5 - Corner

In 1948, when retired party-goods supplier Kenneth Robertson came in from the country to work in Oakville, the town had only 6,000 citizens. Like other people I spoke with, Mr. Robertson mourns the growth of the town during the fifty-odd years since he arrived, and the changes of taste and spending habits.

"The yuppies don't have many parties because they have cottages," he said. "And it's getting too big. Old Oakville was about property, and was made up of people from Toronto. They were typically snobs, they had money. But they did not show off."

Old Oakville was not, however, above a little polite deceit. Mr. Robertson recalls bringing tables, chairs and other party supplies to big lakeshore houses filled with fine new furniture--only to discover, upon picking up his stuff the morning after the party, that all the furniture had vanished back to the department store it had come from.

"Prestige binds people to Oakville," he said. "It's always been a name."

So what's worth cherishing about that name?

One thing for sure: an almost mandatory obligation to work on behalf of the common good, whether it be bagging things for church bazaars, or helping out at the peace centre on Kerr Street, or making beautiful lace with the Oakville Ring of Tatters.

"We can get involved, and the councillors and the mayor listen," said Doreen Blake, who was vigorously engaged in philanthropy even when tied down by the demands of her taxi company. "It's a town that you can get very, very involved with. The service industries, the churches and public nurses and volunteers--everyone's conscious of helping out. In the last couple of years, I have seen the greatest change in Oakville, with people getting involved, becoming more aware of official plans, and determined to stop what they think is wrong. People are changing things. They are not satisfied with how things are done. "

At the same time, "people don't know how good the town is. They just want to enjoy the good things here, and treat it like a bedroom community. You know what I want? I know what I want! I want to leave my kids a good place to grow up in."

Like Mr. Robertson, Ms. Blake looks askance at the recent surge in Oakville's real-estate prices, notably on her Glen Abbey street. "Oakville is a very expensive place to live. I paid $209,000 for my house in 1994, and one just like it across the street just sold for $310,000. It's getting too expensive."

But there is another, less immediately obvious price to be paid for living in Oakville and living up to its name.

"They do it all," said Bishop Ralph Spence. "Their kids have to be in piano, ballet and definitely soccer. You go to the golf club, and you are saving your shekels for a cottage in Muskoka. You come home from work in Toronto and go out to the fund-raising dinner. Parents take education, socializing and sports seriously. Religion is respected, but not taken too seriously. Most people work in Toronto, so they live on the highway and the GO trains. You are going to drive yourself into the ground by doing it all."

Trouble is, when Oakville people reach the breaking point, they often don't know where to turn for help, or what to do to save their minds or marriages. Bishop Spence notes that, in Oakville, after all, "one doesn't throw a tantrum in front of Canada Trust."

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