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Burlington’s agricultural and industrial history can be summarized by looking at the five major industries that have dominated the economy of the area.
The first natural asset of Nelson Township was its abundant Lumber. Lumber was in high demand for use in construction as well as to fuel the insatiable ovens of steam ships and locomotives. The Township’s location on Lake Ontario was ideal for shipping this readily available resource across the province and to international markets.
Zimmerman Mills ca. 1910Mills were integral to the development of new settlements. After choosing a desired location for establishment, the order in which settlers would build indicated a sort of building hierarchy of importance. They first built themselves shelter; a log cabin or house, and secondly, a mill. Pioneering settlers built mills in order to produce goods and start their businesses. In addition these mills provided a means to aid other settlers in building their new lives. These mills were often water powered from waterways such as the Twelve Mile Creek. The lumber industry and mills helped stimulate the economy of the young township.
Late in the 19th century farmers of Halton County began to focus on growing and cultivating wheat. The county and the wheat industry took advantage of strained relationships in Europe during the Crimean War (1853-1856). To fuel their war effort, Britain needed more wheat than they were capable of producing. Britain relied on its colonies, including Upper Canada, to supply wheat for the increased demand. The famers of Halton County were happy to help since wheat prices skyrocketed and they made a tidy profit. Halton County became a major wheat producer in Ontario. When the wheat industry crashed in 1877, Burlington focused on growing and cultivating fruits and vegetables.
Market gardens where established by many pioneer families of Nelson Township which greatly impacted the fruit and vegetable industry. Market gardens consisted of farmland where vegetables were grown and large orchards that produced fruits. The evolution of the fruit and vegetable industry gave Burlington the title, “The Garden of Canada.”
In the early 1900s canneries were established to increase Burlington’s industrial tax base. The Burlington Canning Company located at the foot of Brant Street was founded by a group of farmers and landowners. The industry’s proximity to the wharves along Lake Ontario made the location of the factory ideal. The Village of Freeman was another hub of fruit shipping, processing and canning due to its location in the heart of agricultural land and its proximity to the Grand Trunk Railway. A train leaving the Freeman Station was often called “The Fruit Train” because the refrigerated cars carried fruit.
Evidence of the former industries are no longer visible on the Burlington landscape. Most of the mills have burnt, save for the Lowville Mill that was built of limestone. The canneries have also succumbed to fire or were demolished to make way for development. The wharves were long ago removed and the lakeshore no longer serves as a port. However, the homes and farmsteads of the people that were integral to these industries serve as a reminder to the township’s early economic base.

Displaying Entries 1 to 13 of 13

johnson.jpg Benjamin Johnson House The house was built by Benjamin Johnson in 1881. The Johnson family farmed the land for many years. It represents the early use of the lakefront for farming activities.
unsworth.jpg Burlington’s First Model Farm The Canada Company had begun the process and an 11% return on their investment was a powerful incentive for other financiers to follow suit. The Highland Agricultural Society saw emigration as the only hope for displaced farm labourers. The society sponsored Adam Fergusson to ascertain the possibilities for successful colonization to Upper Canada and the United States.
cannery.jpg Cannery Fruit farming and canning was a driving force in establishing the financial base that allowed Burlington to grow and develop in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
babcock.jpg Collinson-Babcock House This house is believed to have been constructed in 1874 following the sale of land by Benjamin Eager to Collinson. The property was used for agriculture and market gardens during the Collison and Babcock family ownerships. During the post-war housing boom, farmlands were subdivided and the Collinson-Babcock House was surrounded by newly constructed homes. It was around this time that the home was reoriented from Maple Avenue to front Richmond Road.
ireland.jpg Ireland House at Oakridge Farm This homestead was built by Joseph Ireland in 1836 just off the Guelph Line north of Upper Middle Road. Owned now by the City of Burlington, the home is a living museum where visitors can come experience what life was like on a 19th century farmhouse. This heritage designated home is one the oldest homes in Burlington that contributes to the heritage significance of the area by being an example of an orchard farm.
Lowville_Mill.jpg Lowville Mill James Cleaver choose land on Twelve Mile Creek in Lowville where he used local limestone to build a house and a large flouring mill. At the height of production, the mill ran 24 hours a day. People travelled thirty miles or more to mill their grain at the Cleaver Mill (Brass Tracks 1979). The mill was central to the town’s development. In Lowville, a General Store was built and the first blacksmith shop – erected by Burkholder and Smith – opened to
garden2.jpg Market Gardens Market gardens were very important to Burlington in the 1880s as they became the major industry of the area. A market garden is a small scale production of fruits and vegetables that were sold either directly to consumers or other businesses.
mill2.jpg Mills & Lumber Mills provided early settlers the immediate ability to produce goods such as grain, flower, wool and wood for building as well as many other products. Most mills in the Burlington area used Twelve Mile Creek as the main source of power.
unsworth.jpg The Albert Unsworth House Albert was the proprietor of a 'fancy goods store' – a store selling gifts and clothing accessories – on King Street in Hamilton. He purchased this property in 1882 which was later owned by his son George. George Unsworth planted vegetables to be sold at local markets. In an attempt to lengthen his growing season, George decided to construct cold frames and germinate the plants prior to the growing season in southern Ontario.
harris.jpg The John and James Harris Homestead The house was constructed in 1840 by the Harris brothers (John and James) on the property of John Harris. Situated to the east of the Villages of Kilbride and Cumminsville, James Harris helped to establish the Presbyterian Church at Kilbride in 1845.
blair.jpg The Ogg-Blair House The house at 2021 Blairholm Avenue was constructed circa 1858 for Nelson Ogg. At that time, the house fronted on Brant Street and comprised a 50 acre fruit farm. In 1898 George Blair, who is notable as the building of many residential homes and in Burlington, purchased the fifty acre property and house from Ogg. It is said that Blair moved his family to the house so that his sons would not have to be raised in the downtown.
thomas2.jpg The Thomas House The Thomas House was built in 1850 for Edward Thomas. Thomas was a farmer and by 1877 the house is shown in the Halton County Atlas with an orchard. The house is an exceptional example of an early Gothic Revival farmhouse. It is constructed of local stone that gives it a uniform and elegant look.
wheat.jpg Wheat Wheat was grown by Burlington farmers in the latter half of the 19th century. Halton County was instrumental in supplying wheat to Britain during the Crimean War. The most famous wheat grower in Burlington was William Breckon who won an award for having the best wheat in 1954.