One City: Oshawa, Ontario

Explore Canada’s car culture, tour one of the country’s last great estates and catch a rainbow trout
  • Feb 28, 2014
  • 1,119 words
  • 5 minutes
Parkwood Estate in Ottawa, Ont Expand Image

1. Business
“The City that Motovates Canada.” Though it’s no longer used, the slogan fit Oshawa, the home of General Motors’ Canadian headquarters, and the city’s storied automotive history. For industrial inspiration in an unparalleled setting, lunch or coffee at Parkwood (pictured left), the former estate of Oshawa’s own auto baron R.S. McLaughlin, is an ideal choice for those doing deals in town. Built between 1915 and 1917, just before McLaughlin became president of General Motors of Canada, the mansion is considered one of the country’s finest and last-remaining grand estates. The estate has also been used as a location for numerous TV shows and movies — most notably Chicago and X-Men. The Orchid House Tearoom — serving sumptuous scones, preserves, tea and coffee — is open Tuesday through Sunday from October to May, while the Garden Teahouse Restaurant is open for lunch from June to Labour Day. Reservations are recommended for both.

2. Family
Kids of all ages will delight in celebrating Oshawa’s — and the country’s — car culture at the Canadian Automotive Museum. There are about 65 vehicles on display dating from 1898 to 1981, including national automaker brands such as Brooks Steam, Redpath, Tudhope, McKay, Galt Gas-Electric, CCM and many more. There are also impressive foreign models in the collection, most notably Rolls-Royce and the Amphicar (a German-made amphibious automobile from the 1960s). The more than 2,300-square-metre museum, on the site of a former dealership, is open every day except Christmas, and admission runs $5 for adults and $4.50 or less for kids (five years and under are free).

3. Adventure
Looking for a fight? The scraps get harried in the tight confines of Oshawa Creek each spring for anglers chasing rainbow trout, and again in the fall for those pursuing migrating salmon. A number of guides, meanwhile, offer some of the best salmon fishing in Lake Ontario throughout the summer, a short distance from Oshawa’s harbour. The staff at Gagnon Sports, the 40-year-old local outfitting shop, or outdoor megastore Sail can point aspiring anglers and pros alike to the best gear or guides for tackling the area’s action. From automotive culture to angling, there’s plenty to motivate a visit to Oshawa.

Parkwood Estate

By Kathleen Clark

Expand Image

It’s had many visitors, including a telekinetic professor, a 1920s murderess, two United States presidents and the spoiled heir to a hotel empire. But you won’t find any of that in this National Historic Site’s official history.

While you may not have heard of Parkwood Estate, odds are you have seen it. For decades, the Oshawa, Ont. house has served as the backdrop for characters on the silver and small screens. As curator for the past 14 years, Samantha George has seen her share of film crews come through.

“Filming is necessary to be able to pay for things, but it’s contradictory to everything we do,” she says. As a museum, Parkwood’s mandate for preservation is not always easy to mesh with the lights and the action that come with movies and television. “The best way to explain it is that it’s our part time job to help pay the bills.”

Here’s a look at some of the productions that have been at Parkwood over the years:

Billy Madison (1995): The former home of automobile magnate R.S. McLaughlin proves it is also fit for a hotel business baron in this 1990s flick. Billy is a lazy 20-something who needs to show he has what it takes to inherit and run his father’s legacy. Whether his whirlwind journey through all 12 grades convinces you of his competency or not, the movie does give you a nice tour of the estate and its grounds.

Canadian Bacon (1995): A fictional American president (Alan Alda) devises a plan to boost his approval ratings by invading Canada. He didn’t need to go very far to invade his northern neighbour. In fact, he did not need to go anywhere – the White House was located in Oshawa and looked strikingly similar to Parkwood.

Relic Hunter (1999): A show about Tia Carrere scouring the globe for lost and stolen artifacts, though a lot of time was spent in Toronto and the surrounding area, including Parkwood.

X-Men (2000): Once upon a time, when Wolverine was just some guy with claws and interesting facial hair, Bryan Singer needed somewhere to direct a little movie about mutants. The Beaux-Arts inspired mansion became Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters. 

Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (2001): For this TV movie, as with all productions that come to Parkwood, the house had to first go through a process George calls “gift wrapping.” First, the team moves all original artifacts to safety. Next, floors are layered with mats and carpets, walls are covered with cardboard, and anything else is bubble wrapped. The fact that you cannot tell is a testament to movie magic.

Chicago (2002): In this musical take on the nearly indistinguishable worlds of 1920s showbiz, media and murder, Parkwood Estate plays the role of a crime scene.

The Tuxedo (2002): During the filming for this Jackie Chan flick, George discovered a new side of the action star: his love of porcelain.

“He actually came and hung out with me during lunch and we talked about the Parkwood China collection,” she says. “He wanted to look at the Wedgwood and the Royal Dalton. We talked about its history. How cool is that?”

Bulletproof Monk (2003): It might be hard to picture mercenaries bursting through Parkwood’s series of French doors to capture a monk played by Chow-Yun Phat. Bulletproof Monk visualizes this for you, but no actual historical artifacts were harmed in the making of this movie. To film the scene, the crew removed all original doors and replaced them with destroyable versions made of balsa wood and sugar glass. But there was a second hitch to overcome: the period drapes. They would have to be taken out of harm’s way.

Hollywoodland (2006): Filmed right around the breakdown of Bennifer (Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez), this production was Parkwood’s one brush with the paparazzi.

The Kennedys (2010): For the second time, a U.S. president came to Parkwood, but this character wasn’t fictional.

Bomb Girls (2011-2012): Fans of the show might recognize Parkwood as the Witham mansion. Set in Toronto during World War II, Bomb Girls was an ideal pairing for the estate. “As a museum and a National Historic Site we really embraced Bomb Girls,” says the curator. “It helped highlight a lot of the things that were happening here on the home front.”


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