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The story below was taken
from the New Brunswick Reader Feb.28/98
The South Bay residence was built
to celebrate a fairytale romance, but it has its share of tragedy.
By Anne Baker
On a bluff overlooking South Bay on the western edge of
Saint John sits a family home unlike any other in the province of New
Brunswick. It is a 20th-century structure, but it looks much older. Although it
is known as the "Castle" it is not the home of royals, nor has it ever been.
Among it's many owners the most illustrious was the brother of a senator, but
he was not the first nor was he the most colourful. Both of those honors go to
E. Parker Baker, the man who conceived of the castle and began construction in
1912, creating what a newspaper of the day called "an ornament to the
The newspaper also called
it a "beautiful residence," but that sentiment is arguable. Gary Hughes, in his
book of Saint John architecture Music of the Eye: Architectural Drawings of
Canada's First City 1822-1914 called architect Neil Brodie's design
delightfully eccentric, and this assessment is difficult to deny. There is no
one word in the vocabulary of architecture that quite describes the castle's
style which Hughes calls Gothic in outline, but classical in decorative
Describing E Parker Baker is almost as difficult. Born
in Saint John in the mid-1880s, he was the son of B. Franklin Baker and Mary
Gault Baker. He grew up to be a handsome young man, lover of fine clothes and
extravagant living. He became a shrewd investment banker and a partner in many
area business ventures, but he was also a schemer who was not afraid of risk.
He turned the head of
Gladys Wellwood Walker of South Bay, the daughter of Dr.James Walker and
Katherine Nice Walker. Gladys had attended the Ottawa Ladies' College and had
once written her mother these words: " I never intend to get married unless I
meet somebody that comes up to all my ideals and that I get so fond of that I
can't live without. I believe there are hundreds of girls that get married
without understanding what marriage means."
Three years later, on
April 18, 1911, Gladys was married to Parker Baker at her father's home. Parker
loved money and all it could buy, and her family enjoyed considerable wealth.
It was Dr. Walker who gave the young couple the money with which to build the
castle and the land overlooking South Bay on which it is situated. When the
couple's son Walker was born on September 24, 1912, he was brought home to
their house on Alexandra Street just off Douglas Avenue in Saint John, but
plans for the castle's construction were under way.
The family finally moved
from the city to the country in 1915. It was a fairy tale beginning to their
lives at South Bay. The family was welcomed through heavily carved columns that
set off the massive two-storey portico entrance. Large circular bay windows
afforded them magnificent views of the bay and of the St. John River. Newspaper
coverage reported on such improvements as "lighting and heating" and a kitchen
with "all modern comforts." Hardwood floors gleamed in every room and
everywhere expensive materials and decorative detailing added to the castle's
elegance. Outside, the house was encased in limestone laid in Portland cement,
the stones from the quarry of Randolph and Baker. On the grounds were sweeping
stone walls, a lovely pergola, a circular driveway, magnificent lawns and
gardens. It was an imposing piece of architecture.
Parker and Gladys were
opposites in personality and temperament. He was outgoing, charming, full of
confidence. He was also reckless, especially with money. He earned a fine
living, but he spent lavishly and often foolishly. More than once, his wife's
family money helped him out of hot water, but there came a day when it could
Gladys was quiet,
introspective and deeply religious. She was an everyday painter who thoroughly
enjoyed the fields surrounding her home, the creek named for the Walkers and
the shore of her beloved South Bay. She entertained with pleasure, but her
favourite moments were spent quietly alone with her paintbrushes or with her
young son who became known as "Bookie" because, like his mother, he loved
There is no evidence that Parker or Gladys ever referred
to their home as "the castle." It is a descriptive word used in South Bay. And,
alas, the home did not fulfil it's promise of a fairytale life for the couple.
Parker had invested heavily and lost, not just money of his own, but that of
clients. He fled from New Brunswick under a cloud and became an exile of sorts
in New York City in the early 1920s. He continued to make fortunes in the
United States, at one time as a partner in the film business with J. Arthur
Rank, but he also continued to lose great fortunes on unsuccessful ventures,
and he died in the mid-1970s, estranged from his son and living in genteel
poverty in a lovely Dutch Colonial home overlooking the Hudson River at
When Parker left New
Brunswick, Gladys sold the castle and moved with Walker to her parents' home
next door. There was an attempt at reconciliation with Parker, when she and
Walker moved to New York for a brief period, but it did not take; the couple
It was a shocking
development in the 1920s, one which the romantic and idealistic Gladys never
got over. She took tremendous pleasure in her son, raised him with a loving
hand but she never re-married and did not venture far from her father's home
where she died in 1941.
The castle has passed from
one owner to another over the years. Each family that has resided there has a
story to tell, some of them quite dramatic, even tragic. For many years Gladys
looked across Walker's Creek at the wonderfully exotic home of her short
marriage and painted it in soft watercolours. She painted it in all seasons.
Some of her pictures render it as stately and serene. In others, it looks sad
and dejected. The pictures speak of her own life as the castle's first lady.
The castle still graces
the bluff overlooking South Bay and is still a family home. The stone walls are
gone; the pergola could use some restoration. But the imposing house remains, a
reminder of the ambition and excesses of its first owner, E Parker
Anne Baker lives in South
Bay, Saint John. Her husband's grandfather was E. Parker Baker.
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