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The “Character” of Old Oakville Heritage Conservation District

OLRA Submission for Input into Old Oakville Heritage Conservation District Study


Updates to heritage legislation - specifically the Ontario Heritage Act - have resulted in a need for the guiding documentation of the Old Oakville Heritage District to be updated in order for it to comply with these requirements. The guiding documentation includes the need for an HCD Study and Plan. The HCD Study is the background document that includes a history of the District, an inventory of properties and an overview of existing planning policies. The updated HCD Plan is the guiding document to manage change within the District – it provides the rules and tools to follow if any change is to happen in the area.

The Ontario Heritage Act provides a framework for the conservation of properties and geographic features or areas that are valued for the important contribution they make to our understanding and appreciation of the history and sense of a place.

While the original Old Oakville Heritage Conservation District Plan focused on the historical association with the Town’s founding, the understanding of what constitutes a cultural heritage landscape has broadened to include consideration for the combination of natural and built features that have shaped and been shaped by ongoing human activity for generations.

We believe that the Old Oakville Heritage Conservation District is of cultural heritage value for its physical design, and historical/associative and contextual values. The boundaries of the District include two recently approved Cultural Heritage Landscapes - the Erchless Estate and the Oakville Harbour. In our view, it is critically important to ensure that the shared values for all three landscapes be specifically highlighted and incorporated into the HCD Statement of Objectives and Cultural Heritage Value; and that all properties within the boundaries of the HCD be included in the Part V designation.

We appreciate the interconnectedness of the various values and attributes that make this a special place and feel that it is important to capture how the “multitude of layers” together define the character that we seek to protect and preserve as we manage change going forward. In addition, we continue to feel strongly that the overall character of the District needs to be supplemented with the detailed Block Analysis as noted in our discussions on January 16th and our follow-up correspondence on the matter.

"When the multiple layers and perspectives of the history of a place are recognized and celebrated, communities have a better appreciation of their neighbourhoods and gathering places. When we understand our past, we gain a greater understanding of who we are as a community." -- Christienne Uchiyama, President of the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals

The Character of Old Oakville Heritage District

In thinking about the overall ‘character’ of the District, these are some of the key points that come to mind. It is the “sum of the parts” that help to shape this special place.

A walk through the area provides you with the visible experience of this character – something enjoyed by residents and visitors today and that we aspire to protect and preserve for future generations.

Location: Sixteen Mile Creek to the west; the tablelands to the east and Lake Ontario to the south have provided an attractive natural location for generations of human activity. From historically documented Indigenous use; to the establishment of a commercial harbour; to a port town with various civic, commercial and religious institutions within the boundaries; to a thriving small town with adjacency to the “Main Street” – the location of the HCD is a contributing factor to its character.

Pattern of Settlement: As a structure for settlement, the original plan for Oakville was set out in a grid format in 1835. This grid pattern was a typical English settlement form as is recognized in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and which is one of the key factors that gave it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are few examples in Canada of this type of settlement and the District has retained this recognizable attribute. The original block design still exists today and consistent with the evolution of the Town provides an opportunity to experience the layers of development over time of the various properties. In addition, many of the lots are still intact quarter-acre lots. The block nature of the streetscape creates walkways east/west and north/south connecting people to the lake and to the historic downtown.

Historical Association: The Old Oakville Heritage Conservation District is probably best known for its direct association with the founding and development of the Town of Oakville. Starting with shipbuilding, logging and lumber milling and then other industrialization, the HCD was at the heart of this activity. Navy Street was a key thoroughfare for commercial activity with the Customs House at the end of the street; civic buildings and hotel establishments were built; ship captains, carpenters and business leaders all bought lots and built their commercial and residential properties; and the churches seized the opportunity associated with congregation size to become established. As the Town matured, real estate mogul WS Davis seized the opportunity to develop properties to attract professionals to settle in the area; various recreational organizations were established in the early 1900s that still thrive today; and the Town established Lakeside Park. Our Block Analysis identifies some of these important associations and our expectation is that the Town’s detailed work on the individual properties will highlight these historical and contextual associations further. There is also growing and respectful appreciation for the historical association with the original Indigenous People who lived in this area. More work should be done to document and give credit to that history as has been done so well in Tannery Park. Sixteen Mile Creek, (known by the Mississauga Place Name Nanzuhzaugewazong “Having Two Outlets”) was an important part of that association.

Historic and Evolving Architectural Form: There is a significant stock of historic architectural buildings that reflect the growth of the Town from its founding to prosperity in the early 1900s as a small town. Described as the “Oakville vernacular style”, there are many one-and-a-half and two-storey buildings. Individual modest structures that reflect the workforce that lived and worked in Oakville are mixed with more elaborate homes that were built by prosperous Yown founders. The individuality of development is attributed in the old HCD plan as the result of Oakville being the only privately developed port on Lake Ontario. As the Town grew and Chisholm advertised lots for sale, people were attracted to the area through friends and family members; and the opportunity to build a home where they worked. In most cases, the buildings in the HCD are anchored in the changing topography of the land and designed with a mass, scale and height that maintain views and vistas through and between properties. As the Town grew further, more of the lots were developed and homes built. This historic and evolving architectural form is evident within the different blocks of the HCD and this history is highlighted through the Oakville Historical Society plaques for each property. Our Built Inventory Analysis identifies some of the architectural forms and our expectation is that the Town’s detailed work and documentation on the individual properties will highlight these architectural forms further.

Natural Heritage, Greenspace and Grove-Like Character: Within the boundaries of the HCD, the banks of Sixteen Mile Creek and the shoreline of Lake Ontario provide a natural heritage landscape feature which contributes to the overall character of the area. Much of today’s tree canopy was planted by a prominent business leader in Oakville’s early days – William Francis Romain. During his tenure, he arranged for the planting of trees in response to the clearing of the table lands when Oakville was first established. Many of these trees survive and contribute to the grove-like streetscape of the HCD. Extensive greenspace in the HCD, both public and private, contributes to the character, and continually attracts residents and visitors to the area. These greenspaces are environmentally, culturally and historically important and are a key integrating element for the character of the area that needs to be protected, preserved and maintained. In the public domain, this includes Market Square Parkette, Oakville Bowling Green, Erchless Estate, historic Lakeside Park, George Street Parkette, Dingle Park and the lakeside pathway between Dunn and Allan Streets. In the private domain, St. Jude’s Garden is an oasis for all and St. Andrew’s has renewed its efforts to restore its once-renowned gardens and landscaping.

Views and Vistas: There are several views and vistas that contribute to the overall streetscape character of the District. All seven streets that provide entrance to the HCD from Robinson Street act as portals into the area – providing tree-framed views of Lake Ontario. In addition, our detailed Block Analysis confirms the importance of the views and vistas that exist between properties as a result of the number of corner lots; the placement of buildings on the lot and fencing and landscaping that invites views into the interior spaces of the lots. In addition, the rhythm and consistency of facades within a block contribute to the feeling of an overall integrated streetscape.

Landmark Status: With its designation as a Cultural Heritage Landscape, Erchless Estate has landmark status and is an important anchor to the overall HCD.

These are some of the key points that in our mind describe the overall ‘character’ of the Old Oakville Heritage Conservation District. It is the “sum of the parts” that helps to shape this special place. As a result, we are expecting that the Old Oakville Heritage District Study will include a comprehensive description of the physical design, historical/associative and contextual values that are key to protecting and preserving a coherent streetscape with individual parts that make up the whole (Block Analysis); that emphasizes the human scale; and that encourages the preservation and enhancement of the historic building stock; the natural heritage landscape and greenspace and key cultural features.


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