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RS McLaughlin Chair in Surgery




McLaughlin Estate

Over the holidays, while visiting a colleague and friend who was ill and admitted to Lakeridge Hospital in Oshawa, I drove past the Parkwood National Historic Site that is immediately next door to the hospital. For those of you who are not familiar with Parkwood, it was the family estate of Robert Samuel (RS) McLaughlin. As many of you are aware, the RS McLaughlin Foundation allocated funds to the Department of Surgery to establish the RS McLaughlin Chair in Surgery which I have the privilege of holding.

What you may not know is that during and just after his lifetime, RS McLaughlin (affectionately known as “Sam”) and the McLaughlin Foundation awarded almost $200 million to the University of Toronto to a number of different Departments and Institutes. The McLaughlin Chair in the Department of Surgery was established through the efforts of Dr. DR. Wilson when he was Chair of the Department of Surgery (1972-82). Prior to that, another previous Chair, William Gallie had become friends with Sam and persuaded him to donate funds to establish a traveling fellowship for surgeons at the University of Toronto. Many surgeons from our Faculty have taken full advantage of this opportunity.

As I was in the neighborhood of Parkwood on that day, I decided to tour the facility. I was very fortunate to receive a private tour of the entire estate with a tour guide. What began thereafter was a personalized tour that ushered me through all of the rooms that are open to the public. I was immediately intrigued with RS McLaughlin’s attention to detail and his clear appreciation of the importance of technologies. The house itself is replete with such examples of “high end” technologies of the day, and many of these were among the first ever in homes and buildings in Canada.

The drawing room displays a marvelous hand painted Steinway piano which all of Sam’s 5 daughters and his wife, Adelaide, played. There is a striking cantilever hallway entrance, which has a circular staircase that appears to be floating in mid air. Many of the clocks in the estate home were synchronized through battery control from the basement, as Sam wished everyone to be punctual and on time for all family events.

Other technologies in this magnificent estate home include a movie theatre, where many feature films were shown over the years, air conditioning units that were installed here first in Canada, and a quadrophonic stereo system where the speakers were hidden within the bookcases. Other rooms of note include the billiard room, the bowling alley, the squash court (Sam was an avid player), and the indoor heated pool. At its peak, there were some 44 staff that were working at Parkwood and ensuring that the interior and the exterior of the estate were properly maintained. Over the years, many dignitaries visited and stayed at Parkwood, including the Queen Mother on several occasions.

The McLaughlin family initially made carriages and wagons, but with the onset of the automotive industry, they formed the “McLaughlin Motorcar Company” in 1908. Sam was President at that time, but it was clear that they were unable to compete with other car companies. Hence, McLaughlin Motor Company was sold, and Sam joined forces with the General Motors Corporation. He became the President of General Motors Company of Canada which was stationed in Oshawa near Parkwood. He was President, from 1918-1945. Following this he remained as Chairman of the Board of General Motors Canada until 1972.

Other evidence of Sam’s philanthropy includes donations to the Royal Ontario Museum and the building of the McLaughlin Planetarium, contributions to Queens University, Guelph University and York University, and various colleges throughout the world. As hobbies, Sam enjoyed cycling, yachting and equestrian show jumping in addition to other sports.

It was clear to me that R.S. McLaughlin was an incredible man with tremendous vision. He was the leader of one of Canada’s most important companies over 30 years. In 1967, Sam became a Companion of the Order of Canada.

It is my great pleasure to review the history of the McLaughlin Estate at Parkwood, and to know a little bit more about the man who has helped the Department of Surgery and many surgeons in so many ways over the years.

James T. Rutka, RS McLaughlin Professor and Chair
Department of Surgery, University of Toronto

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