Tag Archives: Canadian 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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Filed under A Good Home, Artist, Arts, Authors, Canadian life, Children's Books, Homes

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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Filed under A Good Home, Canada's National Historic Sites, Canadian Gardens, Canadian Homes, Canadian life, Famous Places, Gardens, Heritage Homes, Home