an innovator, a deep thinker and one who put ideas into action. He was the founder of McLaughlin Motors Co. in 1907 in Oshawa, ON. Which eventually evolved into General Motors of Canada. He was born in Ontario but his ancestors were of Irish descent. He and his wife, Adelaide, had 5 daughters.
As his business and family were growing, he needed a larger abode. With an architect, he designed a luxurious manor which still sits in the far reaches of Oshawa. It was built from 1915 to 1917 presenting as an expansive mansion that reflected the prominence of the family in an affluent society.
Today Parkwood Estates sits on acres and acres of manicured lawn, cascading fountains and many colourful flower beds. On a sunny August day my friends and I decided to take the Basement Tour as opposed to the Main Floor Tour and the Second Floor Tour.
Our first stop was the kitchen which was located in a separate structure from the main house to which it was connected by a a maze of halls in the basement. The kitchen was the hub, the centre, the nucleus, of the Estate. A head cook ruled over her assistants who were responsible for the family of seven, and forty staff. No one outside the team was allowed into the kitchen and the children, especially, were not allowed any snacks at any time of the day. Through one entry to the basement and down twenty steps, a large walk-in fridge and freezer were located. Another doorway led to a large larder built to store every ingredient and more just for baking. A separate large freezer and fridge larder housed all the frozen foods and fresh produce grown on the Estate. Every room and every space in the basement were functional with access controlled and restricted via the kitchen and a twenty-step flight of stairs.
The Basement consisted of a labyrinth of hallways, dimly lit and very narrow. A large boiler room generated enough steam to heat the entire 55 room mansion by its radiator system. Steam was also ran the 1000 pipe organ still in pristine, working condition. An echo room was built between the pipe room and the steam room to enhance the sound of the organ music. The grand organ is the show piece of the main hall of the mansion.
Further down the narrow hallway, we entered a large canning room equipped with two great stoves, a massive table and many shelves. Adelaide McLaughlin came from an agricultural background. She grew all the fresh produce all year ‘round in eleven massive hot houses, canning, preserving and cooking whatever she grew. Continuing down the hall, we came to a giant vault, 6’x8,’ encased in a cement wall with three soundproof doors, each with its own combination. Only Sam and the head butler could access it. Surprisingly, the vault housed the architectural blue prints for the buildings, folded linen, silverware and 150 peacock feathered dusters but no money. Money was kept in a separate safe in Sam’s office.
In the centre of the basement was a gigantic central vac, run by steam and operated by the staff to clean the grand mansion. There is a wine room with stacks of shelves, sinks, hoses and wine making tools was tucked away in a remote corner of the basement. It was more for the use of J.J. McLaughlin, Sam’s brother, a chemist, to use as a laboratory. He grew ginger and after some experimentation, he created a “ginger beer,” a huge favourite beverage in the household. Years later, it was marketed as Canada Dry.
All the rooms in the Basement were well connected, dimly lit and often strangely located. The laundry room, for example was tucked away behind the staff washrooms.
As the tour came to an end, one sensed a well-organized and well-run household, managed and operated from its basement.
The informative and well-guided tour gives one a good glimpse of life for the rich of the 19th century. An excellently priced tour at $10.00 and one which we highly recommend!
Just my opinion…
Click for a mini tour: