‘Phillips made a fortune supplying glass to multi-millionaire Oshawa automaker,’ writes Susan Goldenberg
If only the walls at Phillips House, on Buchan Court at Sheppard and Leslie, could talk! Now the child and adolescent mental health services headquarters of North York General Hospital, it has a long, colourful history.
Phillips House wasn’t always the name nor was the property as small as it is today. Originally it was a 600-acre farm owned by William Armstrong, given him in 1806 by his rich brother-in-law Henry Mulholland who owned nearby lumber mills. Henry’s oldest son William, a politician and justice of the peace, purchased the property from Armstrong’s estate in 1836. A century later, in 1936, descendants sold half to Canadian silver and gold mining tycoon Frederick Martin Connell (1883-1980). He built a large Georgian Revival-style house, ‘Macron Farms’, with landscaped grounds.
In 1943 Connell sold to Colonel W. (William) Eric Phillips (1893-1964), among Canada’s most powerful elite. Following service in the First World War, Phillips made a fortune supplying glass to multi-millionaire Oshawa automaker R. S. (‘Sam’) McLaughlin, forerunner of General Motors of Canada. This may have been connected to his marrying McLaughlin’s daughter Mary Eileen.
In 1945 Phillips co-founded Canada’s first big conglomerate, Argus Corporation, which controlled Massey-Ferguson, Dominion Stores, B.C. Forest Products, Canadian Breweries, all then major companies. “Exemplifies Top Executive to Nth Degree,” The Globe and Mail wrote on July 5, 1958.
Phillips renamed Macron Farms ‘Wynyates’ (Old English for ‘vineyards’). He painted the brick exterior white and repainted the shutters green from white. He raised beef and dairy cattle.
His personal life fascinated gossips. Mary Eileen left him for another man and he married Doris Smith Gibson, a renowned beauty whose first husband had committed suicide by jumping off a train. One of her sisters was married to John Angus (‘Bud’) McDougald, also an Argus leader and North York resident.
Phillips died December 26, 1964, in Palm Beach, Florida. He was interred at St. John’s Anglican Church, York Mills. Conrad Black controversially acquired and dismantled Argus.
North York General Hospital purchased the 12,000-square-foot house and 13 acres from Phillips’ estate the year after his death. The house became a City of Toronto heritage site in 2006.
Written by Susan Goldenberg.
Originally published on June 21, 2020, on toronto.com.