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Sunday, February 5, 2023
NOTL sisters relive childhood memories with McArthur Estate tour
Sisters Irene Howarth and Barbara Baptiste greet Santa at the McArthur Estate during last Friday's Rotary house tour. Supplied/Kevin MacLean

Magical.

It’s a word that can conjure up an image of something memorable, meaningful, special.

For two sisters who grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake more than half a century ago, visiting the McArthur Estate for the Rotary Club’s Merry and Bright Christmas Tour on Friday night really was “magical.”

It was a “walk down memory lane” for Barbara Baptiste and Irene Howarth, and a chance to relive a bit of their youthful days in NOTL.

They were friends with two daughters of Shaw Festival co-founder Calvin Rand, who lived at historic Randwood next door – and they often babysat for guests of the Logans, who lived in what is now known as the McArthur Estate.

Excited and thrilled to be inside the Logans’ former home for the first time since they were teenagers, Howarth said they loved the opportunity to “reminisce and laugh and retell stories of the very unique experiences of the time we spent babysitting in that home many, many years ago.”

“For me, touring the estate was not so much about the decor as it was about just being in the home again – to see the library again or walking up the grand staircase to where the kids’ bedroom was,” Howarth said.

“It also rekindled awesome memories of spending time, in elementary school, at the Rand Estate next door.”

The sisters also visited homes on the Rotary Club’s daytime tour and took in the Candlelight Stroll.

Howarth lives in London, Ont., now but Baptiste returned to live in NOTL after retiring in 2020 during COVID.

Baptiste recalled how the Logans often opened up their home to people from the Shaw, so parties and gatherings were a common occurrence. And babysitters were needed.

As young teenagers, they didn’t pay much attention to the stars and artists who dropped by the estate, though she remembers a few big names who visited.

Among them were actors Barry Morse and Paxton Whitehead.

Morse, famous at the time for his role as a detective in the TV series “The Fugitive,” also served as the Shaw’s second artistic director, in 1966.

Whitehead was artistic director from 1967 to 1977.

“It was just a magical time because a lot was happening with the development of the Shaw Festival,” said Baptiste.

“All these sort of grand and dramatic kinds of things were happening, so it was fun.”

They were known as the “Ricardo Enns” family, six siblings raised in Old Town on Ricardo and then Delatre Street.

“It was a good time to grow up,” Baptiste said.

While she’s retired now, she travelled the world for business and founded a company, Rehabilitation Management Inc., which specializes in care planning for people with serious brain and spinal injuries.

Baptiste credits another famous NOTL persona for inspiring her to become an entrepreneur.

When she was in Grade 9, John Drope toured her through what is now the Pillar and Post, and spoke of his plan to turn the old canning factory into a top-tier hotel.

“He said, ‘This is my dream. I’m going to turn this factory into this hotel.’ And I always was totally intrigued by entrepreneurial kinds of things,” she said.

She’s happy she chose to retire to her old hometown, where, among other things, she can play golf and get involved in organizations like the NOTL Writers’ Circle.

While Irene lives a few hours away, she also still enjoys the chance to visit.

“Niagara is such a beautiful and unique town and, even though it has changed over the years, it hasn’t lost its charm for me.”

“And when visiting I like to make a point of walking past our old home on Ricardo Street,” she said.

“That inevitably leads to all kinds of stories about our neighbourhood and growing up there – the six Enns siblings.”

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