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!


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.