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City Designates Bell Gairdner Estate

The City of Mississauga has designated the Bell Gairdner Estate, also known as “Fusion,” 2700 Lakeshore Road West, under the Ontario Heritage Act. This fascinating 44-acre property is buried in the extreme southwest corner of Mississauga, just east of Winston Churchill Boulevard. Though set back from Lakeshore Road, the mansion faces this street and backs onto Lake Ontario.

Charles Powell Bell (1908-1938) commissioned Bank of Canada architect Marani Lawson and Morris to design the Modern Classical house and garage, which were constructed from 1937 to 1938. Unfortunately Bell died of rheumatic fever shortly after taking up residency therein. His widow (Ethel) Kathleen Harding (1908-1991), daughter of Harding Carpets President, C. Victor Harding, remarried at the house on September 27, 1941. She wed millionaire financier James Arthur Gairdner (1893-1971). With her daughter Daphne (b. 1937), Kathleen and James Gairdner began full-time residency at the estate after World War II. Gairdner dubbed it “Gairloch,” a Gaelic word meaning “short lake.”

Gairdner added a studio to the property, west of the house, after taking up painting in the late 1940s. He enrolled in classes at the Art Gallery of Toronto, where he befriended artists York Wilson, Jack Bush and Cleeve Horne. Horne laid the cornerstone of the studio, which included a “well-stocked” bar, kitchen and bedroom. According to York Wilson’s wife Lela, the facility was “perfect, the envy of every artist.”[1] Mount Allison University exhibited Gairdner’s work in 1952.

Gairloch also served the local community, hosting the St. John’s Women’s Auxiliary Bazaar and fundraising garden tours for Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. In addition to this charity work, Kathleen served on the board of Women’s College Hospital and the Oakville Welfare Bureau; she was also President of the Wimodausis Club.

Gairdner’s grandson William D. Gairdner has fond memories of the “lovely mansion.” He writes that: “Audacious flowered hats on smiling women and portly men in blue suits or white ducks, puffing post-World War II cigars give the flavour of it. To us children it was a grand place, so manicured and well-kept, with sweet-smelling lawns that rolled down to the lake.”[2]

He goes on to reminisce about eating lunch in the “immaculate leather-furnished library to talk as he [James Arthur Gairdner] and Kay [Kathleen] enjoyed an aperitif. This ceremony was often preceded by the impressive sounds of his lovely step-daughter Daphne, practicing on the grand piano in their austerely formal drawing room with its floor-to-ceiling French windows overlooking the bay. It was like a scene from a Jane Austin novel. He, with his always watery eyes, would wait like an old bear for something to laugh at as he sipped his Scotch; Aunt Kay, perched daintily on the edge of a leather chair, her cigarette in a long black holder would steer the conversation away from shoals. They were a portrait of good life in the country.”[3]

This romanticism concluded in 1960 when James divorced Kathleen and moved to another waterfront property in Oakville proper. Upon his death, Gairdner bequeathed this estate, which he also named “Gairloch,” to the Town for a public garden and contemporary art gallery. This is now Oakville Galleries and Gairloch Gardens. The Gallery Shop occupies Gairdner’s old studio, which he wheeled from the subject Mississauga property. Kathleen sold the Mississauga estate to Ontario Hydro in 1961 and returned to Toronto.

Gairloch Gardens is just one of many examples of James Arthur Gairdner’s philanthropy. His other major gift is the Gairdner Foundation, which he founded in 1957. The prestigious organization recognizes and rewards “early the work of the world’s leading scientists,” primarily those in medical research. About a quarter of the winners have later won Nobel prizes.[4] In 2009 the awards were renamed the Canada Gairdner International Awards, due to a $20 million federal endowment.

Ontario Hydro employed the Mississauga “Gairloch” estate for its Canadian Fusion Fuels Technology Centre beginning in 1961. The City of Mississauga purchased the property in 1999. The buildings are now being stabilized. Eventually this hidden gem will be a public park for all to enjoy.


[1] Lela Wilson, “1951-1952: Steady Progress,” York Wilson: His Life and Work (Ottawa: Carleton University Press), 1997: 2.

[2] William D. Gairdner, A Grandson’s Memories of “Big Jim,” 2000: 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Gairdner Foundation, http://www.gairdner.org/aboutus~2 (accessed February 20, 2009).