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Main residence at Maryvale, Frank O'Connor's House, North York, in 1949. (Image by unknown photographer, courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)
Main residence at Maryvale, Frank O'Connor's House, North York, in 1949. (Image by unknown photographer, courtesy Toronto Public Library under Toronto Star License)

Frank O’Connor Opened Laura Secord Shops on 100th Anniversary of Event

Home bequeathed to De La Salle Christian Brothers, writes Susan Goldenberg

“King Candy” lived in North York many years.

That’s how self-made millionaire Frank O’Connor, founder and owner of the Laura Secord chocolate stores across Canada and the Fanny Farmer U.S. candy chain, was known. Opened in 1913, the centennial of the real Laura Secord warning British forces in Ontario about an impending American attack, Laura Secord candy shops were an instant success with their simple packaging and decor.

O’Connor was the world’s first candy manufacturer to profit-share with employees. He donated large sums to Canada’s Roman Catholic Church as well as to hospitals and was an early investor in the Maple Leafs hockey team. He became a Senator. O’Connor Drive, east and south of the Don Valley Parkway, is named after him.

Senator Frank O'Connor and his daughter, Mary, in a photo taken circa 1939. - Toronto Star file photo
Senator Frank O’Connor and his daughter, Mary, in a photo taken circa 1939. – Toronto Star file photo

In 1928, he bought 600 acres at Victoria Park and Ellesmere in northeast North York, calling it Maryvale after daughter Mary. The indoor swimming pool closed over to become a dance floor when a button was pushed. There was a huge greenhouse, five-car garage, coach house and “shed.” The staff included a butler, chauffeur, chef and maids. O’Connor bred cattle and horses for sale.

He died in 1939 at 54. He bequeathed the home to the De La Salle Christian Brothers. They sold off much of the land, then founded Senator O’Connor College School on the remainder in 1963, the first Roman Catholic co-educational high school in Toronto. The Brothers lived at the property until 2000, when the Toronto Catholic District School Board purchased it.

Squatters and vandals badly damaged the estate. In 2005, North Yorker Mary Fay got the buildings declared a heritage site and the school board was ordered to make repairs. The work was almost done when a spark from a welder’s torch started a fire in the attic. Fifty firefighters raced to the scene. Damage was $1 million and work set back 15 months.

The restoration received Heritage Toronto’s Award of Merit in 2014. “O’Connor estate lives on — with the luck of the Irish,” the Globe and Mail wrote.

Today, the mansion and coach house are used for classes and after-hours rented out to community organizations.

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on September 23, 2020, on toronto.com.