John Oades was the son of a shipbuilder employed by the British government. His faithful service to the British government led to him being rewarded with a grant of land in Canada, and relocated to the country in 1824. John Oades was 7 years old when his family moved across the Atlantic. After his father drowned when Oades was still quite young, he started working at a relative's shipyard at Oswego, N.Y., and learned his father's trade. Oades would go on to open his own shipyard in Clayton, N. Y., where he built a number of steamers for service on Lake Ontario.
In the spring of 1865, Oades moved to Detroit, and spent two years as foreman of the prolific Detroit Dry Dock Co. After that, he and his son Walter H. Oades, went into business for themselves at the foot of Dubois Street. Here, they pumped out a number of yawl boats and other small craft, but also some steamers. To honor his lifetime of service building vessels, a propeller steamer launched in 1889 for the Peninsular Transit Co. would be named the "John Oades." The steamer John Oades was scrapped in 1930.
At the time of his death at age 78 in 1893, John Oades was the oldest shipbuilder on the Great Lakes and respected by his peers.