After the failure of the wheat trade, the economy of Oakville needed a new anchor. The established agricultural infrastructure allowed many farmers to switch to fruit crops, mainly strawberries. But heavier industries did contribute to Oakville’s economy beyond shipbuildings and milling.
Manufacturing was one of the biggest industries next to farming to shore up Oakville’s economy. Lumber and lumber products such as barrels, ships, and baskets were significant players. Foundries would produce metal parts for carriages and ships. But Oakville became home to the largest producer of kerosene. Abraham Gesner, a Canadian scientist, developed a method of distilling coal oil in 1846. This produced a more efficient and cleaner burning lamp fuel. As coal was a significant import at Oakville, it made sense to establish a kerosene production plant in the town. Richard Shaw, already the owner of a shingle mill, established a kerosene plant near his mill on the shores of Sixteen Mile Creek. Soon the Shaw plant became the largest in Canada West. And banking on his success, Shaw built a grand mansion across the road in 1856. While Shaw named his home Rosebank, the general population named it the Kerosene Castle. But the refinery also would prove to be Shaw’s downfall. A fire started at the refinery in 1869 and quickly consumed the entire plant; the discharged kerosene floated on top of the Sixteen Mile Creek on fire, giving the appearance that the creek itself was destroyed in flame. It should be noted that this was a century before the much more well-known river fire in Cleveland. Shaw would write his refinery as a loss as rebuilding would not be profitable as the market was saturated. Rosebank would pass through several hands as a private home until the 20th century. Diana Taylour, OBE, would be interested in the grand old home. A veteran of both the first and second world wars, Diana would convert the home into apartments and a private nursing home. And while Taylour died in 1957, her nursing home continued to operate until the 1980s. In 1978, Auday Hadfield opened a private academy out of a storefront in downtown Oakville. But the school, MacLaughlan College, proved popular and within a year, the Hadfields had purchased and converted Rosebank into a new home for their school. Today, MacLaughlan College is a private school attended by 350 students. It maintains much of the historical architecture that set this grand old house apart from many other homes along Trafalgar Road.
There are a couple of reasons that this building was among the hardest to photograph. The first is that the house is located behind a tall fence, and the second is an active school. Having no choice but to photograph from public property, I had to hide behind a pillar to avoid getting any students into the frame. I did have to wait until a stream of students, who were ambivalent to my presence. I used my 150mm lens, some front rise, and a quick dirty meter for shadows under-expose by a stop to get the shot before anyone called out my presence.