Mansion still standing despite almost being demolished to pave the way for Bayview Avenue
At the height of her career, bestselling Canadian author Mazo de la Roche lived in a mansion at the southwest corner of Bayview and Steeles that is still standing today, 80 years later.
Her 16-novel soap-opera series about a nineteenth-century Ontario family, the Whiteoaks, and their home, Jalna, has sold over 11 million copies.
Born Mazo Roche in 1879 in Newmarket, north of Toronto, she elaborately added “de la” when she began writing and claimed she was descended from an aristocratic French family with connections to Ireland.
Started in 1927, the Jalna series made Mazo wealthy. She and her cousin and lifetime companion Caroline Clement moved from Toronto to England, where they adopted two children. In 1939, when the Second World War started, they returned to Toronto and Mazo bought a house at 3950 Bayview, built in 1922 in a then little developed area.
She expanded it into a 17-room fieldstone and stucco mansion by adding two wings and named it “Windrush Hill.”
She wrote in a large oak-panelled room with two fireplaces in the east wing. The west wing was for garages and servants. In warm weather Mazo wrote by the stream on the nine-acre property. The children swam in it in the summer and skated on it in the winter. They used snowshoes to get through heavy snow.
After six years the family relocated south to Forest Hill, where it was easier to attract staff and take the children to school.
Mazo was writing her 17th Jalna novel when she died in 1961 at 82.
City officials tried to expropriate the land, then issued a demolition permit, so as to straighten the curved Bayview Avenue, but were stopped by preservationists. The house survived a 1976 roof fire.
That same year the property was purchased by Don Mills developer Harry Winton for $320,000, with a promise to preserve a portion of the house as a museum for the author while living in the other half. Winton quickly soured on those plans. After having a demolition permit rescinded by North York, Winton sold it in 1978 for $515,000 to the Zoroastrian Society of Ontario, which is still there. It is listed in the City’s Inventory of Heritage Buildings.
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on December 28, 2019, on toronto.com.