As Oshawa’s downtown core grew, only one of the area’s gracious mansions survived the wrecking ball. From love lost to new beginnings, this is the tale of Adelaide House.
The McLaughlin family of Oshawa never did anything small, and growing their family was no exception. Eileen McLaughlin was born the year her parents were married, the first child of auto baron R.S. McLaughlin and his wife Adelaide. Over the next decade, she would become the older sister to four girls: Hilda, Mildred, Isabel, and Eleanor.
In 1919, at the age of 21, fresh-faced finishing school graduate Eileen McLaughlin married dashing 26-year-old William Eric Phillips. In Europe at the outbreak of WWI, Eric Phillips had joined the British army and performed admirably, winning both the Distinguished Service Order, a British military decoration for distinguished service in action, the Military Cross, as well as a promotion to lieutenant-colonel.
Adelaide House, as the building is known today, was an extravagant gift from Col. Sam and Adelaide to their eldest daughter and her husband, who packed up Heathwood, their home on Park Road North, and moved into their elegant new mansion with their three children.
Built in 1929 and designed by Darling and Pearson, the same architects who designed Parkwood Estate, the mansion was built in the Tudor Revival style and featuring a grand entrance, drawing room, modern bathrooms, the latest in kitchen innovations, plus a sprawling garden and an amphitheatre.
However, the marriage between Eileen and Eric would not last. The couple divorced, and the property returned to the hands of Col. Sam and Adelaide.
Not long after her divorce, Eileen found new love and remarried Frank McEachern. She died suddenly on board a Canada-bound flight from Bermuda, at the age of 61.
Eric moved on, and from 1940 to 1946 he headed Research Enterprises Ltd, a wartime crown corporation making optical glass, range finders, binoculars and radar components. REL also manufactured the test items for the trainees at Camp X, a Second World War paramilitary and commando training installation in what’s now known as Intrepid Park, on the Whitby/Oshawa border. After selling $220-million worth of equipment, in 1946 the government closed down operation, and Eric resettled in Toronto.
But what happened to the mansion? In 1945 Col. Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin donated their daughter’s former home to the YWCA, a social cause close to their hearts. The building now operates as second-stage housing for at-risk women and children.
During modernization, the YMCA was careful to preserve many of the architectural elements that made the house so elegant for its time: the linen fold hardwood in the dining room, the use of thistle and images in Eric’s former office, and expansive the stain glass windows. When ownership of the estate changed hands, it was renamed Adelaide House, for both Adelaide McLaughlin and Adelaide Hoodless, the founder of the Canadian National YWCA.
And it remains Adelaide House to this day.