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Hilary Shantz Hilary Shantz, MBA
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Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., Brokerage


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A Little Oakville (Ontario) History Lesson: Understanding Our Roots as a Community

Respecting the Past, Celebrating the Present , Embracing the Future is the Town of Oakville’s motto.

John A. MacDonald bookMy husband Wayne (history major) is currently reading a book entitled John A., the Man who Made Us.  It is a new book about Canada’s first prime minister, by Richard Gwyn, author of The Northern Magus. 

Wayne has been feeding me tidbits of Ontario history such as:

Did you know that in 1820 the population of the entire province of Ontario was 200,000 people? In a few years the Town of Oakville will surpass that in number!

All this talk of Ontario history this week inspired me to write something on how the Town of Oakville evolved. 

Mississauga Indians

Oakville was originally the home territory of the Mississauga Indian tribe who were hunters and fishers.  The Mississauga sold their land to the Crown in 1805 but retained lands at the mouth of the three major rivers emptying into the lake – the Credit RiverSixteen Mile Creek, and Twelve Mile Creek (now called Bronte Creek).

Oakville early settler's homeEarly Settlers Had Hard Life

As in other parts of Ontario, the New Territory was surveyed into lots.  Lines and Concessions created blocks of 1000 acres each, which divided into five settler lots each of 200 acres.  To acquire title to a piece of land the settler was required to clear and fence at least five acres, build a house about 16 by 20 feet, and also clear the road adjacent to his land; it was hard and laborious work as the area was densely wooded!

Willliam Chisholm Purchased Land

Land with waterways was always in demand, for drinking, fish, and for water power to drive grist mills and sawmills.  By 1820, the Mississauga Indians decided to sell their reserved land at the mouth of the Twelve and Sixteen Mile Creeks. The thousand acres at the mouth of the Sixteen were bought by William Chisholm, a successful businessman and politician, for the sum of $4,116!  It was Chisholm’s vision that a town and harbour at the Sixteen would be a center through which goods could flow and grain be exported from farm lands to the north.  

Oakville Harbour

The mouth of the Sixteen was protected by piers and the harbour dredged; a shipbuilding yard was set up (at the north end of Navy Street); further up, the Sixteen was damned for water power and a grist mill/sawmill was built; and the village was surveyed into streets and building lots for tradesmen, mariners and workmen.

What we now know as Oakville Harbor was built with private funds, and for this William Chisholm was authorized to levy duties and tolls on goods arriving and leaving.

Timber, Wheat, and Barrels

The first “crop” produced from the forests was timber, particularly for making barrels.  Staves were produced from the White Oaks of the forest.  Heavier timbers were used for home building and ship building, and exported.

As settlement developed, wheat became the important export, and wheat rolled down the new ‘plank road”,the Seventh Line, (now Trafalgar Road), for shipping from the harbour. 

First Mayor and Strawberries

Lots of strawberries were grown in Oakville OntarioThe village prospered, and in 1857 it was designated a Town (municipality).  Its first Mayor was George King Chisholm, eldest son of Oakville’s founder William Chisholm, who had died in 1842.

When a number of economic factors resulted in a glut of grain and a depletion of oak trees, farmers in the town also turned to fruit production, with strawberries a principal crop.  Strawberries were introduced by John Cross at his farm located where Cross Avenue now stands.  Oakville became known as the strawberry capital of the Canadas.  (For more on how Oakville’s founding fathers provided  names for Oakville streets click here.)  Besides strawberries, other fruit orchards produced apples, pears, and plums.

Summer Visitors from Toronto, Large Estates Built Along the Lakeshore 

Because of its attractive location, style, and pleasant summer weather, Oakville became the destination of summer visitors, for the most part from Toronto, many arriving by steamship.  One of these, the “White Star,” would bring up to 3000 visitors on a single day, giving the Townsfolk opportunities to sell teas, and to provide overnight accommodation.  It became fashionable to “summer in beautiful Oakville”. Soon the lakefront bristled with a few large estates on the lake and more modest cottages, walking distance to the lake.

Early in the 20th century, wealthy city gentlemen, who could commute to their city employment by train, developed the Lakeshore through the construction of more permanent homes, often with large grounds or estates. 

Cars, Paved Highways and Ford Motor Company

old ford carThe automobile reached Oakville for the first time in 1909 but could not be used for commuting until 1916 when Lakeshore Road between Toronto and Hamilton was paved – with cement – for the first time.  But it was not until the Queen Elizabeth Way was opened in 1939 that “easy” commuting became possible; both ways; into Oakville from the cities of Hamilton and Toronto, and to the cities from Oakville.

An early consequence of this was the settling in Oakville of car manufacturer, The Ford Motor Company, which contributed a great deal to the economic prosperity of the Town. 

Incorporating Neighboring Villages

Oakville continued to grow from a sleepy Town to the large municipality it now encompasses, incorporating neighbouring villages, Bronte, Postville, Palermo, Proudfoot’s Hollow, Merton and Sheridan.

That’s enough history for today!  More History of Oakville in further posts.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 29th, 2008 at 3:43 pm and is filed under Books I Read, Downtown Oakville, Historical Oakville, Oakville Town Planning & Development, Why Move to Oakville?. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. CharlotteRealEstate-Terry McDonald

    I’m a frustrated historian as well, bet you’d never have guessed that…Terry McDonald

  2. Derek Burress

    What does your husband do. Is he a current or past history major?

    Just wondering as I too am a history major. (I am planning to teach.)

  3. Mark Argentino

    Interesting information and Great post! You said that back in 1820 you “The thousand acres at the mouth of the Sixteen were bought by William Chisholm, a successful businessman and politician, for the sum of $4,116” – that’s about the cost of an annual boat slip these days!

    All the best,

  4. Hilary

    Terry, doesn’t surprise me you are a history buff, no wonder you are so wise!

    Derek, my husband is in marketing, he still has a fascination for history though, recently went to Dundurn castle in Hamilton, now that’s a good experience to learn aobut some local Ontario history, I am going to keep up this history theme on the blog, surprising how many people find it because of historical topics!

    Hi Mark, thanks for stopping by, Ontario bloggers unite!

  5. Oakville’s Edgemere Estate on Lakeshore Road to Become Two-Storey Flats? Say it Ain’t So!

    […] A Little Oakville (Ontario) History Lesson: Understanding our Roots as a Community Tags: Edgemere+Estate, Lakeshore+road, Oakville+historical+estate […]

  6. Brittany

    This is a nice little website you have going here, but I checked it for something for school and found nothing about the future of Oakville. In my opinion, there should be a little feedback on what is excpected of our town within the next… Oh, I don’t know, say about… 10 years? Or maybe a little section where people can leave their comments on what they are hoping for the next few years.
    But that’s just my opinion. ?

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