Sunday Feb. 22, 2015
Family emergencies precluded any extended hike this weekend but I was able to take a few minutes to visit an historic estate in my neighbourhood.
Frank O’Connor was born in Desoronto in 1885 and after marrying Mary Ellen Hayes he moved to Toronto. In 1913 they opened a small candy store at 354 Yonge Street. The city was busy celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of York (Apr. 27, 1813) from the war of 1812. To capitalize on the current air of patriotism the O’Connors decided to name their candy store after Canada’s most famous war heroine and mark the 100th anniversary of her legendary walk.
On the evening of June 21, 1813 the American military entered the Secord home in Queenston and forced Laura to serve them dinner. After dinner she overheard their plans to carry out a surprise attack on the small British force at Beaver Dams (Thorold). The following morning she began a 10 mile journey through swamps and briers to the stone house where the British lieutenant James Fitzgibbon was stationed. As she climbed out of the swamp several hours later she was surrounded by a band of Iroquois who escorted her to her destination. After an ambush by 400 Indian warriors, the American forces were ready to surrender and Fitzgibbon took 462 prisoners. Laura Secord’s advance notice of the impending attack led to a decisive British victory and the use of her name led to a successful candy franchise. Today there are over 120 Laura Secord stores, making it Canada’s largest chocolatier.
In the early 1930’s Frank O’Connor had become wealthy enough to purchase 600 acres of land north west of Lawrence Avenue and Victoria Park Drive on which to build his estate. He built stables, barns and raised a herd of Ayrshire cattle. His prime Clydesdale and thoroughbred horses were shown each year at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. Frank named his farm Maryvale after his wife, Mary. The restored house stands near today’s Rowena Park.
The coach house has been restored for use as a conference centre while the smaller maintenance building on the left remains shuttered and off limits to the public.
The cupola on the coach house has a weather vane on it with the four points of the compass and an arrow to indicate the direction of the wind.
All three of the remaining buildings were constructed at the same time. The date stone was placed in the coach house and it reads 1932.
Frank O’Connor was a key player in the Liberal Party of Ontario and helped Mitchell Hepburn win the 1934 Ontario election to become the Premier of the province. He was also involved in the federal election of 1935 in which Liberal leader William Lyon Mackenzie King became the 10th Prime Minister of Canada. The cover photo shows Prime Minster King on the left, Premier Hepburn on the right and O’Connor in the back (like a typical back-bencher) on the steps of the legislature. For his loyalty, O’Connor was awarded with a senate position in 1935. O’Connor routinely gave his fortune away to several charities and when he died in 1939 he bequeathed his estate to a local religious community. Over the year’s the estate was sold off for development and by the year 2000 the three remaining buildings were unoccupied and in danger of demolition. The efforts of local community groups as well as federal, provincial and local governments were required to make the restoration possible and save the buildings, which have since been designated as historical sites. O’Connor Drive is named after Senator Frank O’Connor.
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