Ever visited a garden which made your jaw drop — repeatedly?
Parkwood does that to me… every time I visit. A national historic site, Parkwood is gorgeous.
You’ve likely seen Parkwood in the movies – many movies and television shows have been shot here, from X-Men to Hannibal.
Located only about 35 minutes from Toronto, Parkwood is the kind of place where you can lose yourself, meandering from one space to another. Time moves slowly and pleasantly on the 12-acre grounds.
Surprisingly, Parkwood is right downtown in the city of Oshawa.
It’s one of the few places I know that has a white garden — but then again, Parkwood has so many garden rooms, it could dedicate one to each colour and still have space left over.
Built for auto baron Robert Samuel McLaughlin (“Sam”), his wife Adelaide Louise and their five daughters in 1917, the house is a mansion by any definition.
Many features were rare at that time: indoor heated swimming pool, morning room for breakfast, large conservatory and an indoor bowling alley and games room.
As for life’s ‘little’ luxuries: Parkwood had an in-house telephone system, an elevator, a central vacuum system, remote-controlled outdoor lighting system, air conditioning, climate-controls for the art gallery, a walk-in refrigerator, and much more.
The family could well afford it. McLaughlin was president of his family business Canadian Motor Car Company which became General Motors of Canada.
The house is Classic Revival in style, with some Georgian features.
And though Adelaide and Sam loved gardening, the expansive grounds and eleven greenhouses required a staff of 24 to look after them.
Today, people visit from all over Canada and the world. They tour the house or gardens or both, and some come for lunch or tea at the restaurant.I highly recommend the tea house-restaurant and tours. A great way to spend a morning or afternoon in a place of outstanding beauty.
To visit Parkwood or donate to the upkeep of this national treasure:
Ron Coffin did such a great job restoring Ebor House that he was honoured for it.
He received the Newcastle Village and District Historical Society’s Preservation Award in 2011.
He also opened the house to the community on a recent architectural conservancy day and 600 visitors came.
A pianist played beautiful music.
The visitors toured the grand old house, admiring the furnishings and paintings, old and new.
Ron has invested untold time, love and money into his home.
“This place has nurtured me. Not just me but others too. One friend stayed here in the winter, healing from an accident. It’s nurtured her.”
The children are grown up. Ron says it’s time to leave. Ebor House is too big for one person.
He looks around at rooms sparkling with sunshine, beauty and a strong sense of well-being. He tells me yet another story about the house and the Farncombs. He calls each family member by first name.
I say: “You don’t sound like a man who’s selling this house.”
He says he is.
“I truly believe the house is looking for a buyer, rather than a person looking for this house. It’s a very special place. Last evening four of us had a wonderful supper under the trees and at the end of our meal we were visited by one of the hawks that have decided to call this place home this year. Just magical!”
As for me?
It started when I got lost a few weeks ago and saw this house.
I wanted to know more.
But the single discovery that kept me searching was the August 1901 New York Times story about the drowning of the two Farncomb boys.
My heart sank when I read it.
A parent myself, I wanted – perhaps even needed – to know that things turned out well for the family.
Of course — since this is real life and not a fairy tale — they did and they didn’t.
The Farncomb family survived and, over the decades, many thrived.
John and Jane and the boys were not forgotten.
But life must go on, at least after a while.
And so it did.
Farncomb descendants became successful in Canadian business, education, law, medicine and other fields such as literature and media.
They still own property in Bond Head, and still have influence. In 2002, one descendant (among other residents) protested against a plan to change the name of a local street. He argued it made no sense. He also pointed out that Farncombs had lived there for 150 years. And that he owned much of the land in the area.
His side won.
My interest in a house became a story about other people’s lives.
I double-checked each finding, then begged homeowner Ron and Myno Van Dyke, secretary of the local historical society, to read some of what I’d written. I thank them.
I conclude the series knowing I’ve done my best to make it fair, factual — and kind. But I know there is much more to the story of Ebor House and its families than I’ve written here.
This story is dedicated to the descendants of Frederick and Jane Farncomb.
POST-SCRIPT: EBOR HOUSE HAS NEW OWNERS — OR PERHAPS I SHOULD CALL THEM ‘NEW STEWARDS’. I WISH THEM JOYFUL TIMES IN THIS EXCEPTIONAL HOME.
Thanks to: Newcastle Village and District Historical Society; Library and Archives Canada; Archives of the City of London, England; Trinity College, Port Hope; Canadian Anglican Church; St. George’s, Newcastle; the Canadian Encyclopaedia; The New York Times and several other Canadian and American newspapers; and other sources. Some photos of Ebor House came from Promise First Realty’s website.
Author MT McGuire is one of my favorite bloggers. That’s partly because I never know what MT will write about next. Or how.
Like the time she went metal detecting and found “a strange um…. thing.” Well, with an opening like that, don’t we just need to press on, to figure out what the um… thing is?
One day she’s unearthing an 800 year old object and the next she’s breaking your heart with her worry about her parents’ health.
“My Mum was 80 a few months ago.She told me, gently, that her father didn’t survive to see 81 and I had a horrible feeling that she was telling me she thinks she mightn’t be around for long. And I think this is the root of it all. That my parents are knocking on, and soon they won’t be here. And I want their last years to be happy, and for life to be kind to them, and while I think they are happy, I know they are struggling.
So I suppose I’m just scared.”
That ability to confront both the weird and the deeply moving may help explain the appeal of MT’s K’Barthan Trilogy.
She describes the young adult fantasy series as: “Above all else, a romp. If it makes people laugh, then — to be honest — anything else is gravy. There are bad jokes, silly names, an unspeakable baddie, flying cars, flying car chases, exciting fights and a smattering of romance. But I’m hoping there might be the odd universal truth buried in there somewhere, even if it’s only by mistake.”
MT McGuire’s self-description? “A 45 year old who still checks inside unfamiliar wardrobes for a gateway to Narnia.”
Any luck with that? “None yet.”
One day, I checked MT’s blog and discovered a wonderful old building where she and her family lived while her father was housemaster of Gibbs House, at Lancing College in Sussex, England.
Here’s how she describes it:
“Miles and miles of corridor and a couple of enormous rooms (you know, bed in one post code, wardrobe in another) and a couple of tiny ones just big enough to fit a chest of drawers and a bed, on each floor. You have the spare room; the dormer up top (horrible room, we thought it was haunted – so we kindly put our guests there – phnark).”
Lancing was definitely not a “normal” environment for a young girl, since it was mostly a boys’ school.
“If your life is not like other people’s you end up with an alternative perception of what normal is.”
You also learn to see things that others may miss.
“There were always the lads who were having a hard time at home. They were the ones my parents were extra kind to and for whom they went the extra mile. I never knew what was going on in these boys’ lives but there was something unmistakable in all of them. So, I guess I developed an eye for people who were hauling baggage which has helped a lot with the characterisation in my books – not to mention day to day life.”
So – back to the pictures of Lancing College. They reminded me of another fantasy series — the Harry Potter books. And sure enough, Lancing was the producers’ first location choice.
“The school was offered a lot of money to be the ‘film-Hogwarts’ but declined. The headmaster at the time said that it was a place of education and not for Hollywood. He is a charming and mild mannered man. I wonder what on earth they must have said to him to get such an uncharacteristically pompous rebuttal.”
Today, MT, her husband (“McOther”) and young son (“McMini”) live in another old building (above, built in 1800).
She loves it, despite the fact that the plumbing and heating systems and the plastering need repairs. MT says it’s like owning a 1960’s Rolls Royce.
“Sure it needs a bit of care and tinkering but it’s like living in history and it’s so beautifully made. The banister rail is beautiful and the doors and the floors are lovely. The look and feel goes with our furniture, which is mostly family stuff, generations of hand-me-down antiques and some nice modern things McOther and I have bought.”
Comfort matters. “I like a well cared house, but not too neat. It has to look lived in or it makes the guests nervous and then they are far more likely to spill stuff and break things. Well, OK — I am, if I’m your guest. It may be different for normal people.”
For MT, home is a place, but, above all, it’s the people who love and understand you.
“Someone as well as somewhere to come home to. When I was a kid it was my parents and brother. Now, it’s McOther and McMini. Unless they are in it with me it’s not a proper home. I guess they are my home in many ways.”