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‘Pink castle’ on the hill


Laurentian University purchased the Spanish colonial home in 1966. It was designed for its first residents, The Parkers.


The president of Laurentian University and his or her family get to live in the official residence at 179 John St. The house is architecturally and historically significant.

A history of the home was written by a former resident, Janna Ramsay Best (wife of LU president Henry Best), and made available to visitors on the IODE Tour of Homes in 2009.

The home, which stands out because of its pink colour and Spanish colonial design, was built for Ralph Douglas Parker, superintendent of International Nickel Company’s Creighton Mine, at the beginning of the Depression.

Parker wanted a grand house for his American bride-to-be Mina Bayne Todhunter. The design is reminiscent of large homes in southern California. He chose a lot on Precambrian Rock, which overlooked the city and provided, at the time, a good view of Ramsey Lake. The walls were insulated with cork to keep out the winter cold.

The Parkers were married on New Year’s Day in New York City in 1930, and moved into their new home later that year.  They lived in the home for five years. Parker was then promoted to general superintendent, mining and smelting division of the company, and was required to move to Copper Cliff.

The John St. house was sold to Parker’s friend, Ben Merwin, owner of the Pineland Timber Company. The family had four children, and shortly after they moved in, a recreation room was built. The rock was blasted and the room was built underneath the existing house. The family made other changes to the house including replacing the original tiled roof with green shingles.

Merwin decided to sell the home and build a smaller one in 1966.  Parker, who was Ontario president of International Nickel, was chair of the Laurentian University board of governors at the time. He arranged for the university to buy the house.

The first university president to live in the house was Stanley Mullens (1963-1970). When the Bests lived in the home (1972-1977), they opened the doors to people from the university and the community, and hosted large weekly buffet suppers.

Over the years, the house has been used to host many formal dinners and receptions.

Dr. John Daniel (1984 – 1990) and his wife had the interior and exterior repainted, and the kitchen was renovated.

Over the years many prominent people have visited 179 John St. including astronaut Marc Garneau, artist Robert Bateman, pediatrician, author and activist Dr. Benjamin Spock, author Margaret Atwood, environmentalist David Suzuki, economist John Kenneth Galbraith and several governor-generals.

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