If you want to learn about Oakville’s history, a good place to start is the Oakville Museum. Since the 1980s, Oakville’s collection of historical artifacts has been housed in a place of historical significance, situated right by the lake in the buildings that make up Erchless Estate, home to six generations of Oakville’s founding family.
The first brick building in Oakville was built by William Chisholm, founder of the town, in 1835, a little under ten years after he bought the land. This house served as a general store and early Customs house. After William Chisholm’s death in 1842, his son, Robert Kerr Chisholm, continued to expand the property throughout his time as owner of the estate, adding a grand home and new Customs House. He enlarged the home a few times in order to accommodate his growing family and business. Robert was responsible for naming the building “Erchless” after the seat of the Chisholm clan in Scotland. R.K. Chisholm’s youngest son, Allan, made substantial changes to the estate when his mother Flora Matilda Chisholm became the owner of the property in 1899, adding a coach house, carriage path, tennis court, and ornamental gate.
The property was put up for sale in 1919, and Emelda Beeler Chisholm, the wife of R.K.’s second son, bought it as she didn’t want to see the land leave the family. She completely renovated the building, the plans for which became the foundation for the Town of Oakville's restoration of the property in 1991. Emelda’s children, Juliet and Hazel later became co-owners of the estate. Hazel continued to make improvements to the property. She restored the Customs House in the 1930s, built cottages on the north-west section of the grounds and moved the Old Post Office to its current location in Lakeside Park. Her children were the last generation to call Erchless Home, and the estate was sold in the 1960s.
For the next 17 years, Erchless was rented out until being purchased by the Town of Oakville. At the time, the future of the estate was not decided, so suggestions for uses for the buildings were open to the public. Eventually, the decision to restore the grounds and open them as a museum was agreed upon. The restoration took seven years; the Customs House opened in 1983, and the so-called Big House was added in 1991. Today Oakville Museum at Erchless Estate is the heart of Oakville’s heritage waterfront and is open to the public year-round.