Hazel had a deep interest in local history. She was instrumental in moving the Old Post Office to its present site in Lakeside Park to found Oakville's first museum on land deeded to the Town of Oakville by Hazel and Juliet. Hazel was also a founding member of the Oakville Historical Society. She is probably best known locally for her written history of the Town, Oakville and the Sixteen: the History of an Ontario Port, published in 1953. Her other books include The Mark of Honour, Frontier Spies, and British West Florida and the Illinois Country.
Oakville and the Sixteen
The following is text written by Gordon Sinclair in relation to Hazel Matthews.
Dear Mrs. Matthews;
The story about yourself in relation to “Oakville and the Sixteen” will be spoken, by me, at 5.45 pm next Wednesday, the 9th at CFRB so I hope you can find time to listen.
It’s not a really good piece, and is not a review because this is not a book review program. Today in getting my script in shape I started to read and was quite surprised, before I’d stopped, to have covered 88 pages. That’s a fair slice for the opening nibble and is proof that I found the work exciting. Not just interesting but exciting.
Then as I started putting words down Mother, who is 81 and thus acquainted with some of the old days became interested and she’s now well into the book. So you have two appreciative Sinclairs.
Personality Story #484
Wed. Dec. 9, 1953
Mrs. Hazel Chisholm Matthews.
And now it’s personality time.
Again it’s the time of day when Gordon Sinclair looks over the people in the news, selects an interesting subject, and tells a story or so about him…..or her.
And our personality of this afternoon is Mrs. Hazel Chisholm Matthews, author of Oakville and the Sixteen one of the best historical records of the century.
Back in 1837 the present Town of Oakville was established on the banks of 16 Mile Creek by William Chisholm and the town has continued to expand from then till now.
This fall William Chisholm’s great granddaughter, Mrs. Hazel Chisholm Matthews has completed…and the University of Toronto Press has published…a closely indexed 520 pages about Oakville and its people.
Along the way, since getting interested in Oakville and its history, Mrs. Matthews has helped set up a museum in Oakville’s original customs house.
She also has other Trafalgar Township addresses, one with her sister Dr. Juliet Chisholm who is both artist and doctor, and one on a family farm to the North of the town.
Mrs. Matthews spends some parts of each year in New York City where she was educated but much of the writing of Oakville and the Sixteen was done in that old customs house and the research…years of it…was done by Mrs. Matthews herself.
In asking for information from which to write this sketch I didn’t get much about her personal life but I did get an interesting view on the mature woman’s outlook and I’d like to read it….listen:
“What I find most interesting is that I attained the age of 50-odd before discovering what fun people can have. Too many home-makers feel that once their children are grown up life loses much of its interest. This is just plain nonsense. Most older people, men and women, fail to realize what they miss by not doing something which interests them, not as a so-called “hobby”, but as real work for no monetary return. The more difficult it seems the more absorbing this work becomes.
“Books, magazine articles and radio programs about amateurs in almost any line seem popular, yet few bestir themselves to find the same enjoyment.
“My experience has been that historical exploration led to physical exertion which at my age I had thought impossible. Now I will tackle anything. In a world where there are so many things to see, learn, and tell about, there is little reason for either loneliness or unhappiness.”
This I think, will give you a pretty good glimpse at the character of Hazel Matthews who says, in a preface to her comprehensive history that she has the persistence of a termite.
She was born in Oakville 56 years ago, educated in New York City, and studied, as a girl and a young woman, subjects which she disliked.
That means she did NOT study history.
Once she did dip into that habit-forming subject Mrs. Matthews never turned back and it’s almost a certainty that she knows more about Oakville than anyone else who ever lived.
Her elder son, a Varsity graduate in engineering, was with the RCAF during the war while a younger son also flew during the campaign in the South Pacific; with one was with the United States Marines.
Each of these two boys has two daughters.
Mrs. Matthews herself has one daughter, an Oakville portrait photographer under the name of Nancy Hart. Some of her photographs and some of Dr. Chisholm’s drawings help illustrate Oakville and the Sixteen.
One of the odd places in which Mrs. Matthews go both information for her book and display for her museum was in the creek bed….16 Mile Creek.
Day after day she waded the stream in all seasons but spring, when the water was too high, looking for old tools or stones or discarded scraps that might link her with the past.
She’s also a regular at auction sales in Trafalgar Township and Halton County. Auctioneers have come to know that the most useless looking bits of apparent junk are what Mrs. Matthews likes to buy and then put away in the Oakville museum.
Around the house Mrs. Matthews has had a variety of pets running from snakes to fishes to cats. She has five Siamese cats now but has even had a pet skunk.
She is absent-minded and can get so absorbed in letters and papers of the period 1800 to 1840 that she can forget where she is and even forget about eating or sleeping.
One way the absent-mindedness shows up is in Mrs. Matthews’ habit of sometimes calling a person by the name of his great grandfather.
Her book, clearly enough, was not written for profit. It’s not the sort of book that will sell in the popular class, but even if it were the years of research that went into it would never be paid for it dollars.
But as a genuine work of local history and research Oakville and the Sixteen is beyond price and it’s good to see that at the same time as Toronto Varsity brought it out here Oxford University was publishing in Britain.
In the 1930s, Hazel restored the previously boarded-up Customs House. The building became the permanent home of Hazel and her children. When her mother died in 1951, Hazel became co-owner of Erchless with her sister, Juliet.