Gates Swing Open: Erchless Estate Coach House
Tour Oakville’s very own Pioneer Village and enter the rarely open Coach House on International Museum Day, May 18
Everyone knows about the popular tourist attraction Black Creek Pioneer Village, a working pioneer village in Toronto’s north end with buildings dating from the 1790s and the 1860s. But how many know that Oakville has its own pioneer village too, the Erchless Estate, at the foot of Navy Street overlooking the marina and Lake Ontario, once home to Oakville’s founding family but now the setting for Oakville’s community museum?
On May 18, 4 to 6 p.m., to celebrate International Museum Day, the Oakville Museum will offer a family-friendly outdoor walking tour of the Erchless grounds. Visitors will be welcome to enter the historic Coach House—normally closed to the public—and view the exhibits. The exterior charms the eye with eclectic features such as the steeply pitched cross-gable roof and its irregular slopes, eyebrow dormers, bell-cast and bowed projections, shingled cupola, and bay window and mullioned windows.
“This tour about the foundations of the town will show that Oakville is about more than just great dining and expensive houses,” says Paul Sapounzi, president and managing principal at +VG Architects (The Ventin Group Ltd.). His firm, with offices in Toronto, Ottawa and Brantford, is known for projects such as the renovation of Queen’s Park, Toronto Old City Hall (they put back the gargoyles atop the clock tower) and Niagara Parks Power Station.
The official opening of the picturesque Shingle Style Oakville Coach House last year marked the completion by +VG of the adaptive reuse of the Erchless Estate, a cultural heritage property designated under the Ontario Heritage Act as an intact surviving example of an estate developed by a wealthy settler family, the Chisholms, who named it after their 13-century ancestral castle in northern Scotland.
This fine ensemble of historic buildings on an elevated natural embankment overlooking Lake Ontario, the mouth of Oakville Harbour, and Sixteen Mile Creek, comprises the Customs House (1856); the Italianate-style residence (1858), former home of six generations of the town’s founding Chisholm family and restored as the Oakville Museum by +VG in 1991; the Post Office (1835); and the Coach House (1901).
The 5,150-square-foot Coach House, the most elegant building on the site, was designed by the Toronto-based architectural firm Dick and Wickson around 1899. Their other built work includes the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and (under the name of Wichson and Gregg) Timothy Eaton Memorial Church and Ardwold, the Eaton family’s (demolished) mansion.
The building is in three-parts: horse stables and tack area, coach storage and hayloft; a two-storey gardener’s cottage; and a linking storage area. The exterior charms the eye with eclectic features such as the steeply pitched cross-gable roof and its irregular slopes, eyebrow dormers, bell-cast and bowed projections, shingled cupola, and bay window and mullioned windows.
+VG’s alterations and additions conform to Parks Canada’s Standards and Guidelines, following the accepted heritage practice of restore first, repair next, replace last. Replacement was in-kind, and compatible, distinguishable, based on sufficient physical evidence, and documented. Where insufficient physical evidence existed, +VG replaced missing heritage attributes based upon reputable oral evidence.
A barrier-free entrance was created on the east side by rebuilding the existing porch 18 inches higher with the entrance preceded by a gently sloping path that brings the visitor to the level of the door threshold.
The other modern adaptation to improve accessibility is at the south façade, where the existing barn doors added during a 1997 renovation were replaced with a new operable glass wall panel system that slides into a side pocket, providing visual access from the multi-use space (formerly the storage area) to the gardens and estate beyond. A film graphic on the glass panels depicts horses, reflecting the structure’s initial use while deterring bird strikes.
Photography by David Lasker Photography