History of the Society:

(if it's the Town's history you're looking for, click here)
In 1827 William Chisholm, a prosperous merchant and entrepreneur, purchased 960 acres of land around the mouth of the Sixteen Mile creek and  Hazel Chisholm Mathews in 1930, age 32established a new community which became the Town of Oakville. In 1953, Hazel Chisholm Mathews, great-granddaughter of William Chisholm, founded the Oakville Historical Society to discover, preserve and disseminate knowledge of the town's history.

The Society's archival collection had its beginnings when Hazel Mathews discovered historical papers and documents in the Custom House in the 1930's and additional documents and artifacts under boards in Erchless and in other locations. Additional donations have resulted in today's wide-ranging archival and photographic collection.

The scope of the Society's activities has continued to expand since the founding to include historical talks at public meetings, historical walking tours and talks and presentations to community groups. The Society initiated the Historical Plaque program in 1957 for houses one hundred years old or more and the programme has continued since that time.

With its mandate to preserve heritage, the Society encouraged Town Council to pass a by-law prohibiting high-rise development on the south side The Society's Archives & Office (Watercolour drawing by Donald Sutherland)of Robinson Street thereby saving a historical area from commercial development and preserving its original use and charm.

In 1976, developers were planning to erect a high-rise apartment building and sub-division on the Erchless estate. As a result of representations to Council by the Society and some local residents, the Town purchased the land and buildings in 1977 for the pleasure of residents and visitors.

In 1991, the extensive collection of artifacts, including items relating to the Chisholm family, was transferred to the Town.

As the official custodian of the archival collection, the Oakville Historical Society continues to preserve and promote the historical heritage of Oakville from its Archives and Office in the "cottages" in the north-west corner of the Erchless Estate. For their support of these efforts, we wish to thank, in particular, the Town of Oakville, the Province of Ontario, and the Friends of the Oakville Historical Society.
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Top of pageA Brief History of Oakville and Trafalgar Township

This area was the home territory of the Mississauga Indian tribe, a nomadic people of hunters and fishers.  Only at the flat lands at the mouth of rivers feeding lake Ontario did they practice a little agriculture, growing corn.  While still owned by the Mississauga, in 1793 a military road from York (now Toronto) to Dundas, at the head of the Lake, was surveyed, but could not be built through Indian land. 

The War of the American Revolution (1775-1783) created pressures for settler lands.  Expelled Loyalists were entitled to land grants in the Canadas, as were all who served the Crown in the military in that war too.  In 1805 the Mississauga sold their land to the Crown though retaining those lands at the mouth of the three major rivers emptying into the lake – the Credit, the Sixteen Mile Creek, and the Twelve Mile Creek (Bronte Creek).

In 1806 the “New Territory” was surveyed into lots by Provincial surveyor Samuel Wilmot.  He used the 1793 Dundas Street Survey as his reference line, dividing the land by Concessions running about east-west, two concessions north of Dundas Street, four between Dundas Street and the lake.  Lines and Concessions created blocks of 1000 acres each, which divided into five settler lots each of 200 acres, though at the fourth concession the irregular Lake front created lots of various sizes.

From east to west, Wilmot created three Townships, which he initially named Toronto, Alexander and Grant.  But the news of Nelson’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar soon reached the colony.  Patriotically the two western Townships were renamed Trafalgar and Nelson. 

A number of lots were reserved for the Crown and the (Anglican) Church.  The rest were quickly taken up by settlers.  To acquire full title to a piece of land the settler was required to clear and fence at least five acres, to build a house about 16 by 20 feet, and to clear the road adjacent to his land; together a substantial task in the densely wooded Townships.

Land through which streams flowed was eagerly sought, both for access to drinking water and fish, and for water power to drive grist mills (grinding grain) and sawmills for creating building beams from logs.  It was a lonely, hard working life.  By the year 1820, the Mississauga Indians decided to sell their reserved land at the mouth of the Twelve and Sixteen Mile Creeks.  Put up for auction, the thousand acres at the mouth of the Sixteen were bought by William Chisholm, a successful businessman and politician living by Burlington Bay.

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. 

Though he did not move to the new village named Oakville himself until 1838, he appointed agents to handle development.  Immediately, 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.

The harbour was built with private funds, and for this William Chisholm was authorized to levy duties and tolls on goods arriving and leaving.

The first “crop” produced from the forests was timber, and 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 more was exported by schooner to larger communities on the Lake or the St. Lawrence River.

As settlement developed, wheat became the important export, and wheat rolled down the new plank road (it was a toll road), the Seventh Line, now Trafalgar Road, for shipping from the harbour.  Taking advantage of this, a number of businessmen bought from the farmers, erected warehouses for storage, and arranged shipment to market. 

Most of the warehouses were built of wood.  Only their foundations may now survive, but a stone warehouse built circa 1855 by Romain and MacDougald still stands by the sixteen at the foot of Robinson Street.

The village prospered, so that 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.

But in the 1870’s two things happened to depress the community.  First, at the conclusion of the Crimean War in 1856, there developed a surplus of world wheat; second, the Grand Trunk Railway was built bypassing Oakville to the North through Georgetown.  Together these seriously curtailed shipments through the harbour and revenue from movement of goods was not adequate to keep the harbour dredged and in repair.  The Chisholms put it up for sale; one purchaser tried to work it, but failed.  In 1874 it was purchased by the Town of Oakville who have owned it ever since.

The loss of a prosperous harbour also caused failure in 1871 of an important business, the Doty foundry on the west bank of the Sixteen. 

Struggling to survive, farmers and smallholders in the Town turned to fruit production, with strawberries a principal crop.  Introduced by John Cross at his farm remembered by Cross Avenue, his farm location, many growers followed suit.  Oakville became known as the strawberry capital of the Canadas.  The movement of soft fruit by rail and boat stimulated a demand for appropriate baskets.  Initial production was in sheds on the Cross and John Alexander Chisholm farms.  Later production moved to a basket factory built in a converted brewery on Dundas Street (Trafalgar Road).  Vulnerable to fire, three times the factories were lost and rebuilt on the Trafalgar Road sites.

Another victim of fire in 1866 was an oil lamp refinery producing coal oil or kerosene for use in lamps.  Located on the east bank of the Sixteen it was approximately opposite the junction with Lawson Street.  Owner Richard Shaw Wood had built a home nearby, appropriately nicknamed by Town inhabitants “Kerosene Castle.”

Because of its attractive location and style, and pleasant summer weather, Oakville also became the destination of summer visitors, for the most part from Toronto, many arriving by steamship.  One of these, the “White Star,” also was given a local name, “the Sunday School Boat,” because of the frequency with which it catered to Sunday School outings.  The great number of visitors, up to 3000 could arrive on a single day, gave the Townsfolk opportunities to sell teas, and to provide overnight accommodation.  Besides strawberries, other fruit orchards produced apples, pears, and plums, with the Basket Company offering appropriate containers.

Several small industries opened for business in the Town, notable among them the Glassco jam factory, a factory producing aluminum kitchenwares, and the building of yachts.

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

The automobile reached Oakville for the first time in 1909/10 but could not be used for commuting until in 1915/16 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 the car manufacturer, Ford.  From that time on, Oakville grew from a small sleepy Town to the large municipality it now encompasses, having taken within its boundaries early neighbouring villages, Bronte, Postville, Palermo, Proudfoot’s Hollow, Merton and Sheridan.


Top of pageWritten by Harry Buxton (Oakville Historical Society) - 2002