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Published on Friday, March 10, 2017

Burlington is younger than Oakville

Courtesy of Burlington Historical Society

Burlington is younger than Oakville
Excerpts from Burlington Memories of Pioneer Days (1989)

By Dorothy Turcotte, Burlington Post
“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 soon 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 3,450 acres: 3,000 for himself, 50 for his wife, and 50 for each of his eight children. This tract of land on the lakeshore became known as Brant’s Block.

On the property’s most scenic spot, Brant built a house of cedar logs covered with white frame siding. For many years, the house was a landmark near the present site of the Joseph Brant Hospital.

Since Brant was perpetually in need of money, from time to time, he sold lots within his 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, Gage laid out a townsite, although the land remained undeveloped in his name until the 1820s, when he began to transfer lots to his sons.

In 1806, part of Nelson Township was finally purchased from the Mississauga Indians, surveyed and made available to settlers. This land extended from the lake to two concessions north of Dundas Street. In 1817, another survey was made. This was called “the New Survey,” and it extended north to the present Derry Road. All of this land was eagerly sought by settlers because it was so conveniently located near Lake Ontario, was excellent for farming, and many sites had spectacular views of the lake and the escarpment.

Settlers farming this land soon needed access to markets to sell their produce. Brant Street and the Guelph Line were two of the main roads providing easy routes to the lake. At the bottom of each, docks and warehouses sprang up. Before long, both communities were 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 the Guelph Line as farm wagons lined up all the way from the lakeshore to Middle Road waiting to deliver their grain and other produce at the docks. In 1844, almost 11,000 barrels of flour were shipped from The Square.

During the Crimean War (1853-56), vast quantities of grain were sent overseas. After this, however, the demand for grain dropped sharply and 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 grain wagons in the line-ups to the lake. In the 19th century, no one thought of conserving natural resources, as they seemed limitless. When all the best timber was gone, the lumber industry ground to a halt. With the forests denuded and with the advent of larger lake ships that were unable to dock in shallow water, the piers along the lakefront 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 Historical Society next meets on Monday (March 13) at 7 p.m. in the Centennial Room of the Burlington Central Library, 2331 New St. Guest speaker is Joan Little whose topic is Burlington Memories. Admission is free, bring a friend. Visit www.burlingtonhistorical.ca for more information.

Burlington Remembers is a monthly feature provided by the Burlington Historical Society.
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Author: Mayor Rob Burton

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