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McArthur Estate holiday tour pays tribute to Trisha Romance

Whether you have experienced the magical McArthur Estate evening holiday house tour, or haven’t missed a year since the estate was opened to the public, there will always be surprises.
Brenda McArthur talks of Trisha Romance in her home and her life, as she sits in the Whiskey Room, where two Romance paintings are displayed. | Penny Coles

Whether you have experienced the magical McArthur Estate evening holiday house tour, or haven’t missed a year since the estate was opened to the public, there will always be surprises.

This year’s theme is The Candlelight Christmas, and if the always breath-taking, spectacular home of Brenda and Blair McArthur exquisitely decorated for the Rotary Holiday House Tour isn’t enough, this year Brenda has decided to pay tribute to artist Trisha Romance, from whom the couple purchased their home.

One of the traditions of the tour is Brenda graciously greeting everyone as they arrive, as she would guests to her home.

Over the years since she opened the house for the tour, she says she has had people come through the doors believing it to still be the Trisha Romance Estate.

“A lot of people want to talk about Trisha,” says Brenda — some even expect to meet her, not realizing the home has been sold.

There have always been some Romance paintings in the house, but in recent months Brenda has purchased several more to hang throughout, and has asked Trisha’s daughter, artist Tanya Peterson, to be at the house for the house tour. “She has all the stories to share,” says Brenda  — the inspiration behind the paintings, some Tanya remembers, and some Trisha has told her about over the years.

“I think I need to celebrate Trisha more this year,” says Brenda. “I just have a feeling that the time has come.”

Trisha was asked early on in the days of the house tour if her home could be part of it, but she’s a very private person, and wasn’t comfortable with opening her home to the public, nor would she be comfortable attending the night of the tour. But Tanya is the perfect person to do that, says Brenda.

And since the decorations change every year, to have something new and surprising for those who make it a point to return on the annual tour, it was the right time to highlight Trisha Romance and her art. “I’m going to love having Tanya here,” says Brenda, “to help honour Trisha, and to honour her by having her paintings here.”

She is “a spiritual, kind woman. She is how all this started. Trisha brought me to this town,” she says.

Brenda fell in love with the Romance Estate on John Street when she and Blair first visited NOTL. She would ask him to drive past the estate every time they came to town, before they were finally able to purchase it and call NOTL home. That was seven years ago, when they were celebrating their 30th anniversary, and decided within months of buying it that they would have the home ready in time to be part of the tour.

“We still use Trisha’s nativity scene outside, which she left, and the Christmas tree. It was too big for anywhere else. My favourite day of the year is the day we put up the tree.”

“I love doing this,” she says of the tour. “I love the reaction from people. It’s worth all the time and effort we put into it,” she adds. “It gets us all into the Christmas spirit.”

People can be so overwhelmed as they arrive, it’s not unusual to see them cry, she says.

And it raises a lot of money for the community. “Taking those two days doesn’t seem like too much to do, and we have a lot of fun doing it.”

As to the work that goes into the decorating, beginning in October, “we have it down to an art now.”

“We love Christmas,” she continues. And although the Rotary Club typically asks home owners not to be there for the tour, allowing the volunteers to take over, “I said I had to be here.”

Rotarian Katie Aeby, one of the organizers of the tour, says that when Brenda is introduced to those who arrive at the door, “they’re so surprised, so thrilled to meet her. It makes their night.”

Rose Campbell, also a tour organizer, says from  the first year the estate was included, it was a huge success. “It took the Holiday House Tour to a higher level of fundraising and brand loyalty,” she says, and since then has brought an amazing response from those who praise the McArthurs and all they do for NOTL.

One of those comments, Campbell says, is from Trisha Romance, who watched a video that was produced during the pandemic, and called the tour “pure magic. Brought tears to my eyes,” she said, “as Silent Night played to the visions of love and care unfolding. Thank you Blair and Brenda for sharing your gift of a true Christmas Spirit!”

As generous as the McArthurs are to open their home to the Rotary House Tour, it’s not all they do to help others.

Brenda is cautious to speak of the work that keeps her busy, at times at least 12 hours a day if they are not away on holidays, and as she says, leaving her exhausted at the end of the day — she has no trouble at all sleeping at night.

She speaks of her “projects,” the work she takes on, and enjoys, keeping her especially busy at this time of year. Some of it is for other people, family and friends, and much of it for the community she loves.

She was out on Queen Street Tuesday, another of her projects, having taken charge of having the street decorated for Christmas. Although she gives credit to her team of helpers, in whatever she’s doing, she’s a take-charge person, a director, the creative person making
sure her visions become reality.

“I have helpers who are very, very organized. My brain just goes everywhere. It’s my team who keeps me focused. Having that help, a really great team of people, makes all the difference. Everyone knows what we’re doing, and we all love Christmas.”

As of Tuesday, the Holiday House Tour was sold out for all tours, evidence yet again of the years of success the tour enjoys, and helps to fund both local and international causes  the Rotarians support.