Parkwood volunteers were dressed as characters spanning the decades
Parkwood volunteers were dressed as characters spanning the decades. Click image to enlarge

Articles and photos by Jil McIntosh

Photo Gallery:
The Auto Baron’s Ball at Parkwood

Oshawa, Ontario – Back in the earliest days of the automobile, many vehicles were built by companies that started out building horse-drawn carriages and made the switch to horseless ones. Such was the case with Canada’s largest and best-known buggy builder, the McLaughlin Carriage Company, located in Oshawa, Ontario.

It was founded by Robert McLaughlin, who started in his trade by making and selling axe handles, and then a pair of sleighs that he delivered to customers in 1867. His mechanically-minded son Samuel worked in the carriage factory, but was far more fascinated by the newfangled automobile when it came out, especially when the company bookkeeper bought one and let the young man drive it. Robert was never sold on horseless carriages, but he let his son have his way, and on November 20, 1907, the McLaughlin Motor Car Company was established.

GM of Canada president Arturo Elias with a 1908 McLaughlin
The front gates of Parkwood
GM of Canada president Arturo Elias with a 1908 McLaughlin (top), and the front gates of Parkwood. Click image to enlarge

It was common for Canadian automakers to build versions of established American brands, to avoid the cost and pitfalls of designing a new vehicle from scratch. McLaughlin threw in his lot with Buick, an independent company that Billy Durant was to use as the cornerstone of his new General Motors in 1908. McLaughlin built its first car, based on the Buick Model F, in December of 1907. Sam McLaughlin sold his company entirely to GM in 1918, when it became General Motors of Canada.

As a wealthy auto magnate, McLaughlin commissioned Parkwood, a 55-room mansion in what was then the northern edge of Oshawa. It was built between 1915 and 1917, and was a rare residential design by architects Darling and Pearson, whose most famous work was the tower of the Centre Block of Parliament in Ottawa. McLaughlin lived in it until his death in 1972, in his 101st year. It is now a National Historic Site and is open as a museum; rare among such sites, all of the furnishings were left in place, and the house is basically as it was when the McLaughlin family occupied it. It even contains an indoor swimming pool, bowling alley, greenhouse and a reflecting pool based on the design of that at the Taj Mahal.

It is now operated by the non-profit Parkwood Foundation, which hosts fundraisers to keep the property maintained. The crowning jewel each year is the Auto Baron’s Ball, held this year on May 30.

“We sold out, which is over 400 tickets,” said Tracey Ducharme, Marketing & Promotions for Parkwood. “We also exceeded our sponsorship goals. This is fundraising that ensures that the estate remains open.”

Bob Ward's 1937 McLaughlin Buick limousine was built in Oshawa
The McLaughlin stamp will be issued by Canada Post in September
Bob Ward’s 1937 McLaughlin Buick limousine was built in Oshawa (top); The McLaughlin stamp will be issued by Canada Post in September. Click image to enlarge

Guests and speakers at the black-tie event included GM of Canada president Arturo Elias, Ontario Minister of Finance James Flaherty, and Oshawa mayor John Gray. Guests arrived at the mansion’s enormous circular driveway, where they could have their pictures taken with a 1937 McLaughlin-Buick eight-passenger limousine belonging to antique car enthusiast Bob Ward. The eight-cylinder car was built in Oshawa and originally cost $2,342. It was owned by Canadian Pacific and used as a “rail car;” it still wore its iron railroad wheels when Ward bought it in 1981. Over 22 years, it was gradually restored to its original glory.

Volunteers from the Parkwood Foundation also made their way through the crowd, dressed as characters from various decades of the house’s history. Watching them dressed as flappers or 1950s debutantes, it was easy to imagine the house in its glory, when McLaughlin himself might have welcomed visitors to the door for his own gala parties.

One of the highlights of the evening was the unveiling of a new Canada Post stamp, featuring a portrait of McLaughlin as a younger man driving a McLaughlin-Buick, and in his elder years. The 52-cent stamp will go on sale in September in conjunction with McLaughlin’s birthday.

Parkwood will be hosting a number of events this year in conjunction with General Motors’ 100th anniversary. The largest is expected on August 4 – a civic holiday that is known as McLaughlin Day in Oshawa – when members of the Buick club are expected to bring some 200 McLaughlin-Buicks to the house for a giant show.

For more information on Parkwood and its celebrations, visit ParkWoodEstate.com.

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