The gossip-loving Brigertons and their friends in the ‘ton’ owe a debt of gratitude to the The Whiteoaks of Jalna and the stately home in Clarkson that inspired them.


The home and Mississauga museum on Clarkson Road North was the inspiration for the quietly imaginative Mazo de la Roche, who spun a tale of love, betrayal and money across 16 books that turned her into one of Canada’s first and most-successful international literary stars.

De la Roche was already an established Canadian authors when she and her cousin and confidante Caroline Clement purchased land on the edge of Benares in 1924, the large country estate owned for four generations by the Harris family.

Here they built Trail Cottage, a place for de la Roche to retreat from the bustle of the city and write.

Born Maisie Louise Roche, her early childhood was spent travelling courtesy of her father William’s work as a travelling salesman and her mom Lundy’s poor health. All the moving made it difficult to make friends, so young Maisie turned to books and began writing plays and stories with vivid characters and scenes.

She published her first story in 1902 at the age of 23, but it wasn’t until 1920 when she was able to write full-time – and she and Caroline came to Clarkson.

Here she got to know the Harris’ of Benares, a well-off family in rural Ontario who hosted weekend garden parties and croquet matches on Benares’ front lawn.

An only child who moved around a lot, de la Roche had never known what it was like to be part of a big, sprawling family like the Harrises – so she imagined one into existence.

The Whitoaks of Jalna.

Mazo de la Roche and Bunty, her much-loved Scottie. (Photo credit: Museums of Mississauga)

Siblings Meg and Renny; their younger step-siblings Eden, Piers, Finch and Wakefield; uncles Nicholas and Ernest; and Adeline, the 101-year-old matriarch of Jalna, their country estate.

This was a fictional family with all the drama.

In the first story, entitled Jalna, Piers Whiteoaks is wildly, passionately in love with girl-next-door Pheasant Vaughn, much to the family’s ire.

Twenty years earlier Pheasant’s father Maurice had been engaged to Meg. However during the year-long engagement, Maurice had a secret affair with village girl Elvira Gray, who, on the eve of Maurice and Meg’s wedding, deposited the newborn Pheasant on Maurice’s’ doorstep and disappeared. 

Now Pheasant has become a Whiteoaks bride (gasp!).

As juicy a piece of gossip as anything Lady Whistledown reports in Bridgerton.

Back in 1927 readers of The Atlantic Monthly were hooked and de la Roche’s literary star took off like a rocket.

She won the magazine’s $10,000 (USD) literary prize, roughly equivalent to $177,000 (USD) in today’s dollars.

Over the next 30 years de la Roche would publish 16 books in the Jalna series, paving the way for high-drama romantic family page-turners, a storytelling staple of today’s bingeable series Bridgerton, to the Roys of Succession and reality TV’s Kardashians and Vanderpumps.

De la Roche was among the first to earn international fame with these types of stories; a middle-aged woman in a male-dominated literary world who remains one of the best-selling Canadian authors of all time.

Mazo de la Roche at Trail Cottage in Clarkson where she wrote her celebrated Whiteoaks of Jalna series. (Photo credit: Museums of Mississauga)
Global literary star Mazo de la Roche. (Photo credit: Museums of Mississauga)

Through the 20th century, the Jalna series sold over 93 million copies via 193 English-language and 92 foreign-language editions.

The first family of fictional Clarkson inspired three adaptations: the 1935 RKO Radio Pictures adaptation, Jalna, the 1972 CBC miniseries The Whiteoaks of Jalna, and the 1994 French series Jalna, which won best soap or series at the 1995 Sept d’Or, France’ annual TV award.

Despite her fame, de la Roche, who died in 1961, was famously private and so it is through her fictional family that her legacy continues.

On Clarkson Road North, you can visit Benares, the source of de la Roche’s inspiration and now a City-owned museum. 

And once here, continue to explore de la Roche’s real-life inspiration by travelling a little further down Clarkson Road, to Mazo Crescent, which connects to Whiteoaks Public School. Go a little further to Birchwood Drive, near where Trail Cottage once sat and walk in de la Roche’s footsteps along Nine Creeks Trail towards Whiteoaks Park, once part of the Benares’ estate, past Jalna and Whiteoaks Avenues, and then over the Birchwood Creek bridge to arrive at Lorne Park Library, part of the Mississauga Library system.

Here you can meet Adeline, Meg, Renny, Piers and Pheasant in the pages of the Jalna series and visit the world Mazo de la Roche created amongst the white oaks of Clarkson. 


Through her creativity and imagination Mazo de la Roche helped to build this city.

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