Home > Community > History of West River > Digging Into Oakville's Roots

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William Chisholm (1788-1842) immigrated to the area from Scotland in 1820. In 1827 William had his eye on the Township of Trafalgar - in particular, the mouth of the Sixteen Mile Creek - as an ideal site for a harbour and town. He was able to buy it at auction from the Crown. The purchase price of the 960 acres was $4,116, or about $4.25 per acre.

  • Young William ChisholmYoung William Chisholm
  • William ChisholmWilliam Chisholm

Chisholm's nickname was "White Oak", and it is thought that this nickname is the origin of "Oakville". In any case, Oakville, situated in the township of Trafalgar, became a village that same year (1827) and a town in 1857.

2007 was the 150th birthday of the founding of Oakville.

Within a few years, Chisholm had established a thriving shipbuilding business and had also become a major timber merchant. As well, he established the first privately-owned harbour in Upper Canada, and soon the harbour was flourishing, handling trade between Hamilton, Toronto and foreign cities.

In 1834 Oakville was formally affirmed as a Port of Entry into Canada. William Chisholm served as its first Customs Inspector. Soon, Oakville's first post office opened, and Chisholm was named postmaster. After his death in 1842 William's son, Robert Kerr Chisholm, became the Customs Inspector and postmaster in his father's place. George King Chisholm, another of William's sons, became the first mayor when Oakville was incorporated as a town in 1857. He was mayor from 1857 to 1862 and again in 1873-74.

  • George ChisholmGeorge Chisholm

George became very political, and in addition to his political activities, in 1853 George joined his brother John in a grist mill operation. In 1857 George sold his house in town on Navy Street and moved to a new, more impressive home he built called "The Retreat" on the lovely grounds near the west river bank. That’s the area in which we now live.

The house stood at the location of 199 Queen Mary Drive until it was replaced by the present apartment buildings in the early 1970's.

George was interested in farming his 260 acres. Half of the land was cultivated by 1860, 3 years after purchase. The land lot line was basically Bond Street on the south, the creek on the east, Kerr St. on the west and what would become the QEW (formally known as Lower Middle Road) on the north.

  • West River - Old MapWest River - Old Map
  • West River Map - TodayWest River Map - Today
  • Original Chisholm Farm HouseOriginal Chisholm Farm House

At approximately this time, The International Fraternal Society of The Independant Order of Foresters (note the similarity to Lead Farm Hand Forster's name) chose Oakville as the location for a home for the orphaned children of deceased members at 53 Bond Street. An outstanding administrator and superintendant of the orphanage, Mr. J.C. Morgan lived at 43 Bond Street.

Prior to the completion of the orphanage some children lived in "The Retreat" home which was still owned but no longer used by the Chisholm family.

Children from across Canada, the USA and elsewhere came to live in the orphanage built in a several-acre setting of farmland and orchards. The children went to the Oakville Public School built in 1850 (where the central public library now stands). They learned about agriculture by helping to tend the farm produce grown on the property.

George Chisholm later sold many acres of the farm property to his Lead Farm Hand, Mr. Forster, along with "The Retreat" home. Mr. Forster began living in The Retreat, established a saw mill and lumbered much of the acreage, and eventually ran his own farm. It was Mr. Forster who developed much of our present area after clearing the land. The central park in our neighbourhood is named Forster Park, as are the streets that wrap around it, North and South Forster Park Drives.

  • Orphange on Bond StreetOrphange on Bond Street
  • William Dowdle on Forster FarmWilliam Dowdle on Forster Farm

Mr. Forster hired a man named William Dowdle, who began living in the original farmhouse. William married Lillian, and they had a son, George, in 1910 while living in the Forster's farm house. The Dowdles eventually had 8 children.

  • William Dowdle on Forster's FarmWilliam Dowdle on Forster's Farm
  • William Dowdle eventually built his own homeWilliam Dowdle eventually built his own home
  • Lillian Dowdle on Washington AveLillian Dowdle on Washington Ave
  • Back of William "Junior" Dowdle's houseBack of William "Junior" Dowdle's house
  • George Dowdle standing in the family lumber yardGeorge Dowdle standing in the family lumber yard
  • George Dowdle walking on what is now the QEWGeorge Dowdle walking on what is now the QEW
  • David "Dave" DowdleDavid "Dave" Dowdle
  • Trees were cut down just prior to house removal in early summer of 2005Trees were cut down just prior to house removal in early summer of 2005