Glen Abbey: Cultural Heritage Landscape

Glen Abbey – The Heart of Oakville

Over the last 30 years, the Glen Abbey property has come to define the character of the Oakville community. While most widely recognized for its role in Canadian golf and the home of the Canadian Open, the 92.7-hectare (229-acre) property has a diverse past that contributes to its cultural heritage. Its lands were home to Indigenous peoples recognized under the 1763 Royal Proclamation. Beginning in 1795, treaties with the British resulted in new settlements on the lands beside Sixteen Mile Creek, notably farms and a sawmill. In the early 20th century, the current property was first consolidated as the private RayDor estate. It then became a 1950s Jesuit religious retreat, and a 1960s golf course country and ski club.  Its current form is dominated by the 1970s vision to design the lands to provide an innovative hub and spoke, spectator-friendly golf course for both recreational and championship use.

On December 20, 2017, Council officially designated the Glen Abbey Golf Course as a property of cultural heritage value or interest.  In simple terms, a Cultural Heritage Landscape is “a defined geographical area that may have been modified by human activity and is identified as having cultural heritage value or interest by a community….” (Provincial Policy Statement 2014)

There could be no more apt description for Glen Abbey.

According to the provisions of the Ontario Heritage Act, to qualify for designation as a Cultural Heritage Landscape a site must exemplify one or more of the following:

  • Design value – a rare, unique or early example of a style or type; a high-degree of craftsmanship or technical achievement
  • Historical value –direct association with a significant theme; or contribution to an understanding of a community or culture, or to the work or ideas of a significant architect, artist, builder, designer or theorist
  • Contextual value - defining, maintaining or supporting the character of an area; physically, functionally, visually or historically linked to its surroundings; or a landmark
  • Glen Abbey’s past and present uses all contribute to these values. .

Design value

Designed in 1976 by legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, Glen Abbey is one of Canada’s most famous golf courses. Glen Abbey was Canada’s first and one of the first courses in the world built for spectators, thanks to its combined stadium design with a hub-and-spoke layout. Both design features have influenced golf course design around the globe.

Other design highlights:

  • Glen Abbey is a very good representative of the emphasis on finesse rather than pure strength, in the ‘strategic’ tradition of golf course design
  • The spectator mounds not only provide for intimate and unobstructed viewing, but also frame the fairways and greens
  • Situated alongside Oakville’s picturesque Sixteen Mile Creek, the course’s unique valley holes are considered among the most beautiful and challenging in the sport.
  • The 17th and 18th holes have been recognized as among the most successful finishing holes in international championship play
  • The clubhouse, designed by Crang and Boake Ltd (one of Canada’s largest architectural firms in the late 20th Century), was purposely built into the landscape of the 18th hole to heighten the drama of finishing play for spectators
  • The RayDor Estate house, a relatively rare French eclectic style of architecture, with its carved stone exterior, red clay tile roof, leaded casement windows, ornamental main entrance with ornamental surround and solid oak door, hipped dormers and stone chimneys with clay pots, was one of Oakville’s first estate homes.
  • The outbuildings associated with the RayDor Estate, including the stable buildings, designed by architects Marani, Lawson & Morris, are a rare example of estate outbuildings from that era.

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Historical value

Ask Oakville residents what comes to mind when they think of Glen Abbey and they’ll likely tell you about its long tenure as host of the Canadian Open. From 1977 through 2017, Glen Abbey has hosted the Open a record 29 times. The course has become directly associated with Hall of Fame winners of the tournament, including Tiger Woods' and his dramatic shot on the 18th hole during the 2000 Canadian Open. Other highlights include:

  • The course was designed by Jack Nicklaus, one of the greatest golfers in golf history
  • The historic and ongoing ability of the property to be used for championship, tournament and recreational golf including the potential to continue hosting the Canadian Open
  • The long association with Golf Canada that has connected the property to the larger amateur and professional golfing community across the country and around the world
  • The RayDor estate house and its associated outbuildings, especially the unique stables, are remnants from the property’s estate era and André Dorfman, a nationally significant figure in the development of the mining industry in Canada
  • The dramatic valley area sustains many of the natural features that connect this property to its long occupation by, and association with, various First Nations communities, including Haudenosaunee and Mississauga

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Glen Abbey Golf Course

Glen Abbey Golf Course

Contextual value

Glen Abbey is a landmark within Oakville - and across Canada.  The quality of the course and its connection to the Canadian Open, have defined the character of the Oakville community and given it a distinct place in Toronto and beyond.  Over the years, the property has preserved its authenticity and integrity, continuing to host championship and recreational golf and retaining the features that reflect Nicklaus’ original vision. In addition, the area seamlessly connects the sporting culture of the golf course, the open space of the parklands and surrounding residential neighbourhoods.

Visually, the biggest features of this beautiful designed landscape are its memorable views and vistas including the:

  • 11th hole with a long shot into the valleylands
  • spectator’s view of the green of the 18th hole
  • golfer’s view of the green of the 18th hole from the bunkers (the Tiger Woods shot)
  • long view up the valleylands from the 14th hole;
  • water vistas and picturesque landscape of the 9th hole;
  • visual overview from the Smith Triller Viaduct overlooking the 18th hole

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On August 21, 2017, the Town of Oakville issued a Notice of Intention to Designate the Glen Abbey lands as a Cultural Heritage Landscape. In simple terms, a Cultural Heritage Landscape is “a defined geographical area that may have been modified by human activity and is identified as having cultural heritage value or interest by a community….” (Provincial Policy Statement 2014).

In September, Pacific Life Insurance Company, which holds a mortgage on the property,  filed an objection to the town’s Notice of Intention to Designate. The Conservation Review Board will conduct a pre-hearing conference on this objection at 10:30 am on December 20, 2017 at Town Hall.

Read the official Notice of Intention to Designate.
Read the Mayor's letter to the provincial government.
Read the Mayor's article published in the Oakville Beaver on September 13, 2017.

Notice of Intention to Designate

Current status - December 20, 2017

The  Conservation Review Board Pre-hearing Conference on the objection to the town’s Notice of Intention to Designate filed by Pacific Life Insurance has been cancelled as Pacific Life has withdrawn its objection. Review the withdrawal acknowledgement letter pdf.

Council voted unanimously to pass By-Law 2017-138, a by-law to designate the Glen Abbey Golf Course as a property of cultural heritage value or interest. Read the news release.

For more details on the town’s cultural heritage landscape strategy, visit our Cultural Heritage Landscape Strategy page.

On January 30, 2018 Oakville Council approved additional planning and conservation measures designed to conserve the cultural heritage value and attributes of the Glen Abbey Golf Course. Read the news release.

Supporting materials for review:

ClubLink has filed a Notice of Application to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice appealing Council’s approval of the Cultural Heritage Landscape Conservation Plan By-law 2018-019, the Ontario Heritage Act Delegation Powers By-law 2018-020, the Cultural Heritage Landscape Conservation Plan for the Glen Abbey Property and Council’s resolution to endorse proposed amendments to Site Alteration By-law 2003-021, the Private Tree Protection By-law 2017-038, and the Property Standards By-law 2017-007. The decision issued by Justice Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice quashed the town’s Cultural Heritage Landscape Conservation Plan for Glen Abbey and the associated by-laws. Staff is reviewing the decision and will report to Council early in the new year on potential next steps.

The two planning amendments approved by Council, By-law 2018-015 that adopts Official Plan Amendment 24, and Zoning By-law Amendment 2018-016, were appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (now Local Planning Appeal Tribunal) by ClubLink. The hearing on this case has been scheduled for eight days, beginning on June 17, 2019.