Why does Oakville call itself a town and not a city?


Published May 12, 2023 at 11:49 am

For some, Oakville is a city that calls itself a town.

The question of why Ontario’s largest municipality is still designated as a town rather than a city is often asked and as its population continues to grow the drumbeat for it to be named a city seems to gets louder.

But don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Oakville calls itself a town and it appears to like it that way.

“In Ontario there are no designations of city or town,” Oakville Mayor Rob Burton told inhalton.com’s Khaled Iwamura in their monthly chat. “All there is, is a status called municipality.

“The municipality is a thing that is created by the legislature and they incorporate your municipality as a service delivery corporation. We plow the roads, cut the grass and build the recreation centres and the soccer fields, and all that stuff.”

Under the former Municipal Act, 1990, a city was both an urban and a local municipality. Under that act, the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) could change the status of a village or town, upon its request, to a city if it had a population of 15,000 or more.

A town can be formed when the population is at least 1,000 people and may exceed 10,000 people unless it requests a change to city status.

Oakville isn’t interested in requesting a change.

“Oakville has been larger than the smallest city forever,” said Burton. “The smallest city of Ontario is the city of Dryden (northwestern Ontario), population 7,000. Down 500 from the last census.

“Oakville is probably 225,000 now because we’re a couple of years past the last census and we’re a fast growing place.”

Oakville was originally incorporated in 1857. In 1962 it amalgamated with Trafalgar Township to form the new town of Oakville.

Occupying 69,000 acres (28,900 hectares) and spreading northward for some 14 miles (22.5 km) from Lake Ontario, it’s Canada’s largest town in area.

“Harry Barrett, one of my predecessors who was mayor for six terms in the 70s and 80s — and Oakville was only 70,000 people than — he loved when people would say the city of Oakville,” recalled Burton. “He would say, ‘Yeah, Oakville is a city that calls itself a town and acts like a village.'”

Still there are those who find it silly. How can one of the larger municipalities in the province with a fair size population not be a city?

That question has been around for years and it appears it will be around for many more.

“The legislature in its wisdom has decided for day-to-day purposes you can call yourself anything you want,” said Burton. “Oakville is the largest municipality calling itself a town and our vision is to be the most livable place in the country and to call ourselves a town and feel like a village.”

As for any talk that Oakville gets more funding or receives more benefits for becoming a city, Burton put that to rest.

“No truth at all,’ said the Oakville mayor. “There are many, many legends and myths. Urban legends and municipal myths that people choose to believe. I guess because it’s fun, but there’s just no truth.”

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