Throughout high school and most of college, I had the privilege of working at the absolutely stunning Parkwood Estate as a historical interpreter/tour guide.
Often referred to as Oshawa, Ontario’s own Downton Abbey, Parkwood is a national historic site that sits on 12-acres of land which was was once home to the late Samuel McLaughlin, autobarron and founder of General Motors Canada, and his family from 1917 to 1972.
During my time as a tour guide, the most common thing I heard from visitors was “I’ve lived in Durham Region my whole life, but this is my first time here. Why did I wait so long to visit?” – well, with everything that’s been going on over the past 16 months, there’s never been a better time to get out there and explore your local community, folks!
Parkwood was officially designated a national historic site in 1989, and tours are offered year round. The majority of the items on display throughout the 15,000 square foot mansion, including housewares, books, photographs/artwork, furnishings and more, are original to the home.
The mansion has 55 rooms in total, including a bowling alley, heated indoor swimming pool and hidden panels ands stairways. My absolutely favourite room in the house is the drawing room. It features a stunning grand piano, a beautiful ornate fireplace and gives you the ultimate early 20th century cozy vibes – I would love to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea in this room.
In addition to tours, they also host special events, private weddings, pop-up markets and offer a gift shop, an outdoor tea house restaurant and stunning historic gardens.
The gardens, which have references to the great gardens of England and Europe but with a 20th-century spirit, are free to visit – and yes, they are dog friendly! (Leashed only.)
The outdoor tea house restaurant is located in the Formal Garden, which was designed by architect John Lyle, who was awarded the Bronze Medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada for its design.
The restaurant is run by Oshawa’s own Berry Hill Food Co., and while it is booked up for most of the summer I definitely recommend that you check it out if you’re lucky enough to snag a reservation or cancelation. Not only is the food amazing, but the entire atmosphere is simply incredible. Tables are well spaced out, so it really feels like you’re eating in the garments. For all of my gluten-free friends, there are plenty of gluten free options for us as well! If you call in advanced, they can even accommodate gluten free high-tea.
You’re also more than welcome to pack your own picnic and bring it to enjoy on the grounds, or grab some take-out from the tea house to do the same.
If you’re an avid movie/TV watcher, this place might look a little familiar to you even if you’re not from the Durham Region or the Greater Toronto Area. Parkwood has been the backdrop for hundreds of productions, including Billy Madison, X-Men, Chicago, Murdoch Mysteries, Shadow Hunters, The Umbrella Academy, and many more.
If you’re local to Durham or the GTA, I strongly recommend that you visit Parkwood when you get a chance or whenever you’re in the area. The grounds and gardens are free to explore, as I mentioned before, but I would also encourage you to go on a 1-hour tour of the home. The interior is just as stunning as the exterior, and filled with amazing stories. There’s no time like the present to get out there to support and explore your local community!
I’d love to know some of your favourite hidden local gems, regardless of where you call home, feel free to leave your recommendation in the comments!