Heritage Trails

Heritage trail signAlmost 60 kilometres of trails in Oakville provide insights into the town's heritage and history. Accessible to walkers, joggers and cyclists, these trails feature information stations telling over eighty stories about this land and its people, dating from 9000 BC to AD 2000. The trails link all areas of the community and reflect our natural, human and built heritage. 

There are five trail systems that form our heritage pathway network, the Bronte Creek Trail (6.5km), the Joshua's Creek Trail (6km), the Crosstown Trail (12km), the Waterfront Trail (13km), and the Sixteen Mile Creek Trail (8.5km). Existing heritage trails were created as a Millennial project in partnership with the Oakville Community Foundation. In 2017, three new trail projects including a new heritage information station honouring indigenous heritage will be completed for Canada's 150. Visit the news bulletin for more information on these projects.

Historical resources include Oakville MuseumOakville-Trafalgar Archives, Oakville Public LibraryOakville ImagesBronte Historical SocietyOakville Historical SocietyTrafalgar Township Historical Society. Visit the Heritage Planning page for information on designated heritage properties and districts.


Click on the headings and links that follow to explore our heritage information stations. 


 

Bronte Creek Trail Heritage Information

Energy Information Station

The Energy Information Station at Bronte Road and the Rebecca Street Bridge describes the influence of various forms of energy, fuel and power on the development of Oakville over the past two centuries; from water and wood to coal, electricity, oil and gas. Information posted at the station is reproduced below.

The Hamilton Radial Railway

In the early 1900s, a system of electrically powered rail cars (trams) connected Hamilton and Oakville through Burlington. The Cataract Power Company established the Hamilton Radial Railway in 1894 and extended service to the west bank of Sixteen Mile Creek in 1904. When the Radial Bridge was completed in 1906, the line was carried over to a terminal building that still stands at the southeast corner of Randall and Thomas Streets. The hourly service was popular—the cars were comfortable and the ride was pleasant. Commuters, excursionists, shoppers, and students attending Appleby College and other schools took advantage. Originally, the plan was to connect the Oakville end of the line to a line coming out Toronto, but this never happened. In 1924 the service suffered a lack of government funding and came to an end, overtaken by competition from buses and mainline railways.

Bronte refineries

In the 1950s Ontario was building its industrial base and needed secure supplies of oil and gas. Arrangements were made for pipelines to be built connecting western Canadian fuel sources to the Ontario market. In 1957, Cities Service of Louisiana bought farmland on the west bank of Bronte Creek in Trafalgar Township and built a refinery that processed 20,000 barrels a day of western Canadian crude oil supplied by Inter Provincial Pipeline. The refinery was expanded between 1972 and 1974 to 83,000 barrels per day, and was purchased by Petro-Canada in 1983. The company produces a wide range of products including propane, aviation and motor gasoline, distillates (stove oil, diesel and furnace oil) and asphalt. In 1962 Shell Canada built a second refinery next door, which was in production until 1982. It took seven years to de-commission the refinery and clean the land. The site is now occupied by a residential community, industry, and Shell Park.

Crosstown Trail Heritage Information

Sixth Line Information Station

River Oaks community

While the River Oaks Community was envisioned as early as 1969, the local sentiment was that development should happen slowly, though most farmers had already sold their land to developers and were leasing back their old properties until rezoning occurred. Developers went to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) to force rezoning to take place and in 1978, the OMB imposed a development plan for River Oaks. The town was forced to rush through a detailed "secondary" plan, but was able to put a new policy preserving setbacks of land at the tops of creeks in place, allowing for more environmentally-friendly design, a new trend at the time. New urban planning concepts including "new urbanism" and co-op housing were also incorporated into the River Oaks community.

Munn's Church

Munn's United Church was present on Dundas Street when it was an important stagecoach route between York (Toronto) and the Niagara Peninsula. The junction of Sixth Line and Dundas Street became known as Munn's Corners shortly after 1808, when Daniel Munn began farming the southeast corner. By 1814, he was running the highway's first tavern. By 1823, he was hosting meetings of a methodist congregation in his home. In 1842, his son Jordon deeded land on the northeast corner for a school and a church. Two years later, a wood frame church was built. It stood until 1898, when it was torn down and the present brick structure was built on the original fieldstone foundation.

King's Castle

King's Castle, the first private Oakville residence to be designated historic, has had a past as colourful as its builder's. MacKenzie King (1811-1879) was orphaned early and left in the care of his uncle, Oakville founder William Chisholm. King sailed the world, survived shipwrecks, struck gold and returned home to marry his sweetheart and build his castle. Both dreams came to naught. He ended up marrying his housekeeper and, although he did build the castle in 1858, he was forced to sell a year later. His home went through many owners and uses, including a pony farm and a factory. Finally in 1973, Lawrence Weeks and his wife bought the home and restored it to its original Gothic Villa style.

Hurricane Hazel

On Friday, October 15, 1954, Oakville was hit by Hurricane Hazel. Winds reached 115 km per hour. Water levels under bridges rose to 5.5 metres. Sixth Line was impassable. The approaches to the Upper Middle Road bridge were washed out and private property damage was extensive. The hurricane brought a long-standing but previously ignored flooding problem in the Wedgewood and Morrison Creek areas south of the Iroquois Ridge to light. The creeks ran in shallow areas behind homes and easily overflowed their banks. In 1965 a plan was drawn to divert storm waters to Sixteen Mile Creek via a channel, requiring the expropriation of privately-owned residential land west of Sixth Line. After years of legal wrangling and construction, the diversion system was completed in 1969.

Town and Township Information Station

Town and Township Information Station is located at the corner of Eighth Line and Glenashton Drive. Information about the demographic history of Oakville and Trafalgar Township posted at the station is reproduced below.

The roots of Trafalgar Township

Oakville and Trafalgar Township's roots were primarily Canadian, British and American. The first census for Upper Canada (Ontario), taken in 1841, listed the origins of the 4,495 residents of Trafalgar Township, including the 431 residents of what was then Oakville Village, as follows:

British Canadian
Trafalgar Township — 2,584
Oakville Village — 217

French Canadian
Trafalgar Township — 32
Oakville Village — 9

Immigrants
Irish

Trafalgar Township — 964
Oakville Village — 98

English
Trafalgar Township — 467
Oakville Village — 80

Scottish
Trafalgar Township — 127
Oakville Village — 14

American
Trafalgar Township — 306
Oakville Village — 13

Trafalgar Township residents were largely of Loyalist stock — at the close of the American Revolution (1775-83), their families had fled from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Vermont to Niagara or Atlantic Canada. They or their children then moved to Trafalgar Township when settlement began, and loyalist sentiments had substantial influence in the community.

Whether or not they were Loyalists, newcomers perceived opportunities in Trafalgar Township. Land grants or purchases along with family and business networks attracted many of the early settlers. Others were refugees fleeing from intolerable situations. Some came equipped with considerable financial or personal resources and skills. Others arrived penniless, with no connections and few skills, relying on the community to help them get started.

Amalgamation of Oakville and Trafalgar Township

For almost a century following incorporation in the 1850s, Oakville and the rural communities that made up Trafalgar Township remained physically separated from each other by farms and countryside. Although distinct, these communities were economically and socially interdependent.

Populations did not grow appreciably in the 1800s, but shortly before World War I, immigration and urbanization began to increase. Immigrants from countries other than the British Isles started arriving in Oakville. Growth accelerated during and after World War II. The area benefited from its strategic location on the main road and rail routes to the US between Toronto and Hamilton. Trafalgar and Bronte had land for industrial and residential development, but Oakville had the core services needed to support growth.

When multinational companies like Ford, oil refineries and other companies chose to locate in Trafalgar in the 1950s, the logic of amalgamation became clear to the municipalities surrounding Oakville. For some years they had cooperated through joint boards and agencies, and by mutual agreement they merged on January 1, 1962, bringing together the 10,200 people of Oakville with the 30,000 in Trafalgar and Bronte. In the horse trading that preceded amalgamation, honours were even. Oakville became the town's name, but the new town offices were located on the Red Hill, east of Trafalgar Road and north of the QEW. The new Oakville looked forward to future prospects, and back towards a quieter, rural past.

A multicultural community

Pressures to grow increased and the community felt ambivalent. There was "the old to protect and the new to pursue," but at what pace and in what order? In 1978, the Ontario Municipal Board determined that development should occur "in tiers:" northwards from the lake and both east and west of Sixteen Mile Creek (as it had occurred historically), with room built in for affordable housing, commerce and industry.

Oakville also became more culturally diverse from the 1950s on. The proportion of British immigrants diminished as the pattern of immigration changed and Italians, Germans, Poles, Portuguese, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Hungarians and Ukrainians arrived, followed by immigrants from India, Pakistan, China, Columbia, Mexico, Iraq, Korea, Argentina, Peru, Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

Joshua's Creek Trail

Joshua's Creek Information Station

Joshua's Creek Information Station, located at the South East Sports Field where Lakeshore Road crosses Joshua's Creek, displays information on the nature and history of the area, from settlement and farming to tourism, recreation, and the building of estates on the waterfront. This information is reproduced below.

By the lakeshore

Oakville's progress has always been linked to the surrounding Trafalgar Township, including Joshua's Creek to the east, which began as a farming community. In the mid-1800s a failing wheat market coupled with the advent of the railroad dried up the shipping business in Oakville Harbour. Local farmers turned to fruit-growing, which spawned new businesses in Oakville that made baskets, barrels, jam, cider and wine.

In the early 1900s, real estate agents promoted Oakville and the nearby lakeshore in Trafalgar as a playground for both the rich and the working class. Ordinary Torontonians took a boat or train out to the area to visit, while the new rich built summer homes along the lakeshore. The 1953 opening of the Ford Motor Company plant in Joshua's Creek ushered in a new era of growth. Trafalgar was merged with Oakville in 1962.

The watershed

Joshua's Creek drains southeasterly from headwaters near Lower Baseline Road between Trafalgar Road and Ninth Line, and discharges into Lake Ontario just east of the Oakville-Mississauga boundary. The creek, along with the surrounding countryside, was created by erosion as the glacier that once filled Lake Iroquois—the precursor to Lake Ontario—moved and melted.

In the early 1800s, the creek began to dry up as farmers harvested the area's white pine and oak. Without forest vegetation, runoff was rapid and soil erosion unstoppable. The warm shallow water now supports only cyprinids (carp-like fish), white suckers, sticklebacks and the occasional water snake or snapping turtle.

Modern wetland management has helped regenerate the creek as a corridor for foxes, rabbits and other wildlife. Trees along the creek include Sumac at the sunny edges; Willow and Green Ash on the damp valley floor; and Dogwood and Poplar on the sunnier flood plain.

Early settlement

Like other parts of Trafalgar Township, Joshua's Creek was settled before Oakville, which had to wait until 1827 for the harbour land to become available. The first settlers were Barnett Griggs (1783-1864) and his wife Nancy, who emigrated from the U.S. around 1811. Their farmhouse on the Lake Road (now Lakeshore Road) became a stage-coach stop known as Halfway House, because it was half way between Toronto and Hamilton. Joshua Leach (1776-1862) arrived in York (now Toronto) from the U.S. in 1797 at the age of 21. His talent as a carpenter won him many commissions. By 1822, he had saved enough money to buy 200 acres around Joshua's Creek. He built a saw mill, a thrashing mill and a home for his large family.

Farming

The earliest cash crop in Trafalgar Township was wheat, which was stored in the granary in Oakville Harbour before being shipped out to markets. Business was particularly good during the Crimean War (1853-56), when Canada served European markets. But the resumption of normal trade at the end of that war brought a tumble in prices from which many farmers and shippers never recovered. Those farmers who stayed in wheat had to ship the cheapest way possible, and that was often by the new railway.

Oakville Harbour declined, but the new rail service brought new opportunities. Local farmers shifted to the production of strawberries and other perishable fruits, which could be shipped quickly to city markets. Orchards of apple, plum, cherry and pear trees flourished. This transition spawned new businesses in nearby Oakville that made baskets, barrels, jam, cider and wine. Eventually, as Toronto and Hamilton grew, local farmland became more important for residential development. It was encouraged with the paving of Lakeshore Road in 1915, the opening of the Queen Elizabeth Way in 1939 and the start of GO train service in 1963.

Recreation and tourism

Local residents had always enjoyed a range of sports, but in the early 1900s Oakville became known beyond its borders for its lakeshore pastimes, which soon included equestrian events. Thanks in part to the 1896 victory of the Oakville-built yacht Canada in the first Canada's Cup sailing race, Oakville became a race stop for Toronto's yachtsmen. It also became a tourist destination for ordinary city dwellers, who could enjoy a boat ride out to Oakville, stay at a resort, swim on the Esplanade and canoe along the shores.

Meanwhile, Oakville realtors promoted the nearby lakeshore properties, where the rich could build estates large enough to stable horses. Herbert Cox set up polo grounds on his estate, Ennisclare, and attracted equestrians of international repute. The Oakville stables of Cox, Harry Giddings and Ryland New became famous for breeding and training King's Plate winners. The Oakville Fair added a horse show that also attracted many tourists.

The Lakeshore estates

Oakville's reputation as a resort town attracted Toronto businessmen looking to build country estates. A tumble in land prices in the early 1900s also helped realtors like W.S. Davis persuade buyers to invest here. In 1907, jeweller James Ryrie became the first of Toronto's elite to buy acreage for an estate, Edgemere, which included elaborate Japanese gardens. Within two years, life insurance executive Herbert Cox bought the land for Ennisclare, which included stables and polo grounds. The locals were soon calling the area "Millionaires' Row."

The Eaton family of retail fame began its association with Oakville in this era when W. F. Eaton began construction of his estate, Ballymena, at 1208 Lakeshore Road East. His mother, Mrs. Timothy Eaton Sr., purchased Raymar (built in 1909 by a local businessman), at 452 Lakeshore Road East, as a country estate sometime after the First World War. She died there in 1933. Meanwhile, Davis, who began his career as a postal clerk, became one of the richest men in town as the owner of several businesses, the mayor and a philanthropist.

Sixteen Mile Creek Heritage Information

First Nations Information Station

Oakville's first people (9000 BC to AD 1847)

The first people to enter North America probably migrated across the Bering Land Bridge during the Ice Age, when sea levels were much lower than today. Hunting woolly mammoths and other big game, they eventually spread throughout North America, arriving in southern Ontario 11,000 years ago. The first inhabitants of southern Ontario were migratory people who subsisted through hunting, gathering and fishing. Over the millennia the climate warmed and plant and animal resources increased. These changes made widespread travel and a nomadic lifestyle less necessary.

Around 500 A.D., agriculture was introduced into southern Ontario and Iroquoian-speaking people began to settle in villages of longhouses. Further north, Algonquin-speaking people maintained the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, living in wigwams and moving with the seasons. They displaced the Iroquois in the 17th century.

Hunter-gatherers and fisher people (9000 BC to AD 500)

After the ice melted away from southern Ontario, Paleo-Indians moved into the region. Southern Ontario was a then treeless tundra, like today's arctic. The Paleo-Indians travelled widely, hunting caribou with spear points made of chert, a type of quartz that could be chipped to produce very sharp edges. They wore clothing of hides and furs and lived in caves, under rock overhangs, and in lean-tos made of brushwood. Gradually over the millennia the people became less nomadic. They settled into specific territories and watersheds, built burial mounds in some areas, and began to produce pottery.

The first horticultural people (AD 500 to 1610)

In the Late Woodland period (AD 500-1000), people of the Princess Point Complex introduced corn into southern Ontario. Evidence of their culture has been found at Cootes Paradise in Hamilton and along the Credit River. The Princess Point culture ultimately led to the Iroquoian-speaking people who lived in the area (AD 1000 - 1600), and whom French explorers encountered at the beginning of the 17th century. These people settled on river flats where they could farm. Living in longhouse villages surrounded by palisades, they supplemented their crops of corn, beans and squash by hunting, fishing and trapping.

Early contact period (1610-1700)

Europeans first arrived in what is now southern Ontario during the second decade of the 17th century. At the time, the area was populated by three major groups of Iroquoian-speaking people: Huron, Petun and Neutral. By 1650 these aboriginal inhabitants were dispersed by the Five Nations Iroquois who lived in what is now New York State. During the period 1667-1688, the Iroquois established several outposts along the north shore of Lake Ontario. By 1700, the Iroquois were in turn replaced by the Algonquian-speaking Ojibwa. All of these groups probably fished and hunted along Sixteen Mile Creek, although none erected permanent settlements there.

The Mississauga people (1701-1800)

Many of the Ojibwa who moved into southern Ontario during this period came to be known as the Mississauga. These First Nations people were primarily hunter-gatherers who travelled in small bands. In winter they hunted in the interior and during the warmer months they frequented the mouths of the rivers and creeks flowing into the great lakes. The Ojibwa called Sixteen Mile Creek "Nanzuhzaugewazog" or "having two outlets" because of the gravel bar dividing its mouth. Here they fished for salmon and planted a small quantity of corn on the flood plain. The Mississauga also had an active trade, first with the French and later with the British.

The treaty period (1801-1847)

Under the Royal Proclamation of 1763, European settlement could not proceed without a formal treaty with the aboriginal proprietors of the land. In 1805 the Mississauga agreed to surrender all the lands from Etobicoke River to Burlington Bay. Since the fishery was important to them, the Mississauga insisted on reserving for themselves the lower portions of the rivers, including Sixteen Mile Creek, together with the flood plains where they had their camps and small cornfields. These reserved parcels were also ceded to the Crown in 1820. The Mississauga moved out of the area in 1847. Their descendants now live at the New Credit Reserve near Hagersville, Ontario.

Kerosene Castle Information Station

The Kerosene Castle Information Station is located at the entrance to MacLachlan College at 337 Trafalgar Road. Information about Kerosene Castle's history posted on the station is reproduced below.

Kerosene Castle

Kerosene Castle is a monument to the Canadian discovery of a way to produce kerosene (coal oil). In the mid-1800s, refineries sprang up across North America including the Oakville Oil Refinery on the eastern bank of Sixteen Mile Creek. Built by Richard Shaw Wood, the refinery became one of the largest such operations in Canada. His family built the grand mansion across the street, dubbed Kerosene Castle, around 1856.

In 1869 fire destroyed the refinery. Burning oil floated down the creek as far as the harbour. Wood decided not to rebuild — over-production had cut dramatically into profits. Instead he devoted himself to his planing mill (also on Trafalgar Road), which turned out finished wood products.

The mansion was a family residence until the mid-1900s, when the house was duplexed. One side was used as apartments and the other was owned by Diana Taylour, O.B.E., a nurse decorated for her service in the First World War. She ran a nursing home out of Kerosene Castle without regard for her patients' ability to pay. She died in 1957.

In 1978, Audrey and Colin Hadfield began transforming Kerosene Castle into a private co-educational day school, MacLachlan College. The town designated the building a heritage site in 1980, particularly for the west tower and Orial window.

Neyagawa Information Station

The Neyagawa Information Station on the west side of Neyagawa Boulevard opposite the traffic light for River Glen Boulevard tells the stories of Oakville's Japanese sister city, the Mississauga Treaty of 1806, Knox Church, and the isolation of Trafalgar Township for the first settlers. These stories are reproduced below.

Neyagawa and Sixteen Mile Creek

The Neyagawa Park area is where we celebrate connections across times and places. It's where an isolated township reached out through growing transportation links, where a downtown church reached out to its isolated cousin so it could serve its flock, and where two different cultures reached out to learn from one another. "Twinning" of cities grew in popularity after World War II, as people sought ways of pro-moting mutual understanding. It was especially encouraged by the Japanese government, which recognized it had become too isolated in the pre-war period.

Officials in Neyagawa, Japan, were looking for cities to twin with when a former Oakville resident living in Japan suggested Oakville. At the time, both cities had a mix of industry and agriculture and both were dealing with the challenge of achieving balanced growth in different ways. Both felt they had lessons to share. In honour of the special relationship Oakville has with Neyagawa and its other twin—Dorval, Quebec—streets running through the heart of town are named after these cities.

The treaty period, 1801-1847

Under the Royal Proclamation of 1763, European settlement could not proceed without a formal treaty with the aboriginal proprietors of the land. In 1805 the Mississauga agreed to surrender all the lands from Etobicoke River to Burlington Bay. Since the fishery was important to them, the Mississauga insisted on reserving for themselves the lower portions of the rivers, including Sixteen Mile Creek, together with the flood plains where they had their camps and small cornfields. These reserved parcels were also ceded to the Crown in 1820. The Mississauga moved out of the area in 1847. Their descendants now live at the New Credit Reserve near Hagersville, Ontario.

An isolated township

Trafalgar Township settlers lived in isolation during the early years. Travel was difficult, and there was no newspaper or postal service, but transportation and communication links were not long in coming. The first stage-coach service began along Dundas Street in the 1820s. By 1833 stage-coaches were also travelling along Lakeshore Road, and Oakville had regular steamship service to Hamilton and York. Farmers north of Oakville needed a road to deliver their crops to Oakville's mills and harbour. In 1831 the House of Assembly provided funds for an upgraded planked road, complete with toll gates. With postal service beginning in 1822 and a newspaper (The Oakville Observer) starting up in 1836, Oakville and Trafalgar Township's early years of isolation came to an end.

Knox on the Sixteen

Knox Sixteen Presbyterian Church, on the east side of Sixteen Mile Creek just south of Dundas Street, originally served the community of Sixteen Hollow. After that village declined, it continued to serve the surrounding farmers. The congregation was organized in 1844. A wood frame structure was built the following year. The church was called Knox Sixteen because it was part of the same charge as the Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown Oakville. After conducting a morning service in Oakville, the minister rode north to conduct an afternoon service at the Sixteen Church. The building was enlarged and bricked over in 1899. As development pushed northwards, the congregation feared for the church. So at its request, the church was designated an historical building in 1978. By 2001, the church was experiencing renewed activity, thanks to the development it once feared.

Oakville/St. Mary's Cemetery Information Station

The Oakville/St. Mary's Cemetery Information Station is located at the Oakville/St. Mary's Cemetery on Lyons Lane at the South Service Road and containe information on the history of the cemetery, reproduced below.

Oakville/St.Mary's Cemetery Information Station

In 1858, Mayor George Chisholm (1815-1874) donated five acres of land on the northern boundary of town for a new cemetery. He was following in the footsteps of his father, Oakville founder William Chisholm (1788-1842), who a generation before had set aside land at Navy and Randall Streets to bury the dead.

The first cemetery was moved to Reynolds and Palmer Streets to make room for industry along the creek. By 1858, the town needed that parcel for a school. Meanwhile, St. Andrew's Roman Catholic Church cemetery had reached capacity. Graves from both sites were moved to Oakville/St. Mary's, to the Catholic section named for St. Mary.

Early settlers buried at Oakville/St.Mary's who have streets in Oakville named after them include Morrison, Reynolds, Lyon and Adair.

 

Pioneer Industry Information Station

The Pioneer Industry Information Station, located in Old Mill Parkette near the corner of Trafalgar Road and Cornwall Street, displays information about Oakville industries that prospered in the nineteenth century including gristmills, sawmills and foundries; as well as the tanneries and wooden box plants that prospered into the second half the twentieth century. This information is reproduced below.

Industrial change, 1827 to 1877

Water power from Sixteen Mile Creek enabled the first industries to be established in Oakville. The first sawmill on the Sixteen was built near Upper Middle Road about 1816. William Chisholm built the first gristmill near the Speers Road bridge in 1833. Steam power came to Oakville in 1851 when Thompson Smith established a steam-driven sawmill and John Doty built a foundry on the west side of the harbour. In 1856 Thompson Smith built a steam-powered tannery on the west bank at Walker Street.

Agriculture, particularly wheat, was very important in the early years. When wheat prices fell in 1857, local farmers took advantage of their sandy soils to grow fruit, particularly strawberries. By 1870, strawberry production from over 300 acres created a local basket manufacturing industry. Many of the early industries like boat building, basket manufacture and tanning continued well into the twentieth century.

Sawmills on the Sixteen

Water powered our first industries and y 1851 there were 15 sawmills on Trafalgar Township streams. The mills located on Sixteen Mile Creek between Dundas Street and Lake Ontario included:

  • Phillip Triller's mill above Upper Middle Road (c. 1816)
  • George Chalmer's mill at Dundas Street (1827)
  • William Chisholm's mill at Speers Road (1830)
  • Hiram McCraney's mill above the QEW (1835)
  • Thompson Smith's mill below Upper Middle Road (1838)

Thompson Smith also built the first steam-powered mill on the west bank of the Sixteen below the harbour bridge in 1851. Later owned by the McCraneys and the Dotys, in the 1870s it became one of the largest mills in the country, producing boards, shingles and railway ties.

Milling and distilling

One of Oakville's first industries was William Chisholm's gristmill. Three stories high and built of river stone on the west bank of Sixteen Mile Creek, it was upgraded in 1855 with a flume and tunnel that led under the railroad tracks from a curve in the river below the cemetery. It continued to mill flour until 1930 when it burned down. Whisky and beer are by-products of the grain business. The Oakville Brewing and Distilling Company began operating in 1836. One of Oakville's leading industries during its short existence, it distilled 60 gallons of whisky a day. Thompson Smith purchased the distillery in 1854 to house his new tannery. Another brewery soon started up on the banks of the Sixteen close to the gristmill. In 1874, it became the Chisholms' new basket factory. 

Oakville's first industrial era

Industry prospered in Oakville during the 1840s to 1860s, with the establishment of foundries, tanneries and carriage works. In 1851 machinists John Doty and Ashley Hibberd built a foundry to manufacture sawmill equipment and steam engines. After a fire in 1854, a rebuilt foundry offered a new product: a carriage axle, invented and patented by Doty. The area's hardwoods provided raw material for horse drawn vehicles. By the 1850s, a half-dozen factories were turning out carriages, sleighs and wagons.

Thompson Smith opened a tannery in 1856 to manufacture leather boots, shoes and parts for carriages. Later, as the Marlatt and Armstrong Leather Company, the tannery was for many years Oakville's largest employer. It operated until 1925.

From wheat to strawberries

Thie Oakville region's first farmers, mainly of British descent, established themselves on lots of 200 acres after the Mississauga purchase of 1805. As they cleared their land, their first products for sale were timber and potash (from the burning of trees and stumps). By the 1840s most area farms had been cleared and wheat became the principal crop.

After 1857, the price of wheat dropped dramatically. Farmers in the Oakville area responded by diversifying into small fruit production, particularly strawberries. Strawberries were native to the Oakville area but became a commercial crop through improvements by farmers like John Cross, who farmed on land between the railroad and Lower Middle Road (QEW). By 1870 the Oakville area had over 300 acres of strawberries.

The Oakville Basket Company

The Oakville Basket Company, Oakville's longest lived industry, grew out of the area's flourishing fruit industry. Pioneer strawberry grower John Cross manufactured the first wooden berry baskets of his own design in the 1860s. John A. Chisholm soon followed suit, setting up a basket factory that used a wood paring device developed by his son Charles. By 1877 nearly 750,000 baskets were being manufactured in Oakville each year. In 1889, Pharis Doty & Son took over the Chisholm factory and three years later founded the Oakville Basket Company. The company operated until 1984.

Sunningdale Information Station

Sunningdale Information Station, located at the pedestrian bridge that crosses Upper Middle Road just east of Sixteen Mile Creek, tells us about the nineteenth century sawmills in the creek valley and twentieth century developments including the Smith-Triller bridge, the Glen Abbey Golf Course and the Sunningdale community. This information is reproduced below.

Golf and Glen Abbey

In 1814 land that is now Glen Abbey was granted to King's College. In the 1930s Toronto mining executive André Dorfman purchase 350 acres for a country estate, which he called Raydor (ré-Dor). The Toronto diocese of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) purchased the estate for $265,000 in 1953. It was used as a retreat until 1963 when Clearstream Developments purchased the property for a golf course. Great Northern Capital later purchased the course and in 1974 reached an agreement with the Royal Canadian Golf Association to have the course redesigned by Jack Nicklaus as a permanent home for the Canadian Open. The renamed Glen Abbey Golf Club held its first Canadian Open in 1977. The RCGA leased the estate's house for its headquarters and golf museum until 1983 when it purchased the property. In 1999 the RCGA sold Glen Abbey to ClubLink, when the Canadian Open began to rotate amongst different locations.

Smith-Triller viaduct

First conceived in 1984 as a key requirement for Oakville's northern development, the Smith-Triller viaduct was the first bridge to be constructed at this location because of a very high bank on the east side (a viaduct is a bridge, usually arching over a valley). Financed by the Province of Ontario, the Town of Oakville and three land development companies, the total cost of the bridge and its approaches was $35 million. It was completed in 1993 both under-budget and one year ahead of schedule, in part due to an innovative "segmental-concrete" construction process. The bridge was named after two pioneers who homesteaded in the area. The location of the 1838 Smith land was just south of the bridge, on the west side flats. The Triller farm, "Hickory Grove," extended north from the bend in Sixteen Mile Creek up to Dundas Street.

Sunningdale community

The residential community known as Sunningdale is bounded by Sixth Line, the Oakville Golf Club, Sixteen Mile Creek and Upper Middle Road. It centres on Sunningdale Park and Sunningdale School. After the Mississauga treaty of 1806, three lots of 200 acres each had been surveyed in this area, which by 1858 were owned and farmed by the Culham family. In 1914, Trafalgar Township established a development of one acre lots for veterans on part of this land, which was a failure because of poor soil conditions. In the 1960s the Town of Oakville intervened to assist in redeveloping the property into smaller, more conventional lots. New homes were built in the 1970s. The area west of Sunningdale School, previously part of the Dorfman estate, was developed for housing in the 70s and 80s. This completed a community of schools, parks and shops that became one of Oakville's most popular neighbourhoods.

Sawmills on the Sixteen

Water powered our first industries. By 1851 there were 15 sawmills on Trafalgar Township streams. Mills located on the Sixteen between Dundas Street and Lake Ontario included:

  • Phillip Trille's mill above Upper Middle Road (c. 1810)
  • George Chalmer's mill at Dundas Street (1827)
  • William Chisholm's mill at Speers Road (1830)
  • Hiram McCraney's mill above the QEW (1835)
  • Thompson Smith's mill below Upper Middle Road (1838)

Thompson Smith also built the first steam-powered mill on the west bank of the Sixteen below the harbour bridge in 1851. Later owned by the McCraneys and the Dotys, in the 1870s it became one of the largest mills in the country, producing boards, shingles and railway ties.

Sixteen Mile Creek Information Station

Sixteen Mile Creek Information Station, located in Lions Valley Park, tells us about the nineteenth century village and sawmills once located on this site, as well as interesting facts about the flora and fauna of Sixteen Mile Creek valley. This information is reproduced below. Please note that the station is currently closed to facilitate the construction of the Dundas Street bridge over Sixteen Mile Creek.

Sixteen Mile Creek valley

The Sixteen Creek watershed is composed of three broad drainage basins — the west, middle and eastern branches — which converge below the Niagara Escarpment to flow south through the deeply incised creek valley into Lake Ontario through Oakville Harbour. The steep banks and stepped terraces of the Valley were created by glacial meltwater, and erosion of the till and shale deposits left behind by retreating glaciers at the end of the last ice age, 12 to 15 thousand years ago. This scenic valley is protected as an environmentally sensitive area. It is an important fish and wildlife corridor and contains a wide range of plant communities. It provides habitat for provincially and regionally rare species with relatively undisturbed blocks of woodland and significant geological features. The valley is also a major groundwater discharge area and it contributes to the maintenance of surface water quality.

Trees and plants of the Sixteen

The trees and shrubs of the Sixteen Mile Creek valley provide much of its beauty and character. The valley forms a transition zone between two major forest regions—the Southern Deciduous Forest (Carolinian) Region, and the Great Lakes-St Lawrence Forest Region. Trees that favour warmer, drier conditions such as the white pine and white oak tend to locate on the western or southern slopes of the creek. Others such as white cedar prefer the cooler more moist conditions of the northern or eastern slopes. The valley is also home to almost 400 different species of plants, including both common favourites and some rare and vulnerable species.

Wildlife of the Sixteen

The size (around 1070 hectares/2500 acres) and improved environmental conditions of the Sixteen Mile Creek valley enable it to perform valuable ecological functions and sustain abundant wildlife, including many common and rare species. Regrettably, in a past period of environmental neglect a number of birds and animals that had lived in the valley, such as the passenger pigeon (last recorded breeding in the region in 1886), became extinct. Today the creek valley supports 94 bird species, 12 species of amphibians, 10 species of reptiles, 14 species of mammal and 22 species of fish.

The size (around 1070 hectares/2500 acres) and improved environmental conditions of the Sixteen Mile Creek valley enable it to perform valuable ecological functions and sustain abundant wildlife, including many common and rare species. Regrettably, in a past period of environmental neglect a number of birds and animals that had lived in the valley, such as the passenger pigeon (last recorded breeding in the region in 1886), became extinct. Today the creek valley supports 94 bird species, 12 species of amphibians, 10 species of reptiles, 14 species of mammal and 22 species of fish.

Unique parks for Oakville

Where once there was a village there are now parks. Lions' Valley Park was the first, built by the Lions Club of Oakville in 1963. The Lions collected contributions and constructed a 20-hectare "nature park," which they turned over to the town. It quickly became a popular destination for picnics, sports and the enjoyment of nature. Thirty years later, the town assembled adjacent land for the 81-hectare Sixteen Mile Creek Valley Park. As their Millennium project, Oakville's two Lions Clubs partnered with the Community Foundation and the town to link the two parks and the heritage trails. This park system will be extended further north as the Oakville grows.

Sawmills on the Sixteen

Water powered our first industries. By 1851 there were 15 sawmills on Trafalgar Township streams, including the following five mills, located on the Sixteen between Dundas Street and Lake Ontario:

  • Phillip Trille's mill above Upper Middle Road (c. 1810)
  • George Chalmer's mill at Dundas Street (1827)
  • William Chisholm's mill at Speers Road (1830)
  • Hiram McCraney's mill above the QEW (1835)
  • Thompson Smith's mill below Upper Middle Road (1838)

Thompson Smith also built the first steam-powered mill on the west bank of the Sixteen below the harbour bridge in 1851. Later owned by the McCraneys and the Dotys, in the 1870s it became one of the largest mills in the country producing boards, shingles and railway ties.

Sixteen Hollow 1820-1880

In 1827 George Chalmers built a settlement with water-powered mills beside the Sixteen at the Dundas crossing. A small sawmill and gristmill were constructed on the valley bottom at the edge of a pond formed by a dam. In future years a church, school, ashery, blacksmith shop, distillery and tavern provided services to the local farmers. In 1844 Chalmers suffered financial difficulties and sold his buildings to John Proudfoot, after which the community was locally referred to as Proudfoot's Hollow. The village continued to prosper, with the addition of a tannery, carding mill and steam stave mill, until the coming of the railroad to Oakville in 1855. The railroad and the collapse of world grain prices adversely impacted the prosperity of the village. The village declined from 500 people to only two families by the 1880's.

West Oak Trails Information Station

The West Oak Trails Information Station, located along the Sixteen Mile Creek West Bank Trail north of Upper Middle Road, provides information about the natural and cultural history of the area. This information is reproduced below.

Oakville's First People (9000 BC to AD 1847)

The first people to enter North America probably migrated across the Bering Land Bridge during the ice age, when sea levels were much lower than they are today. Hunting woolly mammoths and other big game, they eventually spread throughout North America, arriving in southern Ontario 11,000 years ago.

The first inhabitants of southern Ontario were migratory people who subsisted through hunting, gathering and fishing. Over the millennia the climate warmed and plant and animal resources increased. These changes made widespread travel and a nomadic lifestyle less necessary.

Around 500 AD, agriculture was introduced into southern Ontario and Iroquoian-speaking people began to settle in villages of longhouses. Further north, Algonquin-speaking people maintained the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, living in wigwams and moving with the seasons. They displaced the Iroquois in the 17th century and eventually left the area in 1847.

Oakville and Trafalgar,  1806-1870

The area that is present-day Oakville was first settled by Europeans in 1806 after land was purchased from the Mississauga tribe and Trafalgar Township was surveyed.

Twenty-one years later, in 1827, William Chisholm bought 960 acres at the mouth of Sixteen Mile Creek, developed a harbour, and laid out the village of Oakville. As the village prospered and grew, roads and ships were built to connect it with the rest of Upper Canada.

The arrival of the railroad in 1855 took business east and west by land rather than just north and south along Trafalgar Road to Lake Ontario. As rail traffic replaced shipping, Oakville's harbour declined. By 1871, the town's population had fallen by half, to 1000 people.

Waterfront Trail Heritage Information

Bronte Cemetery Information Station

Bronte Pioneer Cemetery is as much the victim of time and weather as the souls buried within it. In 1830, Philip Sovereign deeded the east corner of his farm for a cemetery after several people had already been buried there. He specified that it be for people of "all orders, sects, nations and parties." Among the settlers buried in the cemetery are some of the first black residents of Bronte. Almost a third of the headstones belong to children; others to mariners.

Lake Ontario claimed three young men who are buried here, near the west corner. Jimmy Baker was first mate on the schooner Magellan when she collided with the U. L. Hurd in 1877. Jimmy's was the only body found. The Dorland brothers were fishermen lost east of Bronte in the great gale and snowstorm of December 1886. Both left young families. The Lake Ontario gales that took the lives of Bronte mariners also claimed the bones of some of the survivors and their families. Over the years about 70 feet of cemetery and 100 feet of road allowance have gone into the lake, taking a few graves with it.

Bronte Harbour Information Station

The Bronte Harbour Information Station displays information about the history of the Bronte area, which was first settled by Europeans in 1807 after the land was purchased from the Mississauga tribe and Trafalgar Township was surveyed. This information is reproduced below.

Bronte on Twelve Mile Creek

By 1856, Bronte was a busy Lake Ontario port, exporting wheat, building ships, and developing a thriving commercial fishery and stonehooking industry. The town's population grew to 550. With the coming of the railroad, the harbour's business declined and the population dropped to 220.

Bronte was incorporated as a village in 1952. Ten years later, the village and part of the Township of Trafalgar were amalgamated into the Town of Oakville.

The Bronte Harbour Company

Unlike neighbouring Oakville, where by the late 1820s William Chisholm had financed a harbour privately, development of port facilities in Bronte was delayed until the founding of the Bronte Harbour Company. Led by Samuel Bealey Harrison, a politician, lawyer, and judge, residents of Bronte petitioned the government of Upper Canada to incorporate a company to build a harbour at the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek. After a 10-year struggle to obtain support, the Bronte Harbour Company was founded in 1846. By 1856, construction of Bronte's newly dredged harbour, including two piers and a lighthouse, was complete. The village's waterfront was transformed from a shallow marshland, inaccessible from the water, to a harbour with sufficient depth to sustain itself as a thriving Lake Ontario port. Vessels could now gain access to Bronte's gristmills and sawmills.

From boom to bust, 1855-1877

During the 1850s a dramatic increase in international wheat prices made Bronte prosperous as a grain handling port. By the end of the decade, over 300,000 bushels were being exported annually from the harbour. The boom ended when the Grand Trunk Railway line from Montreal to Sarnia passed north of the village in 1856, taking the grain delivery business away from the harbour. Also, the bottom fell out of the wheat market in 1857. Two of Bronte's three grain warehouses were dismantled and shipped to Toronto and Burlington. The third was converted to a general store.

From 1856 to 1877, Bronte's population dropped from 550 to just over 200. It would remain there until the turn of the century.

Bronte — a fishing village

For nearly a century, commercial fishing was a way of life for the village of Bronte. In 1850, the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek resembled an Atlantic Coast outport. Fishing shanties lined the creek, nets hung on reels drying in the sun, and fish boats waited at the wharf.

Bronte was home to one of the largest fleets of fishing boats on Lake Ontario. By 1900 the fleet numbered 22 vessels. Built with overlapping planks (lapstrake), with a movable iron centre-board, many of these sturdy fish boats were built by Bronte's Dalt MacDonald. The catch of whitefish, lake trout, cisco and herring was smoked, salted, or packed in ice to be sold fresh. Following World War II, with the Lake Ontario fishery nearing exhaustion, Bronte fishermen finally left the lakes.

The stonehookers of Lake Ontario

From the 1830s until after World War I, the Lake Ontario waterfront was busy with men mining the shallow waters for shale. Pried from the lake bottom, the blocks of shale were gathered on barges and then loaded onto stonehooking schooners for delivery to urban markets. Many pre-1910 buildings in Toronto, Oakville and Bronte are built on foundations of shale from the lake bottom.

Stonehookers were small vessels with a very shallow draft and a schooner rig — they could sail fast in light winds. Bronte harbour was home to a stonehooking fleet, including several boats built by Lem Dorland in the 1880s.  Lake Ontario's stonehooking industry flourished until after World War I, when Portland cement largely replaced stone as a building material.

Yacht launching in the 1970s

Between 1960 and 2000 yacht building flourished in Bronte and Oakville. In the 1970s as many as 20 major yachts a year were launched at Bronte Harbour. Yacht manufacturers C&C, Ontario Yachts, Grampian and Bruckmann worked together with yacht designers such as George Cuthbertson, Mark Ellis and others to create yachts that were launched at Bronte. Up to 67 feet in length, these yachts were built for owners in Europe and North America, including such celebrities as Maestro Herbert Von Karajan. Most yachts were manufactured in factories near Speers Road and taken by truck to Bronte Harbour. However, many were built at the harbour in a large shed owned by Metro Marine.

Early Village Information Station

The Early Village Information Station pavilion in George's Square contains panels that tell the story of the early village from 1806 to 1870. This information is reproduced below.

1805–1857

The area that is present day Oakville was first settled by Europeans in 1806, after the land was purchased from the Mississauga tribe and Trafalgar Township was surveyed. Twenty-one years later, in 1827, William Chisholm bought 960 acres at the mouth of Sixteen-Mile Creek, developed a harbour, and laid out the village of Oakville. As the village prospered and grew, roads and ships were built to connect it with the rest of Upper Canada. The arrival of the railroad in 1855 took business east and west by land rather than just north and south along Trafalgar Road to Lake Ontario. As rail traffic replaced shipping, Oakville's harbour declined. By 1871, the town's population had fallen by half, to 1000 people.

An isolated township

Trafalgar Township settlers lived in isolation during the early years. Travel was difficult, and there was no newspaper or postal service. But transportation and communication links were not long in coming. The first stage-coach service began along Dundas Street in the 1820s. By 1833 stage-coaches were also travelling along Lakeshore Road, and Oakville had regular steamship service to Hamilton and York.

Farmers north of Oakville needed a road to deliver their crops to Oakville's mills and harbour. In 1831 the House of Assembly provided funds for construction of the 7th Line, or Trafalgar Road. Fifteen years later this busy road was upgraded to a planked road, complete with toll gates. With postal service beginning in 1822, and a newspaper (the Oakville Observer) starting up in 1836, Oakville and Trafalgar Township's early years of isolation came to an end.

The prosperous years

During the 1830s, Oakville entered a prosperous era. Shipments of wheat and lumber made the harbour a busy focus of commercial activity. Steamships and stagecoaches carried passengers, mail and freight to and from Hamilton and York. William Chisholm's 1835 town plan provided for a park at this location, to be named after his father George. Around George's Square and along Trafalgar Road, residents built substantial homes, many of which are still standing today. The village grew to 2000 residents by May 27 1857, when it was officially incorporated as a town.

Heritage homes of Trafalgar Road and George's Square

As Oakville's population and prosperity increased, stately homes were built near George's Square. These houses represent different architectural styles and designs from various periods in the town's development.

The Underground Railroad

The Underground Railroad secretly transported fugitive slaves from the southern United States across the border to freedom in Canada. From 1820 to 1865 thousands of black slaves escaped into Canada. Although Oakville was a small terminus for the Underground Railroad, hundreds of blacks came to this area. One was James Wesley Hill, who crossed the border in a packing box. Hill settled on a farm near Oakville and helped many slaves who followed by giving them work on his farm.

Relations between blacks and whites were mostly good in Oakville. Schools were integrated, church groups mingled and black employees worked in the town's businesses. For years, Oakville's black citizens celebrated Emancipation Day with an annual picnic in George's Square. Slavery was abolished in Canada in 1834.

Churches, schools and taverns

Oakville's churches, schools and taverns knit the community together and created a social support network. Taverns and inns were usually the first public buildings in Upper Canadian towns. They doubled as town halls, churches and courthouses. Churches were built as soon as money could be raised. William Chisholm donated land to the Methodists and the Catholics for their churches. By 1840 Methodists, Catholics and Presbyterians all had chapels in Oakville. The first public school was established in the meeting house in 1836. The Oakville Common School was built in 1850. An addition to the building in 1854 allowed a grammar (high) school to be established as well.

Harbour Heritage Information Station

The Harbour Heritage Information Station, located on the west flats of Sixteen Mile Creek below the Lakeshore bridge, tells the story of how the Oakville Harbour was built at the mouth of Sixteen Mile Creek after 1827, and how it prospered until the coming of the railway in 1855. In later years the port became a recreational and yacht-building centre. Information posted at the station is reproduced below.

William Chisholm's vision

Following his purchase of 960 acres of land around the mouth of Sixteen Mile Creek in 1827, William Chisholm invested heavily in Oakville. He established a shipyard, dredged the mouth of the river and built two piers out into the lake to create a protected harbour. During the next twenty years, as many as sixteen sailing schooners might be in the harbour at any one time, loading up with white oak staves and wheat destined for Lower Canada, Europe and the United States. With the coming of the railroad in 1855, use of the harbour declined. In 1874 it was transferred to the Town of Oakville "for the nominal sum of two hundred and fifty dollars."

Days of sail and steam

Water transport moved the region's timber and grain, and also its people. The two-hour steamboat trip from York to Oakville was much faster than the six-hour stagecoach trip, and far more comfortable.

In 1828, William Chisholm established the first shipyard on Sixteen Mile Creek and launched the first ship—the 80-foot, two-masted Trafalgar, with a capacity of 50 tonnes of wheat. His was one of five shipyards on the creek that launched five to ten wooden sailing ships per year during the next three decades. In 1863 Oakville's largest ship was launched, the three-masted, 200-foot Monarch, with a capacity of 348 tonnes. Chisholm also launched three steamboats in Oakville—Constitution, Oakville and Burlington. With 80-horsepower wood-fuelled engines driving their paddle wheels, early steamships also needed masts and sails to capture favourable winds.

The young port matures

For fifty years wind-driven fleets carried freight from Oakville. Schooner after schooner left the harbour filled with squared pine timbers, oak staves and sheat, returning with immigrants and merchandise. A forest of masts extended from the lake to the Colborne (now Lakeshore) Street bridge. Grain warehouses lined the east bank. A lighthouse built at the end of the pier was visible for ten miles. Oakville reached the height of its shipping trade in the 1850s. It became an official Canadian Port of Entry, collecting duties on imports from the United States, with William Chisholm acting as customs agent. The Oakville Harbour Company re-dredged the harbour entrance and enlarged the east pier in the 1860s so that wagons with double teams could drive around the lighthouse.

Resort town on Lake Ontario

By the 1870s Oakville was becoming a year-round resort town. In summer the hotels were filled to capacity, and hundreds more people arrived on day excursions via lake steamer. Tourists could rent canoes, rowboats and sailboats. The town's waterfront beach offered swimming and fishing. At the end of the 19th century, Oakville began to attract wealthy summer residents as well. Farm fields bordering the lake were developed into large, waterfront properties with luxurious residences and landscaped gardens. Some of Canada's best known horses were bred at these estates.

Yachting heritage

Beginning in the 1870s, sailing for pleasure and competition expanded greatly on Lake Ontario. Oakville became a destination for Royal Canadian Yacht club races from Toronto. On summer weekends, fifty or more yachts were often tied up in the harbour. Oakville's shipbuilders turned their attention to pleasure craft. One was Captain James Andrew, whose shipyard had been producing schooners and smaller commercial craft since 1861. The yacht Canada, built by Andrew in 1896, won the first Canada-USA match race for sailing yachts. The trophy, known since as the "Canada's Cup," is still competed for a hundred years later.

Old Oakville Information Station

The Old Oakville Information Station Heritage Pergola is located in Market Square at the corner of Navy and William Streets. Overlooking the harbour, the station describes the history of one of the town's Heritage Districts—Old Oakville. Panels describe early leaders and the early residential, institutional and commercial history of the town, from Oakville's foundation to Confederation. The information is reproduced below.

Vision for Oakville

The first town survey was completed in 1833, enclosing an area bounded on the west by Brock Street, on the north by Rebecca and Randall Streets, and on the east by Allan Street. Road allowances were laid out in the standard grid pattern parallel and perpendicular to the shore of Lake Ontario. Each 1½-acre block was subdivided into six lots lettered alphabetically from A to F inclusive. The first public sale of lots took place in May 1833 offering 50 of the most valuable "Town" and "Water" Lots. The conditions of sale required a structure no less than 24 by 18 feet to be erected within 18 months, and the structure had to be made of stone, brick or frame construction. The conditions of sale ensured the orderly appearance of the growing village. By 1851, Oakville had a population of 916.

The name "Oakville" was chosen for the new settlement to mark the abundance of oak trees in the area and to honour the founder, William Chisholm, whose nickname was "White Oak." Today a portion of the original plan of settlement has been designated by the town as a Heritage Conservation District to preserve the architecture of the Oakville's beginnings.

Early leaders, 1827-1875

In addition to the founder William Chisholm, strong leadership from other citizens was important in developing Oakville into a town by 1857. One such person was Merrick Thomas. He managed Chisholm's Burlington shipyard before he came to superintend Oakville's townsite. Later he was an Oakville mill-owner and steamship agent, and performed civic responsibilities.

Justus Williams opened a general store on Colborne Street in 1833 and became a leading merchant. Simultaneously, he took up community duties, becoming Recording Secretary for the Wesleyan Church (a post he held for 30 years). In 1834 he was appointed to form a board of health for Oakville to deal with an outbreak of cholera brought in by immigrants. A lifetime of dedicated public service followed. A leader in church, educational, judicial and municipal affairs, he held many offices.

In private life George King Chisholm was a farm-owner, mill partner (with his brother John) and mason. In public he exercised political and military leadership. An M.P. and Oakville's first mayor, he also organized militia units to defend against the 1837 rebellion and possible incursion during the American Civil War and Fenian troubles of the 1860's.

Period homes

The early settlers of Oakville, though full of optimism, lacked formal training. There were few master builders or architects at the time. In fact, the shipbuilders who came to work for Chisholm in the shipyard also built many of the first houses in Oakville. From the beginning, there was extensive mingling of the workers' cottages and merchants' houses.

The earliest homes in Oakville were constructed quickly with the easiest and most available materials. Timber was there for the taking and shipwrights and carpenters were skilled in its handling. Lake stone and river stone were used for the cellar walls and footings.

The houses at 18-26 Thomas Street were built circa 1852 for the shipyard workers and their families working for Duncan Chisholm, ship builder and tinsmith. Frame construction with shiplath clapboard siding, these houses have "six over six" windows, based on a pane width that was quite common from 1835 to 1865. As time passed, many of the original frame houses were sheathed in two coats of stucco to provide a jointless, weather-resistant, low maintenance finish. "Roughcast" stucco was scooped up on the back of the trowel and flung against the wall with a backhand motion.

Captian John Moore built the house at 29 Navy Street in 1830. Originally sheathed in clapboard, it was enlarged into a hotel and given its rough cast stucco finish in the 1850s. Named "Frontier House," it served steamboat passengers arriving and departing from the harbour. The house returned to a private dwelling in 1870. In 1906, the northern portion of the house was separated and moved to a lot on King Street, becoming what is now 154 King Street.

For the greater part of the nineteenth century, the centre hall Georgian plan remained popular. In the early homes, this basic form was embellished with door and window surrounds and cornice treatments. The degree of decorative detail depended on the financial capabilities of the owner. The Sweeney House was built by ship carpenters John and Thomas Sweeney circa 1834. Stuccoed in the 1850s, this Georgian Style house features windows balanced around a centre door embellished by a rectangular transom and side lights to illuminate the hall. The cedar shake roof reflects the material that was used in that period.

Brick was a much more expensive cladding and as a result there were very few houses built with this material until the 1860s. Early bricks were somewhat irregular in size, averaging less than 8 x 4 x 2 inches. They had flat surfaces but were often rough, warped and cracked. The Lt-Col. George K. Chisholm House at 85 Navy Street was built in 1848 as a one-and-a-half-storey regency style brick house. It was one of Oakville's first brick houses and its owner became the town's first mayor.

Census records show that in 1851 there were 130 frame houses and 4 brick houses in Oakville. By 1861, as the town grew in prosperity, the number of homeowners had increased substantially and there were 228 frame houses and 45 brick houses. Many of Old Oakville's early homes have been preserved and recognized with plaques commemorating the original owner and the year in which the home was built.

Lock-up and Town Hall

An act to incorporate the Town of Oakville was assented to on May 27th, 1857. The first council members were:

Mayor
G.K. Chisholm, Farmer & Landowner

Ward 1
R.K. Chisholm, Customs Agent & Postmaster
W.E. Hagaman, General Merchant

Ward 2
W.F. Romain, Grain Merchant
P.A. MacDougald, Grain Merchant

Ward 3
J. Reid, Grain Merchant
J. Barclay, General Merchant
J. Potter, Joiner & Shipbuilder

The land for Market Square had been set aside in 1835 by William Chisholm for public use. The Lock-up/Town Hall was built on the north side of the square in 1859. The main floor served as a jail and as a quarantine for immigrants. Council Chambers were on the upper floor. A similar structure, the Market Building was also built on this site in 1862. The lower floor consisted of stalls for butchers and farmers to sell meat & produce. The upper floor was devoted to an auditorium complete with a piano, and was used for entertaining up to 500 people. In 1876, after the Lock-up burned down, the Market Building became known as Town Hall and the lower floor was remodelled for Council Chambers and jail cells. In December 1913 Town Hall also burnt to the ground. The Lock-up and Town Hall were in the charge of George J. Sumner (1834-1911), a respected and influential figure holding many official posts. His personal diaries vividly describe the daily life of his time.

Commercial buildings

William Chisholm's first priorities for Oakville's economic development were developing the harbour, building a grist and sawmill, and setting up a shipbuilding yard. This activity, along with the declaration of the harbour as a Port of Entry for Canada in 1834 and a Warehousing Port in 1850, quickly made Oakville a hub of commercial activity. Navy Street, leading to and from the harbour, was a very busy thoroughfare. All supplies for the town arrived by ship and all products of the region—grain, flour, lumber and fruit—were transported from here to other ports. During the 1850s, a number of commercial buildings were erected to support the town's thriving economy.