A Good Home, Artist, Arts, Authors, Canadian life, Children's Books, Homes

At Home with Andrea Torrey Balsara

Two years ago, Andrea Torrey Balsara and her husband Nav bought a grand Victorian home surrounded by lawn, woods, and big old barns.

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in Morning

“To me, the greatest wealth is to have nature around me. To now be on a property where there are old trees, squirrels, wildlife…it is such a blessing that I had given up on ever having.

“This place came out of the blue for us, as we had resigned ourselves to subdivision living. Initially, the property was what attracted me, but I have since grown to love the old house, too; there is a spirit and charm to it that really touches me. For the first time since I was a child I feel I am truly home.”

Blog Photo - Andrea view to the barns

Blog Photo - Andrea and Maisie

Andrea is a storyteller – she writes and illustrates books for children. Characters include Greenbeard the Pirate Pig and Happy the Pocket Mouse.

Blog Photo - Andrea Swashbuckling Guinea Pig

She fell in love with pictures early.

“One of my first clear memories is at 6 years-old, reading a picture book. I say ‘reading’, but really I followed the story by the exquisite art. I remember a feeling of yearning come over me to make pictures that were so beautiful. I also grew up on Donald Duck comics. I didn’t realize until many years later that I never usually read the comics, just followed the pictures. The visual sense of humour that I have in my drawings is totally influenced by the cartoonist Carl Bark’s Donald Duck comics.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Mouse Vacation

“With my picture book, Greenbeard the Pirate Pig, I was finally able to write and illustrate a book. Since then I have also illustrated the Happy the Pocket Mouse series, written by Philip Roy, through Ronsdale Press. Book 4, Mouse Vacation, came out in October 2016. Illustrating without writing the book is a whole new experience, and one which has taught me a lot about collaboration.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Office

Andrea calls her work space her ‘art loft’.  “Really, it’s the former servants’ quarters. The stairs going up are grooved from the generations of servants going up and down the stairs. I love feeling connected to the history.”

From the window, she sees an expanse of trees, yard and old barns.

“I can’t believe I have barns!”

Blog Photo - Andrea Barns and hydrangea

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Knowing her passion for art, you may be surprised to learn that Andrea once dropped art altogether after getting a C in Grade 8.

“It was so devastating to me that I vowed never to share my art again. A drastic reaction! At that age, my sense of confidence was non-existent, so the grade felt like a defining moment to me. I avoided art classes after that, as I didn’t want to have my love of art taken from me. Odd kid-logic, I know.

“Now I feel I have so much catching up to do with people who have gone through art school; it’s made it a much longer learning curve for me to learn how to illustrate a book.”

Blog Photo - Andrea in Living Room

Writing and illustrating children’s books — here, in her beloved home — is a blessing. Andrea doesn’t only produce them — she loves reading children’s books.

“I guess because in many ways I still feel like a kid myself. I went through a traumatic experience as a small child, and a part of me is still that age. I don’t relate to many of the books meant for adults as I often find them cynical, incredibly violent, and gratuitously sexual. I love the innocence and openness of children’s books. There is a joy to it that writing for adults doesn’t have.

“In children’s books it’s not only okay to have hope, and to believe that the world is a place of beauty and love, it is essential. Even the books for adults that I love come from a place of childlike innocence and the belief in the nobility of the human spirit.”

Blog Photo - Andrea Trees in spring

As with her art, care for her home has been a labour of love. She loves the living room because it now feels homey. But the house is old and required a lot of work.

“It took me time to love the house, as initially it smelled musty and the windows were decrepit, with bugs living between them and the storm windows. It was sweltering in the summer and infested with cluster flies. I bought a vacuum I could strap on my back, with an extension wand to reach the high ceilings, and wielded it like Luke Skywalker fighting the Evil Empire. Then, in our first winter (last year), we froze. I now own several sets of long underwear (thank-you, old house!)

Blog Photo - Andrea Living room

“Thankfully this winter, with the new radiators we had installed, it has been snug. Now that we’ve sorted out some of its issues I love our old Victorian home’s uniqueness.”

Here in this unique home, Andrea is also completing a young adult novel called The Great and the Small.

It’s about a colony of rats, led by a charismatic chairman, who are waging a war to exterminate humanity using the bubonic plague. The only thing between annihilation and life is the chairman’s nephew Fin who is rescued from certain death and nursed back to health by a teenage girl. Fin grows to love the girl, and realizes that what his uncle has told him about ‘two-legs’ is wrong. Now he has to choose: follow his uncle whom he adores, or turn against him and rebel.”

Home, family, art — Andrea appears to be in a very good place. Her husband Nav and daughters are her greatest supporters. And there’s other joyful news: her older daughter will be married at the beautiful family home this fall.

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PARKWOOD: A Place of Astonishing Beauty

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.

Blog Photo - Parkwood house from west

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.

Blog Photo - Parkwood Fountains and teahouse

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.

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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.

Blog Photo - Parkwood Drawing room

Blog Photo - Parkwood Dining room

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.

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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.

Blog Photo - Parkwood - RSM and Family

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.

Blog Photo - Parkwood back of mansion.

I’m impressed by the grand house and its history — it’s a Canadian jewel.

But I’m completely bowled over by the gardens.

Blog Photo - Parkwood teahouse-restaurant

Inspired by the great gardens of Europe, they were created by the finest landscape designers available.

Blog Photo - Parkwood Garden layout

Blog Photo - B&W shot of garden and pavilion

And though Adelaide and Sam loved gardening, the expansive grounds and eleven greenhouses required a staff of 24 to look after them.

Blog Photo - Parkwood Garden and Pavillion

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.

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To visit Parkwood or donate to the upkeep of this national treasure:

Tel: (905) 433-4311
Email: info@parkwoodestate.com

All photos courtesy of Parkwood Estate

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The Fabulous Ravenscraig

PHOTOS BY HAMLIN GRANGE

RESEARCH BY KIMBERLY VANEYK

Mrs. Strike lives in Bowmanville’s beautiful historic district, near Toronto. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mrs Strike at Jigsaw puzzle Her home, Ravenscraig, is outstanding – for its design as well as the people associated with it.  Blog Photo - House - Ravenscraig Two former mayors lived here.  This grand home hosted many receptions, dinner parties, Rotary gatherings and afternoon tea. Guests included prominent members of society.

How heartwarming then, that Mrs. Strike’s fondest memories focus not on those powerful people, but on the places in her home where her three sports-loving sons played. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig the Strike Sons Historian Kimberly Vaneyk and I had the pleasure of visiting Mrs. Strike recently to learn more about her home. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mrs. Strike Kim and CynthiaWe loved the stories about her sons’ escapades. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mrs Strike in Upper Hallway The grand entrance hallway where uniformed servants greeted dinner-party guests, took their hats and coats and ushered them inside? Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Entranceway That’s where the Strike boys played basketball during winter, breaking only one piece of precious stained glass with their Nerf ball. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Beautiful Upstairs Hallway The living-room/ballroom where guests danced? Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Stained Glass lady Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mrs Strike laughs with Kim and Cynthia That’s where the boys practiced hockey. (They also played in the basement.) And why do you suppose Mr. and Mrs. Strike bought this grand home back in 1963? Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Mr and Mrs Strike Photo “Seems silly,she says, smiling, “but our boys were in hockey and it was near the rink!”

The Strikes even built a skating rink for their sons and friends.

“Our own south lawn was always a big rink every winter since 1963.  For the sides of the rink, we used doors, old boards, anything that could stop the puck! Everybody knew that rink.”

There was also the “Wounders’ Tournament” – won by the player who managed to throw most of his friends into/over the boards. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig side view from sidewalk

THE DESIGN

In a town of grand homes, Ravenscraig is one of the grandest. Blog Photo - House Ravesncraig Turret The house’s Queen Anne style is rare even here in the historic district. Its turrets are eye-catching. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Barn Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Feature 2 Fireplace carving Interior features are also distinctive. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Newel Post Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Feature 2 Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Stained Glass Lady 2 Designed for wealthy families who entertained a lot, special attention was paid to the movement of servants – and the flow between hallway, kitchen, dining-room and living-room. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Dining Room

RAVENSCRAIG’S FABULOUS PAST

Ravenscraig attracted the famous and the fabulous, the wealthy and influential, the good and the great. Bowmanville’s former mayor, Dr. Hillier, and his family had Ravenscraig built in the late 1800’s. Blog Photo - House Trees and Historic sign They entertained dignitaries from religion, medicine, law, business and politics and held fundraisers to support the community.

Mrs. Hillier herself knitted 500 pairs of socks for local soldiers during World War 1. Subsequent owners included the Schon’s, who fled Austria just before World War 2.

Ravenscraig became a focal point for the arts. Guests included well-known musicians, painters and European actress Methchild Harkness, the Schons’ houseguest. 

A second mayor, Morley Vanstone, and his family lived here after the Schons. The Vanstones were a wealthy family who owned the local mill. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Fireplace Each family left its mark… especially true for Dr. Hillier, whose initials are carved in the fireplace mantel. Blog Photo - House Ravenscraig Hillier Signature in Mantel

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Warm thanks to Mrs. Strike for her gracious welcome, to historian Kimberly Vaneyk and to Hamlin Grange for the photos.

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Selling “Home”

These days, Toronto is well-known for two things: an extremely multicultural population, and a very hot real estate market.

Blog Photo - Roncesvalles Street

It’s an interesting time to be buying or selling homes.

Blog Photo - Loraine Story Neighborhood and tree

Loraine Lee visits nearly 200 homes a year. Her clients come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Blog Photo - Toronto neighborhood2

“The first thing that strikes you is the cuisine.  Once you enter the house, you can tell who lives there – by the smell of the cooking. Although nowadays, sellers are very aware and try to either open windows to get rid of the smells or by masking them.”

Blog Photo - Loraine CU2

Born and raised in Jamaica of Chinese parents, Loraine and her family moved to Toronto in the 1970’s.

She’s a gifted writer and former publisher who decided to pursue her passion for real estate 10 years ago. Doing so has opened up the world’s cultures to her, right here at home in Toronto.

The first time she saw an altar in a linen closet, it surprised her. Now, it’s just one of the many religious practices she sees in Toronto homes.

“At one home, the wife was from the West Indies and the husband from India. She had Hindu and Buddhist statues, but also crucifixes and statues of the Virgin Mary. I think she was trying to cover all bases.”

Blog Photo - Loraine and Tree2

With Toronto’s large Chinese population, Feng Shui beliefs about design dictated what houses some people would buy.  But that’s changing. Blog Photo - Condo bath

“In the last three to four years, the market has been so hot because of low inventory that Feng Shui seems less important. If the price is right, no one seems to be bothered anymore about the number 4 or that the house is a T-Junction house. There are remedies for those “blockages”, so it’s no longer an issue.

There are many ways of creating a home. Loraine appreciates them all.

“Some men putter around continually – either willingly or at the behest of their wives – painting, changing floors, renovating bathrooms, laying stone walkways, etc. Some people’s homes are always spotless.  There are the folks who spend hours in their garden all Spring and Summer, and the beautiful colours reward them.”

Above photos by Hamlin Grange

Loraine loves figuring out the diverse needs and values of her clients and her clients’ letters show that they value her going the extra mile:

Blog Photo - Loraine and clients at home

“Loraine had a way of making us feel as if we were the only clients she had! She really took the time to know us and understand our needs and budget!! With Loraine we didn’t only find a new home… but also a new friend!”

Congrats, Loraine.

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Dedicated to everyone who is trying to buy/make a home in Toronto’s complex housing market and to realtors who do their best to help you.