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Visiting the Custom House, Erchless, Oakville, Ontario: historic Estate beside Lake Ontario

Updated on October 23, 2012
Provincial flag of Ontario
Provincial flag of Ontario | Source
Erchless Estate, Oakville
Erchless Estate, Oakville | Source
Erchless Estate, Oakville
Erchless Estate, Oakville | Source
Map location of Oakville Riding, Ontario
Map location of Oakville Riding, Ontario | Source

A sedate and herbaceous lakeside property

Erchless Estate is truly a heritage gem, in Oakville, in Ontario's Halton region. This 19th century establishment offers a poignant cameo of 19th century life.

In 1856, part of the building served as the Custom House and as a branch of the Bank of Toronto.

Do I hear: "Custom House? Was Oakville really a port of entry to Canada?"

The short answer is: Yes. The situation of the Estate, with its Custom House, overlooking Lake Ontario, is a reminder that directly across the vast Lake from which the Province of Ontario took its name, is Upstate New York. Indeed, this Custom House was used until 1910 in its original function. Colonel William Chisholm (1788-1842) served as Customs Inspector from 1834. The Custom House itself was built by his son Robert Kerr Chisholm (1819-1899). Later it was used as a private house, still owned by the Chisholm family.

In 1983, under the auspices of the Oakville Historical Trust, the Custom House completed a program of refurbishment and was opened as a Museum. I spent some time at the Museum talking about various historical aspects of the Estate and its artifacts to the well-rehearsed young people working as guides in the Museum.

Regarding the Chisholms — one of Oakville's founding families — no less than 6 generations lived at the Erchless Esate. A rock garden was created by Emelda Beeler Chisholm (1873-1951) in the early 20th century and this may still be seen.

At the Estate, the Old Post Office, a low, single storey building, dates from about 1835. My overall memory of the Estate is of a sedate complex with Georgian features, by a tranquil Lake Ontario in a peaceful, herbaceous setting.

Even the address of the Estate — 8 Navy Street — is maybe an oblique reminder of Oakville's former maritime vocation, linked so closely with the Chisholm family's historic presence.

Note on the name: Erchless refers to the locality in Scotland from which the Chisholm family originated.

October 24, 2012

Also worth seeing

In Oakville itself, attractions include its Centre for the Performing Arts which hosts Oakville Symphony Orchestra, and other groups and activities; Oakville Harbour has a picturesque marina.

Ebenezer Hall, Brampton (distance: 43.3 kilometres) a pleasing, former one room schoolhouse dating from 1892.


How to get there: Air Canada, flies to Toronto Pearson Airport, with wide North American and other connections, from where car rental is available. (Distance from Toronto Pearson Airport to Oakville : 31.3 kilometres). A GO Train service operative between Toronto Union and Oakville railroad stations. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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