Christmas Past in YDH

Visit some of the wonderful museums here in YDH this holiday season.

We reached out to curators, managers and archivists in each of our great regions for subjects for this article. We hope your curiosity will be aroused and your feelings of the holiday season will be deepened by glimpses at places and things left behind but certainly not forgotten.

High Society in Durham, 1941

Parkwood was the Oshawa home of Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin. Sam was president of General Motors Canada and Adelaide was a leading citizen. Now a National Historic Site, the house and gardens are maintained in the style of a 1930s stately home. The 55-room house, 11 greenhouses and extensive grounds were designed with complementary themes. Tours of the site highlight period architecture, furnishings and lifestyles of the residents, as well as the sprawling and varied garden design.

November 8, 1941: Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin hosted their annual Chrysanthemum Tea, that year dedicated to raising funds for the Ontario Navy League and their Sailor’s Christmas Fund. Donations would provide Christmas parcels, including new woollens, cigarettes and other treats for 12,000 Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Navy and Merchant Marine sailors battling German forces in the Atlantic.

Philanthropy was a passion for the McLaughlin family and on this occasion guest of honour and international star, Gracie Fields (actress, singer and comedian from England), had joined them to raise money for the British war effort through the sale of war bonds.

McLaughin family
from left, Gracie Fields, Adelaide McLaughlin, daughter Eleanor McLaughlin Mann, Sam McLaughlin

More than 600 people—the elite of Toronto area society (and visiting friends)—attended the event, arriving and departing at intervals. Sailors were on hand to represent their comrades at sea and a ship’s bell was rung periodically to remind attendees of the purpose of the event. All were encouraged to tour the house, the grounds and the greenhouses overflowing with chrysanthemums, the pride of the McLaughlin family. A variety of seafoods was served along with tea.

The Chrysanthemum Tea was a highlight of the social season, often coinciding with the opening of the Royal Winter Fair. After the main event, on the following days local fliers-in-training, nurses, teachers and others were invited to tour the estate and enjoy the floral splendour. The McLaughlins usually spent the winter in Bermuda, but German aggression in the Atlantic would have made such a trip perilous.

Adelaide M
Toronto Star photos of Sam and Adelaide McLaughlin with young trainees from the Oshawa Airport Flight School

Thanks to Samantha George, curator at Parkwood National Historic Site. The house and grounds are open for touring year round. As a frequent site of major film and TV productions, look for familiar locations while you’re there.

A Child’s Christmas in North Toronto Region

Black Creek Pioneer Village is a vivid present day recreation of a 19th century Ontario community, with a website. More than forty historic buildings embody every aspect of small town life in the years just before Confederation. Visitors and school groups (check for pandemic protocols, hours of operation and available programs before coming) can see and interact with exhibits both in person and online. Costumed guides are on hand to tell them all about the period furnishings, tools, artifacts, clothing and photographs. Several structured tour options are also available. 

This holiday season they’re showing off two of the more than 2000 Victorian era toys in the fabulous Percy Band Toy Collection. As the Industrial Revolution transformed manufacturing and distribution in the 19th century, mass-produced goods became available and affordable for middle class consumers. Their children’s views of the world were changed too. Toys, toys, toys!

In the 19th century toys were expected to be educational and to help prepare children for perceived adult roles. Girls were given dolls to mother. Boys might be given toy trains to encourage thoughts of travel and business. What would your children or students think about those ideas?

1880 doll
Doll with bisque head and paperweight eyes. Costume is original. Manufactured by Emile Jumeau in Paris, France Circa 1880. Bought in Paris by William George Gooderham in the 1930s and brought to Canada for his granddaughter, Ruth Gooderham
1880 toy locomotive
Toy Train Locomotive, Circa 1880. Painted cast iron toy train. “Big 6” is embossed on each side of the engineer’s cab. American. Photo credit: Toronto and Region Conservation Authority

The Toy Collection at BCPV may inspire all kinds of questions, and it is one of many collections of curious things from the past on view this holiday season. Visit the past in the near future.

Thanks to Wendy Rowney, General Manager of Black Creek Pioneer Village and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority

Many Lives at Pickering Museum Village

Pickering Museum Village in Durham Region is a colourful collection of eighteen relocated and refurbished historic buildings, with furnishings, equipment and artifacts from the region, and much more. It is also home to an impressive range of historical reenactments, interactive activities and local lore.

Pickering Museum

These presentations change with the season, of course, and sometimes incorporate imaginative themes like Glad Rags & Giggle Juice (Prohibition) and the Pickering Fairy Tour (for the Little People). On any given day (check the website for times, costs and restrictions), take a guided drive among buildings dating from the 1830s to the 1910s, where volunteers apply exhaustive research into period costumes and retro household skills to offer a range of time-travelling, educational and family-friendly demonstrations.


For the holidays this year Village staff and volunteers are preparing for A Storybook Christmas!  Follow along in your very own keepsake storybook as you explore the village like never before.  Guests of all ages will find themselves immersed in the holiday season with music, crafts, trivia, hot apple cider, treats, and more.  And don’t forget – no visit would be complete without a visit from the man in red himself!

Unleash your inner elf as you step into the PMV workshop and become an expert toymaker!  Create your very own stuffed plush polar bear toy, and even design a t-shirt for them to wear home. Register to participate in The Polar Plushie Workshop today

Meanwhile in Mulmur Township, December 1923

The Museum of Dufferin archive holds a single faded receipt that bears witness to a small town church’s expression of faith and fellowship at Christmas. The receipt is from the H. Gilbert & Son General Store in Mansfield. The items on the list are ingredients for Christmas treats, along with oranges for the children. We’ll leave the possible identity of those Christmas confections to those of you more skilled in the culinary arts. The ladies of the church would surely have chided us for our ignorance.


St. Andrew’s Church in Mansfield, Mulmur Township, Dufferin County held an annual Christmas “entertainment” for parishioners and friends on the last Sunday before December 25. It had become a community tradition. Christmas carols were sung and then attendees gathered to share holiday treats, maybe a little eggnog, a few laughs and the warm feeling of a church community at Christmas time.

Christmas Carol book

From the end of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: “… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

A Christmas Carol film
Title card from 1923 silent film, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”

Thanks to Laura Camilleri, archivist at the Museum of Dufferin. Visit the Museum online at As always, check for pandemic restrictions before leaving home.

by Rob Morphy

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