Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 18, 2017
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The house that Loblaw built

Experience the rustic grandeur of the grocery magnate’s country home

Back in the late 1920s, a Canadian home magazine ran a two-page spread on grocery king T.P. Loblaw’s summer mansion near Alliston. “It’s quite amusing to look at,”

laughs Stephen Milne, a descendant of the famous businessman, who has turned the historic property into the Stevenson Farms Bed &Breakfast. “It’s a huge article expounding the wonders of the home’s low-noise flush toilets.”

Milne isn’t surprised that the house (or its toilets for that matter) made headlines. “Back then, this place was a grand estate with every modern convenience.” It showcased an army of groundskeepers, butlers and maids, not to mention service buzzers in each bedroom and an on-site golf course.

Reviving a family’s legacy is important to Milne, age 38, and his wife Susanne, who took on the mammoth project of renovating the historical residence and turning it into a B&B and banquet facility about nine years ago. The couple share the home with their two daughters: Shannon, age seven, and Molly, age one.

“Ever since I was a child, this house has been a place of great intrigue for me,” says Milne, who also works as a director on Home and Garden Television’s Property Virgins (a show about first time home buyers).

The homestead was first built by Milne’s great-great-great-grandparents Elizabeth (nee Pringle) and William Stevenson in 1833. Loblaw, who was orphaned at a young age, was raised there by the Stevensons, his grandparents.

Although the homestead was sold in 1899, the famed grocer repurchased it in the mid 1920s as a tribute to his family. By 1927, he had converted it into a glorious, white clapboard summer residence. 

During its heyday, the ancestral home included 16 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms (today, some of those toilets from the 1920s still exist), and a large banquet hall with a dining table big enough to seat 38.

“He just loved entertaining,” explains Milne. “Nothing made him happier than being surrounded by family.”

Unfortunately, the successful merchant, who also had an estate in Toronto, was only able to enjoy the Alliston homestead for about five years. Theodore Pringle Loblaw died in 1933, at age 61, after complications from minor surgery.

Since Loblaw’s death, the farm stayed in the family. But, when Milne took over about nine years ago, much needed to be done. 

“Susanne and I did most of the renovating ourselves,” he explains. “But we called in the professionals for the bigger, more complicated jobs. And, like any historical property, the work never ends.”

Today, the B&B offers six guest rooms and a banquet hall, complete with two original pump organs from the Roaring ’20s. The place is filled with antiques and old family photos; memorabilia grace the walls of nearly every room.  

“We never had to go shopping for antiques to decorate this place,” laughs the B&B owner. “The house was just full of them when we moved in. It’s like one big treasure chest.”

Milne says the historical B&B is perfect for those seeking a country mansion-style weekend retreat. “Life is so fast these days. Visitors are able to come here and step back into a different time. They can relax over coffee in front of the fireplace, smell fresh bread baking, and take in the memories of the seven generations of family and friends who have enjoyed this home.”

My grandmother, Ruby Kerr, was a long-time Alliston resident. For my part, I had heard my share of tales about T.P. Loblaw and his famous parties. 

“There were always crowds of people at the house,” recalled Kerr, who lived nearby as a teenager and even attended a few of those parties. “The guests could do whatever they liked as long as they followed two simple rules: you had to dress for dinner and you had to attend church on Sundays.”

Kerr, who attended the same church as the famous grocer, remembered Loblaw as an extremely kind, friendly and generous man. “He always made a point of saying hello. He was everybody’s friend.”

Loblaw was one of the great supermarket pioneers. By developing a self-service “groceteria,” where customers served themselves from displays of goods throughout the store, he revolutionized food shopping in Canada. George Weston Ltd. gained control of the company in 1956.

“He was a great businessman and a wonderful philanthropist. I simply want to create more awareness about his unique life and character, and the tremendous contributions that he made to society,” says Milne.

Some of that recognition came in September when the Alliston B&B was honoured with a provincial historical plaque from the Ontario Historical Trust.

Apart from the never-ending process of restoring the home to its original majesty, Milne also plans to open an on-site museum about Loblaw.

The B&B owner first became interested in his ancestry about 18 years ago, while studying film at York University. “I spent a couple of days up at the house just videotaping my grandmother. She told me all these great stories about ‘Uncle Thead,’ and I just got pulled in.”

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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