Ab has vivid memories of Oakville’s past
It’s 1914, and World I had erupted in Europe. The grim faces in the line-ups of the men going to fight was a common sight.
And in Oakville, one such line-up was formed in front of the old Whitaker and Sons’ garage on Church St. and Dundas St. (now Trafalgar Rd.).
In the line-up for entry into the Second Battalion stood Albert Hughes, now 85, and his brothers, Roy, now 81 of Weston, and the late Arthur Hughes, who died in March.
In those days, a Model-T was a Cadillac, and horse-drawn carriages were a more common sight.
Men wore long heavy trench coats and women were fashionable in their long dressed and capes.
This scene is now a memory for Hughes, affectionately known by oldtimers as “Ab”.
Ab recollected some fond memories of Oakville at his home on 226 Reynolds St. last week. His memory is sharp, his smile is seasoned with father time, and his hands have worked since age 16 to 79.
Education appeared secondary to a teenager living in the early 1900s.
He attended the old Central School on Navy St., where the Oakville public Library stands today.
”I never finished school, but I had fun,” he remembers
Dress regulations were lenient by our present-day standards.
It was overalls and bare feet. Boots were worn in the winter.
The very thought tickles Ab today, as health regulations prohibit bare feet in any public building.
The old school was located next to Oakville Creek, which buzzed with activity, and also served as a home for hundreds of snakes.
The temptation of catching snakes and brining them to school to scare his teacher was irresistible.
”We used to catch snakes and let them out inside the school, and the teacher just asked us kids to pick them up.
It was a common prank, but the old schoolteacher had other ideas.
And looking over the harbor at the foot of Oakville Creek from the school window was not one of them.
However, there was more action out there than in the classroom.
The harbor was the hub of Oakville for many years, and was characterized by a turning bridge – the Anderson Bridge on Lakeshore Rd.
The town’s customs officer, the late Maurice Felan, was charged with the responsibility of turning the bridge to allow boats to pass. His customs office was at the foot of Navy St.
His son, the late Art Felan, was Oakville’s lone policeman. Duties not only included law and order, but repairing sidewalks, recalls Ab.
The late Alfred Hughes, Ab’s father, worked at a sawmill located on the creek and also owned a thriving strawberry farm at Brant and Colborne Sts.
Oakville was the strawberry capitol in the early 1900s, and Ab recalls watching boats coming for loads of strawberries destined for Toronto.
Activity turned to skating and hockey on rinks scattered over the creek during the winter.
However, any portion of the creek which escaped freezing was used to harden snowballs.
Before school opened, hundreds of snowballs were made and left in the creek for freezing.
After classes, it was the Battle of 1812 re-enacted – with ice balls. One side of Oakville creek was the American’, the other the Canadian side.
Ab left school when he was 16 or 17, and went to work at a blacksmith shop in Clarkson for a few years.
In 1913 he returned to Oakville and worked at Whitaker’s smithy. Economic conditions, and the advent of the automobile, forced the business to expand. He drove the first Chevrolet into Oakville from Oshawa that year.
A garage was added to the shop in 1915, and well-to-do people brought their Model-Ts for repair. And carriage wheels were also repaired, of course.
Before that, it was shoeing horses, and making steel wagon wheels, as business developed into a carriage works.
Ab recalls doing general repairs to sleighs, lawn mowers, or anything that involved steel.
He used to set tires for a water cart used to sprinkle Oakville’s then dirt-covered streets to control dust. Another job was sharpening picks for the men who laid the town’s fine sewers.
Only the main street was concrete-covered and dust-free, recalls Ab.
The popularity of automobiles increased, and with that developed dealerships and salemen.
In 1915, he became a car saleman at Hillmer Brothers Ford Dealers on the main street. He also gave country rides for $1, operated a “jitney”, or taxi, from downtown east to the Eighth Line.
And he sold lots of Model-Ts.
He left Hillmers in 1930, and worked for A.J. Curry for a few years. Then it was Stirling and Dynes, later Kennedy Ford, until he was 75 years old.
Still able to work, he got a job at Oakville Automotive until his retirement at 79.
Now he spends his days relaxing at his Reynolds St. home.
He moved into the house in 1928, after living on Randall St.
Across the street is Wallace Park, formerly known as Victoria Park, named after Queen Victoria. He recalls the annual fall fairs held at the park until 29 years ago.
An old-timer’s memories are numerous, and one item in Ab’s past multiplies into dozens of stories once he gets talking.
He was born in 1890 in a log cabin at the Sixth Line, near Trafalgar and Upper Middle Rds.
At age 16 Oakville’s population boosted between 2,000 and 3,000 people.
The Town boosted five hotels, including the Murray House, five industries and Victoria Hall across the street from his home.
Oakville’s industries were a tannery, planning mill, basket factory, a grit mill and a jam factory.
And two banks, Anderson’s and Howard’s, both went bankrupt.
A regular streetcar service operated on Lakeshore Rd. between Oakville and Hamilton.
Ab was a member of the Oakville Fire Department for many years, beginning in the early 1900s. He recalls when the department received new uniforms shortly after 1920. He was the only Oakville member among three firefighters chosen to take a Great Lakes boat trip in 1922, after winning a Buffalo newspaper contest.
And when Ab moved to Reynolds St. in 1928, the house next door was occupied by the late Sammy Reynolds, after whom the street was named. On the other side of the house stood a barn.
He had watched Oakville’s growth, and he has some reflections.
”Oakville’s growth is both a good thing and a bad thing. Our taxes are perhaps the highest in Ontario, which is not so good, but he have growth, I lived better when I was young than now,” he mused.