One of the things that makes Parkwood unique from other historic sites is that we are a 20th century site, and therefore have access to the living memories of area residents about Sam McLaughlin and his family, a rarity in many North American museums, whose mandates cover the 19th century. Beyond the collective memories of Durham Region residents, we have the good fortune to have had access to three of the McLaughlin daughters, grandchildren, their spouses and great grandchildren over the last 12 years. This access has proven valuable in adding anecdotal content to our tours, understanding what it was like to visit over a Christmas season, arriving at the Oshawa train station and having the chauffeur retrieve guests and then the drive to Parkwood.
From a curatorial standpoint, I love that I have the ability to send a quick email with a question to a grandchild, always receiving an answer within a few hours assisting with elucidating time frames or simply answering an ” I wonder” question. I realize how fortunate I am to have this great resource, but also realize how finite that resource is, and one day, I will be among the curators who cannot receive the easy answer or will lose that family connection along with the fantastic anecdotes.
Parkwood always boasts ( I know I do) about our archival collection of approx.15,000 items; from family home movies starting in 1924, the Christmas cards, telegrams, guestbooks, household diaries, recipes. We acknowledge what a great resource this is, but although it is extensive, the real gem is the memories. Stories that help parallel our guests experiences with the experiences of Parkwood. Not everyone has had the autobaron lifestyle or can afford what that lifestyle brings, but most can relate to the grandchild/grandparent relationship or the simple act of eating (or being forced to eat) porridge on a cold winters morning, which is one of the best received anecdote among the public, attributing to the box of Red River cereal being added to our servery interpretation over the last few years.
Last week we said goodbye to Phillip Jackson, the widower of granddaughter Diana Phillips Jackson, who grew up in Oshawa at Adelaide House, spending many hours with her grandparents here at Parkwood, and had many stories and memories of the estate, and her special relationship with Adelaide. Over the last year, I was fortunate to spend several afternoons with Phillip, sorting through family records, and listening to his recollections of meeting and interacting with Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin as their grandson- in- law.
He offered wonderful stories about his relationship with the McLaughlins, along with the observances of their relationship with their granddaughter Diana. My personal favourite story of Phillip’s was his version of marriage advice Adelaide had given to Diana after her and Phillip’s first row as a married couple. Advice that Diana in turn offered me several years ago while we were at lunch. That afternoon when Diana gave me the advice during a casual chat, Phillip held an interesting expression on his face, but remained silent. It was not until last year, after Diana’s passing, that I received his version of the marital advice, always with a humorous bent and a glint in his eye.
News of the passing of one of our active supporters and providers of tangible links to Parkwood’s past reaffirms that Parkwood needs to ensure we collect the memories as soon as possible. The oral history committee has been rounding up stories and recollections for several years and is actively on the look out to collect. Most recently, Jo-Ann was able to connect with a descendant of the household seamstress, who still has pieces from her aunt’s work & introduced us to Uncle Wiggly Longears, a Parkwood memory which would have been long lost if not for the connection, the story and the photograph.