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Protecting home of McLaughlin patriarch a “hill to die on” advocate says

The fate of the former home of Robert McLaughlin, the father of Colonel R.S. McLaughlin, located at 195 Simcoe Street North is currently a question mark after the owner appeared before Heritage Oshawa with the hopes of demolishing the vacant building. (Photos courtesy of Heritage Oshawa)

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Oshawa’s historical advocates are sounding the alarm after a threat of demolition surfaced around a home linked to the McLaughlin family and a significant piece of Oshawa’s past.

At a recent meeting of the development services committee, members of council heard from Derek Grieve and Jane Clark, both of whom noted that the owner of the home standing at 195 Simcoe Street North had come forward in 2017 with a plan to demolish the vacant home.

However, the idea was met with a strong backlash, mainly due to the fact that it was previously the home of Robert McLaughlin, the founder of the McLaughlin Carriage Works and father of Colonel R.S. McLaughlin.

For that reason, Heritage Oshawa moved forward with creating a report to analyze the merits of having the home designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. Under the act, the home would be protected from any developments that would alter or impact its heritage or cultural value.

“I believe that conserving the Robert McLaughlin house is a hill to die on,” Clark told councillors. “We haven’t done a very good job of taking care of Robert McLaughlin’s legacy, in my opinion, but perhaps we can redeem ourselves.”

Now, following Heritage Oshawa’s request, a report has been prepared that outlines the historical aspects of the home and concludes there would be several acceptable reasons for bestowing a heritage designation upon the building. Currently, it’s classified as a Class A property in Oshawa’s system, meaning it has potential for designation but is currently not protected.

In particular, the report notes there are several architectural aspects of the home, built in 1887, that would qualify it for designation, including the fact it is a “fine example” of early brick construction in Oshawa, and the fact that it acts in an almost starring role for the surrounding neighbourhood.

“It is important in defining, maintaining and supporting the area in which it stands because it is one of the early homes constructed on Simcoe Street North which is reflective of Oshawa’s early settlers and the beginnings of development in this part of the city,” the heritage report reads.

However, the physical aspects pale in comparison to the home’s historical value and its linkages to the McLaughlin family legacy in Oshawa. In fact, McLaughlin’s former home, where he lived with his third wife for nearly 19 years, sits only a few short blocks away from the National Historic Site that is his son’s former home in Parkwood Estate.

Along with his role in the early auto industry, the elder McLaughlin also played a very active role in early Oshawa, including a stint as mayor in 1899, along with serving as a councillor and member of the town’s first board of health in 1884 and first board of water commissioners in 1904.

For that reason, Clark says it is important to further protect the McLaughlin family legacy.

“Of the five must-see properties listed on the Heritage Oshawa tourism webpage, four of them are McLaughlin-related,” she says, noting that the future for the home could be bright for tourism opportunities and incorporated into city events like Doors Open Oshawa.

“But there is no future unless this property is designated,” she says. “Designation keeps all options open.”

However, councillors appeared to have some concerns with the idea, with Councillor Dan Carter speculating that the home’s appearance was “significantly different” from when it was first built. Most notably, the original yellow brick has been coated in thick white paint.

It was also highlighted that the vacant building also needs extensive repair if it were to be repurposed instead of demolished.

However, Clark says the run-down state could actually be an opportunity for an interested developer, as it would leave not many interior elements to preserve and allow for easy adaptive reuse. Clark also noted that the condition of the building is not a factor in determining heritage value.

Following a brief discussion, the committee referred the proposal to staff to come back with a report for their own, including a note that the owner should be consulted moving forward.