Transportation played an important role in the development of early Burlington which continues today with the situation of the City of Burlington flanking one of Canada’s busiest highways.
Even before the time of settlers, the Burlington area had evidence of First Nations’ Trails. First Nations’ people travelled along known trails that had been blazed to facilitate easier travel. When Euro-Canadians came to the area in the late 18th century, these First Nations’ trails continued to be used as roads for travel within Southern Ontario. Interestingly and understandably, many of these First Nations' trails and footpaths were transformed over time into some of the modern roadways that remain in use today. This statement is particularly true in the City of Burlington, where its situation at the Heights and Bay provided a confluence of trails-turned-roads leading to Niagara, York (Toronto) and northward.
When the first railways in the Burlington area were built in 1854, transportation was forever changed. Trains created opportunities for communities, especially those in the countryside, to increase their economic base by improving how goods were shipped with a fast and reliable mode of transportation. Trains made it possible for farmers to ship large quantities of produce more often which resulted in large orchard farms and market gardens – the pillars of Burlington’s economy in the late 19th century. Train stations were needed to accommodate both passenger and freight travel – Freeman Station, which is being preserved today, was one of Burlington’s busiest stations.
Dundas Street (Highway 5) and the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) are two major Highways that have impacted the development of Burlington. As the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada in 1791, John Graves Simcoe was commissioned to settle the land and to build defenses against the American colonies to the south. In order to facilitate these orders, Simcoe built inland roads stretching as far as York (Toronto) to St. Clair River, thus making it easier to transport soldiers and goods. The first road Simcoe established was Yonge Street. It ran north and south between Lake Ontario and Lake Simcoe. The second road was Dundas Street, named after Henry Dundas, a British Colonial Secretary (Shragge & Bagnato 1984). Simcoe died in 1806, so did not live to witness the completion of Dundas Street, and subsequently, the integral role that his road planning would play in the development of Nelson Township. The Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) was built in response to the fact that Dundas Street and Upper Middle Road could no longer handle the ever-increasing traffic between Hamilton and Toronto. The widening of the Middle Road and the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) in 1958 erased many of these villages that developed to serve travellers along the Townships’ early roads.
Today, transportation in Burlington centres around the QEW as the corridor between St. Catharines, Hamilton and Toronto has become one of the most travelled highways in Canada.