Local History Articles

We will from time to time add stories written on various aspects of history in Burlington. Stop by regularly for up dates!

A description of Burlington in 1917

Ross Taylor provided this excerpt from a booklet entitled "Live Wire Towns of  Halton County"

The Lakeside Town on the new highway, is an incorporated town of 2,600 population situated in Halton Co. on the shores of Lake Ontario, nine miles from Hamilton, 16 miles from Milton, the County seat, and 32miles from Toronto. It was incorporated as a village in 1872 and became a town in 1915.

Burlington has first class railway facilities. It is on the G.T.R and C.P.R. The Hamilton Radial line, from Hamilton to Oakville, passes through town, making  half  hourly trips in summer and every hour in the winter. Chief industries comprise lumber, saw and planning mills, canning factory, fruit packages, machine shops, carriages, wagons, creamery, fruit growing, fruit evaporator, flour mill and mixed farming.

The town contains a number of fine churches of nearly all denominations, high and public schools, Carnegie library of over 4,000 volumes. Burlington owns its own waterworks system, light and power is furnished by the Cataract Power Co. The town is installing a first class sewage system now in course of construction. Burlington has one of the best volunteer fire brigades in Ontario. It is divided into three companies, Central, East and West, comprising 36 men. The fire equipment is the most modern. Additional apparatus was purchased by the town in September of 1916, consisting of one motor combination chemical and hose truck of two ton capacity at a cost of $4,855.00.

 First class banking facilities can be obtained, branches of the Royal Bank of Canada and Bank of  Hamilton being located here, as well as excellent telephone, telegraph and express services. The press is ably represented by the Burlington Gazette, Mr. Elgin A Harris, editor and proprietor. It was established in 1899. It is an eight  page, 6 column paper, independent, issued every Wednesday, and enjoys a wide circulation, covering this and surrounding counties. Job printing of all kinds is neatly executed.

Burlington merchants and business men are progressive and successful. The shops and stores are scenes of bustle and business activity. Every year witnesses the erection of new business blocks and private residences.

The total absence of marsh land, the sanitary conditions which prevail, the exhilarating breezes from the lake and the few sudden climatic changes gives a healthful and invigorating tone to the whole atmosphere of the place.  The country tributary to Burlington is one of the most fertile and prosperous in the province. The farms are well cleared, well tilled and present every appearance of thrift and happiness. 

Its location and environments are such as to facilitate its commercial prosperity and render a steady and permanent growth.  There is room for many various lines of industry that have not yet been overtaken.  To manufacturers or businessmen who are casting about for new localities, a respectful consideration is asked for Burlington's claims.  Taking Burlington in general it should be an excellent place to locate and reside. Beautiful drives, good roads for motoring; boating, bathing, fishing and all kinds of outdoor sports are indulged in. 

There are good stores of all kinds where the commodities of life can be purchased at reasonable prices.  First class sites, exempt from taxes, excellent power facilities at very cheap rates are offered to manufacturers or others who wish to locate here.  For further particulars kindly write to the Mayor, Town Clerk or Councillors.  They will be pleased at any time to give all desired information to prospective citizens

The Estaminet was Burlington's finest restaurant

By Dorothy Truscotte – An abridged selection from "Burlington the Growing Years"

"A human document rich in contemporary history; a
record of the most pleasant side of our times." This is the
inscription on the first page of the guest book from the Esta-
minet Restaurant. It was certainly an accurate statement of the
Estaminet's place in Burlington history.

Emma and George Byrens bought the old house at 2084
Lakeshore Road in 1919, and opened a restaurant with only
four tables. Before long, they had established a reputation for
serving fine food in an exceptionally pleasant lakefront atmos-
phere. Mrs. Byrens ordered all the supplies locally, and ac-
cording to the farmers, she insisted on the best.

Mr. and Mrs. Byrens greeted their guests in full evening
dress. Guests were also greeted by the lime green parrot, Paul,
who resided in the lobby. Paul knew the staff members by
name, and initiated conversations with anyone who came by.
At 11.30 p.m.,and again at a quarter to twelve, he would call out "All out, gentlemen. This establishment is now closing!"

The guest books from the Estaminet was filled with sig-
natures of visitors from all over the world, some of them very
famous. Visitors included Liberace, Louis Armstrong, John Diefenbaker, Barbara Ann Scott.and Ontario's Premier Mitchell F. Hepburn,

In May, 1931, Viscount Duncannon, son of Canada's new
governor-general, Lord Bessborough, had dinner with a group
of friends. After the meal, the viscount personally congratu-
lated Mrs. Byrens on her excellent establishment.

In addition to bringing fame to
Burlington, Emma Byrens contributed to the community in many other
ways. In 1940, during World War II, she organized a card party
for 400 guests with the proceeds going to the Burlington district branch of the Canadian Red Cross. The event raised $300.

In 1943, Mrs. Byrens celebrated her 70th birthday with
another party at the Estaminet. She continued as proprietess
of the restaurant until 1952. At that time, it was purchased by
Reginald Cooper who, with his wife, operated it until 1963
when their son, Brian, took it over. It has since changed hands
more than once. It continues as a restaurant today now known  as the popular Emma's Back Porch and Water Street Cooker

The Burlington Horticultural Society: A beautiful History

 Linda McKay 

From the Ontario Horticultural Society's Trillium magazine

 In 1919, when Burlington was a small town of less than 3000 people, twenty-five residents attended a meeting in the Anglican Sunday School room and established a local horticultural society. An enthusiastic supporter and organizer was the Rev. George W. Tebbs, recently appointed Rector at St. Luke's Anglican Church. The Rev. Tebbs, a former President of the Ontario Horticultural Association, had been surprised to find his new home did not have a branch of the Association. The proposed mission of the Burlington group was to beautify vacant street corners, place flowerbeds at town entrances, and assist and instruct local citizens on the topic of horticulture.

 Early newspaper articles chronicled the continued success of the groups 111members by the end of the first year, and the establishment of parks, as well as social outings to attend picnics and view the lilacs, or visit the Rose and Peony Show in Port Credit. Members of the Society acted as the Town's Parks Board for many years, doing much of the physical work involved in establishing local parks, including preparing the soil and doing the planting. Individual members often provided plants and shrubs for various parks. 

Spencer Smith, who arrived in Canada as a Barnardo boy, was a charter member of the club. He was instrumental in developing the beginnings of a park which is now the jewel of Burlington's waterfront. Town property along a small section of Lake Ontario was drained, cleaned up, and designated as Lakeside Park. In spite of setbacks when the lake waves almost yearly damaged the shoreline, dedicated Society members continued to work to expand this beautiful park. Finally, in 1942 the park was named Spencer Smith Park to honour Smith's vision and hard work.

In the early years of the Society, membership was encouraged by the Burlington Gazette - "Join now and boost Beautiful Burlington", through their glowing reports of meetings and outings, and by members canvassing every home in the town. Membership was at an all time high in 1950 with 548 members.

The rose was adopted as Burlington's flower at the suggestion of the Society, and the Society helped establish the Civic Rose Award to recognize notable front yard gardens. Roses are purchased annually for the City's Rose Garden in Central Park.

  Members have been involved in encouraging tree planting. Spencer Smith established a town nursery and school children and Scouts helped plant many of the now mature trees that make the core of Burlington so attractive. In the 1980s, the Society helped create an Honour Roll of Trees. In addition, the Society has planted trees to commemorate special occasions. In 2010, an Acer pensylvanicum (Striped Maple) was planted at Central Park to mark the 90th year of the Society. The Society continues to fulfill its original mandate of  beautifying  Burlington .

 A.B.Coleman: Burlington's Master Builder

By Dorothy Truscotte - From "Burlington the Growing Years"

Alfred B. Coleman was born in Woolwich, England in 1865 and came to Canada with his parents when he was still a boy. The family first settled in Hamilton then came to Burlington.

At the age of 13, A.B. as he was known, worked on Mr.Bell's  Lockhart  Road farm for 50 cents a day. He was always interested in building and as a young man taught himself to make and read blueprints. By the time he was 21, he owned the Ontario Street planning mill which later became Nicholson's. Soon  he was fulfilling his dream of  building homes.

One of these was the "Gingerbread House" at 1375 Ontario Street across from St.Luke's  church. This unusual building incorporates many interesting architectural features. Coleman lived in this house until 1899.In that year he purchased the Brant House property and built a huge modern hotel on the site and named it the Brant Hotel. It immediately became the holiday resort of choice for many Canadians and Americans. Steamers came from Hamilton to the dock in front of the hotel bringing crowds of guests for picnics and day trips.

 As soon as the hotel was completed the Coleman family moved to Toronto where A.B. was involved in several major building projects. In 1909 he and his family returned to Burlington. On his return he bought a small piece of property across the road from the hotel on the lakefront and called it his "country club" .

Meanwhile A.B. began to develop the nearby property at the mouth of Indian Creek naming it "Indian Point". First he made the development accessible by building a road and foot bridge, then he laid out a 6 hole golf course. Next he built several large bungalows which he rented to wealthy patrons. This later became an exclusive residential district, with attractive stone gates at each of the two entrances.

When the federal government expropriated the Brant Hotel as a military hospital in 1917. Coleman turned his attention to his "country club". He expanded it into a fine hotel with fine dining and dancing and named it the Brant Inn  In 1937 he hired Murray Anderson and Clifford Kendall as managers. When A.B.Coleman died in 1938 this team purchased the Brant Inn from the estate and went on to make it one of the most famous night spots in North America.

For many years prior to his death he spent the winter months in Palm Beach ,Florida. He could not resist working, even on vacation, and was responsible for much of the early development in Burlington.                                  

John Waldie:An Outstanding Citizen of Early Burlington (1833-1907)

From Burlington Memories of Pioneer Days by Dorothy Turcotte

Born in Scotland in 1833, John Waldie was brought by his parents to Burlington (then Wellington Square) in 1842. At 18 he began working as a store clerk in a local general store;by1855 he was able to buy this business. Later he built a new general store on the same site at the north-east corner of Lakeshore Road (then Water Street) and John Street. Still standing it is one of Burlington's oldest business structures.

With a partner, William Kerns,he built a business that was "second to none in Canada West". At the outset much of his business was in wheat, as Wellington Square at the time was "one of the best grain growing areas in Canada West". Between 1845 and 1865 Port Nelson, ajacent to Wellington Square,shipped more cargo from the dock located at the foot of Guelph Line than did Hamilton, a much larger community.

By 1877 Waldie and a different partner, William Bunton. owned the sailing ship "Sweepstakes" with a 12000 bushell capacity. When the mile-long lineups of the wheat -laden wagons disapeared at the end of the Crimean War in 1856, the wer replaced with wagons loaded with lumber. For the following thirty years, lumber was "king". At first, hardwood was in demand for sailinship masts, but with the advent of steamships thousands of cords of cut wood were required to stoke the engines.

During these wheat and lumbering eras, Waldie was an outstanding business entrepreneur. But in addition, he was active in local politics. In 1873 he led the incorporation of the village of Wellington Square. That year when he was successful in joining Port Nelson to Wellington Square, he changed the communities name to Burlington. In 1875 and 1876 he was Warden of Halton County. By 1887 Waldie, running as a Reformer, became the Member of Parliament in Ottawa for Halton. In the next federal election he was defeated. But such was his influence that he didn't hesitate to advise Sir Wilfred Laurier, when he became Prime Minister after the 1896 election.

John Waldie's production in business and politics were matched by his production of offsprings. He and his wife Mary Ann had 13 children, the last born just before his wife's death in 1884. The following year he married Sarah Jarvis, a young woman of 29 years. Also in 1885 Waldie,although highly successful in business, sold out his store interest to his partner Kerns. He became a lumber baron moving to Toronto, the centre of the growing lumber trade.He was involved in the lumber business for the rest of his working day, particularily at the Victoria Harbour Lumber Company, near Midland in Simcoe County.

While John Waldie lived in Burlington and later Toronto, he was a typical civic-minded Victorian businessman. In 1877 he gave twelve imported stained-glass windows to his Burlington church, Knox Presbyterian Church. He gave the land for Greenwood Cemetery where many of the Waldies are buried. Even in 1907, when he was living in Toronto, he donated $1000 to finnance the first stand-alone Burlington Library, which was built on Brant Street on the site of the present City Hall. When it opened, the money for the 6000 books on the shelves,was donated by John Waldie.

When John Wajdie died in 1907, he left an estate of $9 million (in 2004 dollars)and a provision for his wife and surviving children. I addition, he also left the people of Burlington enriched by the generous gifts he had given to our community.



By Margurite Botting based on research by Paul Durnan

I t was 1941 and 1500 students had an unexpected holiday on September10th. They were given time off to attend a special ceremony at Lakeside Park, now Spencer Smith Park. Burlington'spopulation in that year was 4,200 and everyone was extremely excited as this ceremony was the dedication of the minesweeper HMCSBurlington. The then citizens of our community felt important and proud as this warship was seen as a significant part of Canada's war effort.

A Bangor Class minesweeper, HMCS Burlington was manned by  70 officers and men. She was180 feet long, not a large ship but the task to which she would be assigned was critical. It was designed to sweep and destroy enemy mines but dramatic changes in the course of the war would force it to be used as an escort vessel.

The construction of HMCS Burlington began on July 4, 1940 at the foot of Dufferin Street in Toronto. Less than five months later the ship was officially launched. The official commissioning took place a year later on September 6, 1941.Four days later the minesweeper made its way to Burlington, for a special ceremony and what a ceremony it was. Burlingtonians extended themselves in many ways with much thought given to every detail.

Burlington's  Mayor Gordon Blair officiated along with the commanding officer, Lieut. Cdr. W.J.Fricker.Rev. George Tebbs of St. Luke's Anglican church gave a prayer of dedication. The Honourable Angus L. MacDonald, Minister of National Defense, presided in his three-piece suit and fedora hat. A well-known composer T. Reginald Barrack, wrote a song for the warship. This music was sung along with the beloved old navy hymns, Hearts of Oak,Eternal Father, Rule Britannia and God Save the King.

The event was broadcast by CHML and commentated by Norm Marshall who had just graduated from high school. Of special note, the ladies of the city presented a white silk ensign. A ship's bell and radios were presented by selected school students.

A number of fortunate students were thrilled to be invited to go on board the minesweeper as it steamed back to Toronto. Following the ceremony, there was a banquet at the Estaminet, now the Water Street Cooker. There were many toasts and presentations. Once the festivities were completed, HMCS Burlington  became focused on its mission.

Assigned initially to convoy duties in the St.Lawrence River she soon became exposed to enemy action. Most Canadians are not aware that the war was fought inside Canada. The loss of shipping became so severe that the St.Lawrence River including the entire Gulf was eventually closed to international shipping. The losses were startling between 1942 and 1944, 23 merchant, passenger and naval vessels were sunk.

HMCS Burlington served with the Gaspe Force escorting convoys in the St. Lawrence Gulf performing unending anti-submarine sweeps and searches. German submarines were a continuing threat well inside our country throughout the war.The HMCS Burlington then joined the Halifax Local Defense Force on Christmas Eve 1944.  HMCS Burlington was patrolling the approaches to Halifax when a sister ship, HMCS Clayoquat, was torpedoed. HMCS Burlington picked up those who survived the freezing sea a mere twenty-five miles from the mouth of Halifax harbour.

At the end of hostilities, HMCS Burlington was decommissioned in Halifax on October 30, 1945. HMCS Burlington's life spanned a mere six years but she had served our country with distinction during perilous times. This ship bearing our community's name will always remain a proud chapter in Burlington's history. A tangible reminder of our warship is its bell that now sits atop the Naval Memorial in Spencer Smith Park.



Dorothy Turcotte

The first white men to see Burlington Bay were greatly impressed by its beauty. The Indians had called this shimmering body of water Lake Macassa ("beautiful waters") but the white men began referring to it as Lake Geneva.

When Joseph Brant received a land grant in 1784,he chose a prime site overlooking Lake Geneva, Lake Ontario and the Beach Strip. As a United Empire Loyalist and a Captain in the British Army, Brant received 3450 acres:3000 for himself, 50 for his wife ,and 50 for each of his eight children. This tract of land on the lakeshore became known as the Brant's Block. On the property's most scenic spot, Brant built a house of cedar logs covered with white frame siding. A replica of this house,which is now the Joseph Brant Museum, sits adjacent to the The Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital.

Since Brant was perpetually in need of money, from time to time he sold lots within the block. In 1803 he sold 200 acres to Nicholas Kern, and the next year he sold 205.5 acres to Thomas Ghent. In 1806 lots were sold to Michael Grote and Ebenezer Guise.

After Brant died in 1807 his friend James Gage of Stoney Creek purchased 338.5 acres from the estate. On this land he laid out a townsite. The land remained undeveloped until 1820 when he began to transfer lots to his sons.

In 1806 part of Nelson Township was purchased from the Mississauga Indians. This land extended from the lake to two concessions north of Dundas Street (No.5 Highway).The land was further surveyed in 1817 extending it to Derry Road.   All of this land was eagerly sought after by settlers because it was so conveniently located near Lake Ontario. Settlers farming this land needed access to markets and the two main roads, Brant Street and Guelph line gave them easy routes to the lake. At the bottom of these roads docks and warehouses sprung up and these sites became regular stopping places for lake schooners.

Until the official opening of the Burlington Canal in 1832 the village of Wellington Square at the foot of Brant Street was a more important port than Hamilton. At times there was congestion on both Brant Street and Guelph Line with wagons lined up all the way to Middle Road waiting to deliver their grain and other products to the docks.

In 1844 almost 11,000 barrels of flour were shipped from The Square. During the Crimean War (1853-1856) vast quantities of grain were sent overseas. After the war the demand for grain dropped sharply. This combined with a series of poor harvests caused a slump in the grain business.

Gradually, the lumber industry became more important at Wellington Square. As the demand for wood increased with the arrival of steamships and steam-powered locomotives, lumber wagons replaced the grain wagons in the line-ups to the lake.

In the nineteenth century no one thought of conserving natural resources as they seemed limitless. When all the best lumber was gone, the lumber industry ground to a halt. With the forest denuded, and the advent of larger lake ships that were unable to dock in shallow water, the piers along the waterfront gradually fell into disuse and finally disappeared.

Fortunately, the Ice Age had left a legacy of fertile soil on the plains around Lake Ontario, and as the century drew to a close, the Burlington area became famous for its fine market gardens and orchards.

In 1873 the villages of Wellington Square and Port Nelson petitioned the government for incorporation as the village of Burlington. The foundation was laid for the development of today's modern city.


Burlington White Oak recognized as an Ontario Heritage Tree

The Ontario Heritage Tree Program has recently recognized Burlington's Allview White Oak as an Ontario Heritage Tree. 

A brief ceremony celebrating this heritage tree was held on Friday October 21at 2 P.M. at Allview Avenue.   

Allview Avenue is a very short street on the north shore of Burlington Bay.  It runs south from North Shore Blvd near Francis Road.  For almost 250 years it was part of an historic boundary line. Before 1957 it marked the starting point of the border dividing Aldershot and Burlington.

On this street is a majestic White Oak tree.  This tree, which is 30 meters high and with a circumference close to 500 cm, is quite likely one of the oldest and largest Quercus alba specimens in Canada. The city-owned Oak is estimated to be at least 300 years old. 

In 1789 the Allview White Oak was a surveyor's benchmark for a treaty arranging the purchase from the Mississaugua nation, for the British Crown, of a block of land that soon afterwards became the 3450-acre parcel of land known as "Brant's Block".  Its western boundary extended 45 degrees North West from the Oak to a point on the "mountain", or Niagara Escarpment.  For more than a century, Joseph Brant's Block was the basis of subsequent development of Wellington Square and the Village of Burlington.

The tree was nominated jointly by the Burlington Horticultural Society and the Burlington Historical Society. The two BHS groups, the "Hort" and the "Hist", together represent  almost 150 years of community activity in Burlington. 

Its nomination was supported by Burlington's City Forester Rick Lipsitt. For several decades the "Hort" has worked with him to maintain the province's first municipal Honour Roll of heritage trees. 

For further images and notes, please check the 

Burlington Images website http://images.burlington.halinet.on.ca/results?q=Allview+Oak&st=kw  




By Marie Minaker

In 1928, the Wilson, Bunnell & Borgstrom, Consulting Engineers and Landscape Architects’ plan won the Hamilton Board of Park Management’s competition for the Northwestern Entrance to Hamilton.  This included plans for a rock garden as well as a magnificent bridge to span the gap in Burlington Heights where Desjardins Canal enters Hamilton Harbour.  However from the beginning, controversy swirled around the fundamental plans.

During a routine inspection around this time, the City Engineer discovered that the existing bridge had deteriorated to a point where it needed to be replaced within two years.  This news spurred the Northwestern Entrance project forward, but disagreements over fundamental plans for the bridge raged.  Borgstrom’s plan called for a four-lane deck, with splendid ornamentation, built at a level considerably lower than the existing bridge. Council, with one eye on finances, wanted a two-lane bridge at the then existing level, completely utilitarian - no frills.  Thomas Baker McQuesten, the Member of Provincial Parliament for Hamilton, stood firm with the Borgstrom proposal for a 60-foot wide span.

After a year of vigorous negotiation, the interested parties finally reached a compromise on September 15, 1930.  Instead of lowering the elevation of the bridge 15 feet as Borgstroms’ plan specified, it would build only eight feet below the then existing level.

The third-place winner of the design competition for the Northwestern Entrance, John M. Lyle, an architect with Hamilton roots, received the commission to design the bridge.  Lyle submitted to Council a scaled-down concept of the bridge; a 54-foot, four-lane deck anchored by four tall contemporary pylons faced with Queenston limestone. 

Immediately, the four-lane width and pylons ornamented with city crests became the hot issues. The old argument concerning costs surfaced again; the Board of Control wanted the design to allow only two lanes of traffic and to scrap the pylons, the Parks Board, along with Borgstrom, insisted that Lyle’s design stand.  Eventually, the Hamilton Chapter of the Ontario Association of Architects helped to sway public opinion and before long a majority of Council overruled the Mayor and Board of Control in favor of Lyle’s design.

Since contractors needed work, construction began immediately after they gained access to a lowered road.  Less than a year later, on June 17, 1932, C.V. Langs, along with the Mayor, officiated at the opening of the bridge.   Accolades abounded.  T.B. McQuesten must have looked on with pride as even a member of the Board of Control wanted to take credit for widening the roadway to 54 feet.

The Gazette was Burlington's newspaper for 87 years

by Jane Irwin

The Rude Native Bistro and Lounge at 370 Brant Street, is located in one of Downtown Burlington's most historic buildings.The structure has one  special architectural feature that is unique in Burlington – although a familiar feature  in many old-time Western movies – a so-called "Boomtown facade". The front elevation of the one-storey  building is heightened to make it seem more imposing, and to make it fit in with its taller two-storey neighbours on Burlington's main street. Behind that facade  – is a structure which has housed some 80 years of Burlington's history in-the-making. The  Gazette, Burlington's longest-running newspaper, was published here.

In 1899 Elgin Harris arrived in the small town of Burlington. A graduate of the Hamilton Business College, Harris had been a "printer's  devil" at several newspapers, including the Hamilton Spectator, the Caledonia Grand River Sachem, and others in Wingham and Petrolia. Just 22 years old, Harris was the new owner of the local newspaper, which had been failing and was in the hands of the bailiff. In exchange for $1500,  he got a list of 300 subscribers and the printing equipment. 

The earlier papers were the  Budget and the Record. The first location of the printing office, on Water Street  (now Lakeshore Road), had been displaced by the canning factory, and its second location on Elgin Street had  been displaced in 1898 by the Radial Line. So Elgin Harris purchased this very old frame building for the new  premises of his newspaper, which he named the Gazette. Within three years, business was booming, and Harris had the front elevation bricked over, with big new windows and elegant shutters. There is a photograph  of its new improved facade in Martha Craig's book,  The Garden of Canada, published in 1902. The "Boomtown" roof line was added sometime later.

By 1906, Burlington was growing and flourishing, and so was the Harris family.  In that year, Elgin Harris had a beautful large brick house built on Locust Street. It is now the home of A Different  Drummer Books. Elgin Harris was editor and publisher of the Gazette until his retirement in 1956. Always a booster of his adopted  town, he served as Reeve and then Mayor in the 1920s. His son George, born in 1903 – perhaps in this building – became a Town Councillor, Reeve, and then Mayor in the 1930s.  Elgin Harris died in 1975 at the age of 99.

The  Gazette continued to be published until 1986. 


Burlington was a major port in the 1800s

By Claire Emery Machan

(An excerpt from "Pathway to Skyway"-The story of Burlington)

On the coat of arms of the City of Burlington is a three masted ,square-rigged clipper ship. This vessel is indicative of the important part played by ships in the city's history. Indeed, ships made possible much of Burlington's prosperity in the mid nineteenth century.

The first craft used for express in Upper Canada were canoes but not the kind one thinks of today. The largest could transport as many as 60 men or 50 barrels of flour. From this simple start the design of  Canadian ships gradually progressed to multi-masted schooners. The earlier clumsier bateaux were found useful to load and unload cargoes when there were no proper docking facilities for sailing ships and the schooners had to anchor in deep water.

It is difficult now to think of Burlington as a port. Places such as Port Credit, Oakville and Bronte at the mouths of good-sized creeks, and Dundas at the head of a small lake, had natural sheltered harbours. Docks were built at Port Nelson and Wellington Square to serve the growing local need for transportation facilities, lack of sheltered harbour or no. The schooner owners didn't care, they would stop anywhere for cargo

At the foot of Guelph Line was a sandy beach sloping gently into the water. Here the docks and warehouses of Port Nelson were built with two tall pines over 100 feet high serving as a landmark for sailors. About a mile and a half along the shore, three docks at Wellington Square pointed out into the lake...Bunton's, Baxter's and Torrance's. Around the north shore of the bay a sentinel oak proclaimed Alex Brown's  wharf at what was sometimes called Port Flamborough, and today is known as La Salle Park.

The first cargo to be shipped from these local lake ports was grain. The first settlers planted wheat in spaces between tree stumps and built up crops until there was a surplus."Wheat was almost the only cash crop the Upper Canadians could grow, the only means by which he could get his hands on a little money," writes Prof.A.R.M. Lower. adding that by 1850 nearly 132 million bushels of wheat were being grown annually in Upper Canada. The Wellington Square area was one of the largest of the producers.

Between 1845 and1865 wheat was the most important export of this area. At one time Port Nelson shipped more cargo than Hamilton. On busy days the Guelph  Line from Fisher's Corners   (now the Guelph Line and Queen Elizabeth Way)  to the docks was an unbroken line of carts hauled by horses and oxen, waiting to unload. The same congestion occurred regularilyon Brant Street.

It must be remembered that this region was Canada's west and at that time Sarnia and Windsor were the farthest western points of settlement with nothing but the wide, empty prairies, which had not yet proved they could become the breadbasket of Canada.


The Beginnings of Banking in Burlington

By Peggy Armstrong

Edited version from Burlington Historical Society Newsletter

Prior to 1900, if you lived in Burlington, your choice for "banking" other than the mattress, was to deal with the private bank of Richard Baxter, or get yourself to the city of Hamilton, using whatever means of travel was available to you.

Baxter's Bank, located on the lake side of Water Street, at the foot of Brant, was well established before 1900, when the "big banks" made a move to come to Burlington. 

Enter the Competition!  On August 8th of 1900, The Burlington Gazette held 2 interesting announcements: The residents of Burlington and vicinity will be glad to know that a branch of the Traders Bank of Canada, has been opened in this village.....As our readers are aware, this is the first branch of a chartered bank to be established in this village, and no doubt will be liberally patronized.

In another column: We beg to call the attention of our readers to the announcement in this issue that Mr. R. G. Baxter is now prepared to receive deposits, issue drafts etc. for the Bank of Hamilton.

In the September 12th issue this announcement:- The Traders Bank has purchased the old Zimmerman store and the vacant property on the corner of Brant and Water streets, and will have the whole thoroughly renovated and fitted for an up-to-date banking office.

In this same issue this bank announced evening hours for Saturdays, and Mr. Baxter had his weekly advertisement moved to the front page of the paper, directly below  Traders advertisement, also offering Saturday hours of business.

Occupancy of Traders Bank took place on 13th December.  As was the custom in those days, the bank offices were on the main floor and the upper floors were devoted to the manager's living quarters.  Old photos show the bank entrance on Brant and the residence entrance facing Water Street. (now Lakeshore Road)

Mr. R. G. Baxter Moves On: In May of 1902, Mr Baxter was enticed to Bridgeburg (then near Fort Erie) to open a branch of his private bank there.  In late summer he sold his home, wharf and warehouses in Burlington.

The Bank of Hamilton:

1908, August 25th, the Gazette announced  The Bank of Hamilton will open a branch here. They have leased the premise on Water Street.(at John Street)  The Bank of Hamilton opened for business on Monday morning the 18th of October although carpenters and painters were still finishing up.

Both Banks Taken Over ; On the 1st of September 1912, the Traders Bank ceased to exist as a result of its merger with the Royal Bank. 

 About 1925 the Bank of Hamilton was absorbed by the Bank of Commerce, and at the end of February 1942, this branch closed its doors and transferred its business down the street to the Royal Bank. Although the building and more recently the location has changed, the Royal Bank has been in business on Burlington's  lakeshore for well over 100 years.