History of West River

History of West River
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Nolan A Machan

Nolan A Machan

Nolan Machan is the Publisher of OakvilleNews.Org and has over 41 years of local Oakville knowledge. He is committed to providing Oakville residents with the most up-to-date information about our great town.

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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 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 which is the area making up West River.

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.

At approximately this time, The International Fraternal Society of The Independent 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 superintendent 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 West River after clearing the land. The central park of West River is named Forster Park, as are the streets that wrap around it, North and South Forster Park Drives.

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, and their decedents continue to live in the area.



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