The Burlington we know today was built up from the many pioneer communities that were established in Nelson Township during the 18th and 19th centuries. These communities, particularly their farmland, attracted pioneers who were instrumental in developing the area that became Burlington.
In the beginning there was Brants Block: 3,450 acres of land subjected to an early survey conducted for Captain Joseph Brant as payment for his loyalty to the Crown during the Revolutionary War. Over time Brant and the managers of his estate sold off land for settlement. Brant’s Block gave way to two communities on the shore of Lake Ontario. Wellington Square and Port Nelson were busy port locations with wharves that supported the area’s early lumber and wheat industries.
When the early settlers of Nelson Township acquired or received land they established communities along Lake Ontario, inland waterways and roads. In particular, Twelve Mile Creek naturally attracted the settlement that began many communities. Henry Zimmerman established the Village of Zimmerman near the Twelve Mile Creek and used the waterway as a source of power for his sawmill – this was the same for Cumminsville and its founder Titus Cummins as well as for Van Norman of Appleby. The Dakota hamlet also followed this pattern of settlement. Dakota is famously known for the gun powder factory explosion of 1884. Just north of Cumminsville sits William Panton’s Village of Kilbride, also located on the banks of the Twelve Mile Creek.
Nelson (Hannahsville), settled by Caleb Hopkins, and Tansley, named after Joseph Tansley, were located on Dundas Street. Dundas Street was the main transport artery in Upper Canada in the early 19th century. Alton Village, established by Thomas Alton, was also located on Dundas Street, but has since disappeared with the construction of suburban homes. The stage coach ran along Dundas Street from Hamilton to Toronto in 1835, which made resting spots in these communities along the way a necessity. In addition, these communities were located in the heart of Nelson Township’s rich farmland.
The land on Maple Avenue was Burlington’s most fertile areas that was home to many farms with large orchards. Railway stations were established in Aldershot and the Village of Freeman to transport this produce.
Indian Point and The Beach were both critical elements of Burlington’s reputation as a resort community. Indian Point was developed in 1909 as rental cottage facilities that were associated with Brant House Hotel. Burlington residents and visitors alike flocked to the beach for recreational purposes at a time when such leisurely pursuits became part of the societal norm. Cottages on the strip also became popular, but have since been demolished to allow for increased public access to Lake Ontario.
For recreational purposes, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Mount Nemo and Lasalle Park continue to play an important role in Burlington’s leisure life. Paletta Mansion, the last remaining intact estate from Burlington’s 1930s era as a summer resort community now serves a different recreational function as the site of many weddings.