Oakville, the suburban town in Halton Region, has a population of 182,520. At least half of those people wear yoga clothes, own hale dogs as well as a panoply of flat-screen TVs (that they don’t watch because they’re busily huffing it in sneakers down by the lake).
All this is conjecture, of course, gleaned one Sunday afternoon while on a reconnaissance mission of Oakville’s main drag, Bronte Village and the real estate on the treed pockets around the Lakeshore. Who lives in these capacious, character-filled houses, where birds caper on the front lawn like a montage out of a movie?
In answer: CanCon musician Tom Cochrane, NHL hockey players, Ron MacLean, CEOs.
They’re joined by more than 300 companies, such as Ford and TDL Group, headquartered in the town founded by William Chisholm in 1837 and named for its majestic oaks. Here, 58% of residents hold a post-secondary education — a level 38% greater than the provincial average, according to the Town of Oakville. (The über-posh Appleby College is here on rolling fields that recall the film Dead Poets Society.) Meanwhile, Oakville Real Estate online reveals the average median income is $105,563 with an average house value of $720,943.
That society’s players reside in this squeaky-clean suburb with its pristine lakefront is no surprise. But dig deeper and there’s more to the story: Oakville has a thriving cultural scene, including theatres and art galleries. And shalom, there’s even a synagogue called Shaarei-Beth El that’s run by a rabbi-wife team in a town not exactly revered for its diversity.
It’s also not heralded as a spot for singles. Vanessa Head, 39, shares her townhouse with Bella, a miniature shih tzu, instead of being part of Oakville’s stereotypical upper-crust family of five. “I’ve lived in Oakville since 2001,” says Ms. Head, a spiritual practitioner and 20-year sailing nut (she mostly races, as opposed to cruises). “I love it for its small-town feel and it’s so beautiful — the green space is incredible.”
(To give you an idea: Oakville has 420 hectares of parkland that make up 200 parks — 31 are on the waterfront — 150 kilometres of trails and two harbours.)
Ms. Head is known in the sailing community by her nickname Tripcy. “It stands for Triple C — the coolest chick in Canada,” she says. “Twenty years ago, I was the only girl with all guys on a boat. They all had nicknames. This guy, Dave, came up with it. I had it tattooed on my back next to the butterfly.”
Ms. Head learned how to steer a boat in Cobourg, after reading Sailing for Dummies. “Experienced sailors say it’s an excellent book for rookies. I read it cover to cover. I impressed them when I showed up on the first day and said, ‘I don’t want to be deck fluff.’ That’s the girly-girl who doesn’t want to mess up her hair or break a nail.”
Eventually, Ms. Head moved from Cobourg to Oakville for work. “I was thrilled because there were limited yacht clubs where I was before. We have three different awesome ones here: My club, the member-run Oakville Yacht Squadron; Bronte Harbour Yacht Club; and the Oakville Club. It’s got the tennis courts, fitness and other amenities.”
Ms. Head says it’s a misnomer that sailing is a closed sport. “People think if you don’t own your own boat, you can’t do it, but a lot of people with sailboats are looking for a crew. There are tons of organizations and regattas. You can sail seven days a week on Lake Ontario.”
If this talk has you seasick, the town’s grounded activities are also pretty sweet. Oakville Galleries, a not-for-profit contemporary art museum with two locations (in Gairloch Gardens and Centennial Square), offer educational programs geared to children aged six to 12, summer camps and afterschool and weekend programs.
“For example, in March we partnered with [the Museum of Contemporary Art] for the Art Bus,” says Jennifer Bedford, the communications officer. “The tour started there, then you get on a bus to tour the Art Gallery of Hamilton then Oakville Galleries. There’s a public reception, food and beverages. It’s a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon,” she says. “We ask for a donation of $10. We’ve had Whole Foods sponsor us. People get a boxed lunch as well.” (All this for $10!)
But is interest in the arts growing? The answer in Oakville is a resounding yes.
Ronnie Brown, the co-ordinator of marketing at the Oakville Centre for the Performing Arts, has been working at the theatre for 14 years.
“There’s been absolutely a big change in terms of how many people are coming to the theatre,” he says of the theatre that stages 260 performances a year. “When we started hosting bigger artists, the perception of the Oakville Centre — originally built for community groups — started to change.”
In the past, in addition to the usual comedies and tragedies one would find in a theatre, the house has welcomed Bill Cosby, Tower of Power and Serena Ryder. “We get people from all over, from upstate New York to Pennsylvania and Ohio for those shows. Boyz II Men were just there, which was a big draw.” (And no, it wasn’t tween central, Mr. Brown says. “They attract all age groups, mostly women.”)
Kristen MacEachern lives in Oakville, and enjoys the cultural scene, as well as its recreational activities. The dietician who travels by train to University Avenue during the week to get to her job at Mount Sinai Hospital says, “The commute is long, but I like where I live so it’s worth it.”
Ms. MacEachern lives in one of the newer subdivisions in Westoak Trails with her husband Chris Ellen, who works in sales. “We back onto a big pond where we see ducks, geese, possum and rabbits. We can even skate and cross-country ski on the pond,” she says, noting she also enjoys Midnight Madness.
In its 36th year, the splashy food-filled affair is Oakville’s largest retail shindig, taking place on July 19 and 20, along the downtown stretch of shops and cafés. Last year, it drew 50,000 people. (This strip is lined with wonderful food spots, such as Just an Olde Fashioned Butchery and Seafood, known for its spiral honey hams and grilled sausages flaming away on the outdoor barbecues; the chic herringbone-floored Marilyn Monroe Café and Stoney’s Bread Company.) Another draw is Oakville’s 20-year-old jazz festival, on this year Aug. 9 to 11.
“Last year, 125 Labs and friends came out,” Ms. Johnson says. “There’s a vet [on-site] for medical chats, two trainers, a canine nutritionist. We had an OPP canine presentation and an agility course,” she says. “Really, it’s one big party. We have loads of fun and raise awareness for adopting a Lab and attracting foster homes.”
Michelle Salvia is a Web designer who gets 12,000 to 15,000 hits monthly on her site oakvillemoms.com, developed as a resource for families. She is continually “impressed by the number of events that happen in Oakville.”
Ms. Salvia lives with her husband, Domenic, and their two boys, ages five and seven. “I’ve been living here since 2002, since we’ve been married. I used to live in Bolton, but [my husband] had property and his whole family is here. I instantly fell in love with it.”
Her family lives in the north end, close to the new hospital being built on 50 acres at Dundas and Third Line. The facility is working toward a Silver LEED certification, the highest standard to be achieved by an Ontario hospital. When it’s completed, there will be ample parking, more single-patient rooms and an overall better, modern design.
“This is a multi-million dollar facility,” says a long-time Oakville resident who asked that his name not be used. “Oakville-born people are contributing to it. Mattamy Homes donated $10-million on it. This is a close-knit community, where we don’t mind paying higher taxes because you get beautiful infrastructure, high-end recreational facilities and amazing fire services and ambulances.
“Everyone shares the same ideology. In Toronto, there are constant complaints,” he says. “Your incremental gain for each tax dollar isn’t there.”
But it is here — and then some.
Source: National Post l Iris Benaroia