A short history of our beautiful city.

Burlington has been around since before Confederation.

The city we call home was once a sprawling forest that stretched along the shoreline from the town of York (now Toronto), the province of Upper Canada to the town of Hamilton. Along with many aboriginal tribes, this land was also home to several small villages and hamlets. In 1792, John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant Governor, named the western edge of Lake Ontario Burlington Bay. Burlington Bay is part of the Nelson Township. Simcoe got the name Burlington from an English town: Bridlington of East Yorkshire.

The very first building ever commissioned in Burlington was the King’s Head Inn.

An early sketch of the King's Head Inn. http://static.torontopubliclibrary.ca/da/images/LC/pictures-r-124.jpg

An early sketch of the King’s Head Inn.

This building’s original location was never established but it was mentioned in several diary entries by Lt. Governor Simcoe.

During the War of 1812, the Americans attacked the King’s Head Inn, as they saw it to be a strategic battle point.  This came after their invasion and holding of the town of York.  The Canadians (British at the time) saw the Inn, as well as the surrounding area known as Burlington Heights (the Escarpment,) to be the backbone of their defense.

During the American’s attack, the British fell back to the house of one of their generals, which was located above Burlington Bay.  Outnumbered 3,500 to 1,700, it was not looking good for the British.  Their general, fearing an all-out assault, decided to attack the American camp.  Using their knowledge of the heights, they snuck into the American camp and defeated the enemy force.  Historians say that this event was one that turned the tide of the war.

At the beginning of the 19th century (the 1800’s) the land around Burlington Bay was given to Capitan Joseph Brant and after the War of 1812, it was open to settlement. Due to the city’s good climate and fertile soil, early farmers were able to prosper. Produce was shipped from docks in Port Nelson, Wellington Square and Browns Wharf in Port Flamborough (now called Aldershot). Port Nelson, Wellington Square and, what would become Aldershot, were incorporated into the Village of Burlington.

In 1894, it was decided that Burlington needed a bell to announce the times of the day.  The bell was placed in a tower above town hall.  It was rung at 7am, 1pm and 6pm. The bell held its place above town hall for a few years before being taken down and moved to the Scout Camp (Camp Manitou) on Twiss Road.  Surprisingly though, the bell, which weighed a whopping 10,000 pounds was stolen; though it was recovered quickly. The bell now sits at the north entrance of Central Library; it was placed there after renovations in 2005.

The city continued its excellent growth in the early 1900’s.  It boasted a public library as well as a railway that connected it to Hamilton.  Soon after, the QEW would be run through Burlington and electricity would begin to be received from Niagara Falls.  In World War One, 300 men volunteered and only 38 did not return.

In the 1950’s, Burlington officially annexed Port Nelson and Aldershot.  The move towards what the city would become was becoming clearer.  Development skyrocketed and the farms south of the QEW were being replaced by housing.  In 1967, the last cash crop farm was replaced by Burlington Mall.

Burlington City Hall was built on the site of the old library in 1965.  It was called Town Hall upon opening, as Burlington was not yet a city.  The building was opened by the Honorable J.W. Spooner, minister of municipal affairs.  It wasn’t until January 1st 1974 that it was changed to ‘Burlington City Hall’.

This is a very brief history of Burlington.  More information can be found through City Hall or the Burlington Public Library.

About the Author James Gike