Sixteen | Port-Of-Entry

What we know today about crossing the border is a standardised process that is relatively modern. Of course, we all experience what could only be described as a nerve-racking experience when faced by border agents in a post-9/11 world, some more than others for reasons other than their nationality and skin colour. But the 19th Century had far fewer controls over the border, and people crossed it unharassed (mostly) or requiring documentation. But the one thing that got a lot of investigation was trade, specifically the collection of tariffs and duties, which often fell to a leading citizen in a town named a port-of-entry by the government.

Sixteen | Port of Entry
Graflex Crown Graphic – Fuji Fujinon-W 1:5.6/125 – Arista EDU.Ultra 400 @ ASA-200 – Ilford Ilfotec HC (1+47) 7:30 @ 20C

The work of William Chisholm to establish a proper harbour in Oakville allowed the government to name it a port of entry in 1834. And Chisholm’s connection to the elite of the colonial parliament allowed him to be named the customs agent for the town. He, in turn, named his younger son Robert as his deputy. Customs agents were less concerned with the movement of people into and out of Upper Canada and more with the movement of trade goods. These duties and tariffs were set by the British Parliament and often were used to protect local manufacturing and resource extraction by encouraging the industries to use locally made and sourced resources. A list was compiled and sent out to all the customs agents and was either a set price-per-weight or a percentage of the total value. Agents would record the cargo going into and out of the province and the number of duties collected before forwarding the funds to the government. First, the British parliament and then, by the 1850s, the Canadian Colonial Parliament. In 1842 Robert took over the duties of Customs Agent for Oakville and continued to operate out of the offices his father built. In 1856 he completed a new separate building on the family home (Earchless) to house not only the customs offices but also a branch of the Bank of Toronto. The two-storey Italianate building was connected to the main home, providing room for all the records and safes for storing and collecting monies. Oakville remained an official port of entry until 1910, when the Federal Government began to control the movement of goods and people into and out of Canada. The Oakville Customs house was then shuttered. Hazel Chisholm would reopen the old house in the 1930s, converting it into an apartment for herself, while Juliette occupied the main house. A wealth of records was discovered then, including almost all the original records from the time as a port of entry and historical documents about Oakville’s history. Like the rest of Earchless, the Customs House became part of the apartments that occupied the historic home when the town of Oakville took ownership in 1977. The tenants in the Custom’s house were among the first to vacate. In 1983 under the Oakville Historical Society, it became the first section to open as the new Oakville Museum. Eventually, the rest of Earchless would be renovated, and today, it continues to be a part of the Oakville Museum.

The customs house proved a complicated structure to photograph, at least compositionally. With a drive down to the coast guard pier and the heavily treed park, finding the right spot proved difficult. And even in the area I picked, I’m not completely happy with the results. I did try to account for the grade of the land and a bit of front rise using my 125mm lens to capture the whole of the building. At least the exposure is decent, with the high-contrast light I averaged between the front of the building and the shadows to the side.

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