The Burlington area is rich in history and activities that celebrate our past. The many natural advantages of this area attracted Indigenous peoples long before the arrival of the first settlers along the lakefront in the late 1700s. In 1669, famous French explorer Rene Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle landed at the site where La Salle Park is currently located. Learn about Burlington’s history with our historical sites and museums.
Burlington, as we know it today, is rich in history and modern traditions of many First Nations and the Métis. From the Anishinaabeg to the Haudenosaunee, and the Métis – our lands spanning from Lake Ontario to the Niagara Escarpment are steeped in Indigenous history. The territory is mutually covered by the Dish with One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, an agreement between the Iroquois Confederacy, the Ojibway and other allied Nations to peaceably share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. We would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather is part of the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit.
Historical Sites in Burlington
Joseph Brant Museum
Built between 1937-1938 as a replica of the original home of Captain Joseph Brant, the Joseph Brant Museum is Burlington’s community museum. Through guided tours, exhibits, interactive displays, a hands-on discovery gallery, visible storage, educational programming, and special events, Joseph Brant Museum tells the important story of the historical founding, settlement and development of the Burlington area. The museum also contains a significant collection of costumes and costume accessories. The Joseph Brant exhibit features artifacts personally belonging to Joseph Brant during his earlier years before settling in Burlington, as well as a portrait display that discusses the man behind the image.
Ireland House Museum at Oakridge Farm
Ireland House, located on Guelph Line was built by Joseph and Ruth Ireland between 1835-37 and passed down through four generations of the Ireland family. Visitors to Ireland House enjoy tours of the house, exhibits, demonstrations, special events, and participatory activities in keeping with the character and history of the House.
Spruce Lane Farm
Spruce Lane Farm House at Bronte Creek is a living history museum recreating a glimpse of life in 1900. The farmhouse offers educational programs, as well as a taste of history to visitors, with special events such as the Maple Syrup Festival offered each year in March.
The Freeman Station is the only building in the city whose historical and architectural significance has been recognized not only locally, but also provincially by the Ontario Ministry of Culture, and nationally by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. This is Burlington’s only surviving Grand Trunk Railway station built in 1906. Now familiarly called “the Freeman Station” after the hamlet in which it was built, it was formerly signed the “Burlington Junction” or “Burlington West” Station. After moving the station to 1285 Fairview St. (next to the Central Fire Station) in 2013 the building is officially open. A mural, created by local artist Claire Hall, depicts the station’s history.
Indigenous History & Culture in Burlington
Joseph Brant – Thayendanegea
Joseph Brant was a Mohawk warrior, Christian missionary, British military officer, Freemason and Burlington’s first citizen. In 1798 George III granted “unto Captain Joseph Brant and his heirs and assigns forever” 3450 acres “at the Head of Lake Ontario”. It was here in 1800, that Joseph Brant built his home overlooking Lake Ontario and Burlington Bay. You can visit the Burlington Historical Society archives at the Central Library to see copies of a hand-drawn map from 1797 which indicates the land given to Joseph Brant and other interesting maps and surveys of Brant’s block.
Crawford Lake Conservation Area and Iroquoian Village
Listen to the spirits sing in rustic longhouses where authentic tools, tanned hides and the curl of smoke will provide you with a glimpse of life in a 15th-century Iroquoian Village, located on one of Ontario’s most accurately dated prehistoric archaeological sites. Interpreters are on site to answer questions. If you would like a more guided experience, call 905.854.0234 for tour times.
Indigenous Trail Royal Botanical Gardens
Starting in the Arboretum near the Nature Interpretive Centre, this Indigenous trail explores plants used by the Anishinaabe peoples, and their connections to culture, language, ecology and history.
Historic Walking Tours
There are two self-guided Heritage walking tours to explore: The Art Gallery of Burlington Neighbourhood Tour and the Downtown Burlington Walking Tour. These brochures are also available in limited quantities from the Visitor Information Centre.
While downtown, visit the waterfront and see the Canadian Naval Ships Memorial Monument which is dedicated to Canadian naval and merchant marine ships that served during World War 2. This memorial honours the memory of the Canadian ships and seamen who were lost during the decisive six-year Battle of the Atlantic. In the Royal Canadian Navy, 31 ships and 2044 crew members were lost; in the Merchant Marine, 73 merchant ships and 1578 civilian crew members were lost. An information brochure on this monument is available from the Visitor Information Centre.
Historic Churches and Gravesites
1382 Ontario Street | 905 634.1826
Surrounded by stained glass windows and beautiful carvings, St. Luke’s is the oldest church in Burlington. Built in 1834 and consecrated in 1838, St. Luke’s is built on the land originally given to Joseph Brant for his services during the American Revolution. He left the land to his daughter, Elizabeth, and she donated it to construct St. Luke’s. In its over 180 years St. Luke’s has had only ten Rectors, many who went on to become Bishops, and many who are buried in the church’s cemetery.
A Self-Guided Walking Tour Handout is available in the Parish Hall for a donation. A Historical Tour of Burlington handout, through Heritage Burlington, may also be picked up in the Parish Hall, Tourism Burlington or Burlington City Hall.
Adam Fergusson | Born: March 4, 1783, Died: September 25, 1862
Adam Fergusson was a politician and agriculturalist responsible for creating the Town of Fergus Ontario, the CNE and the Veterinary College at the University of Guelph.
Elizabeth Brant (Kerr) | Born: 1796 Died: April 25, 1845
Elizabeth Brant was the daughter of Joseph Brant and his third wife Catherine. She married and had four children with a politician named William Johnson Kerr. Elizabeth donated a portion of the land she inherited from her father to build St Luke’s. Elizabeth Kerr and her husband William Kerr were buried on the same day at St Luke’s on April 27, 1845.
William Johnson Kerr | Born: January 1, 1787, Died: April 23, 1845
William Johnson Kerr was a political figure in Upper Canada and husband to Elizabeth Brant. He was a captain and together with John Brant and John Norton, led a group of Six Nations warriors at the Battle of Queenston Heights. William was also involved in the Battle of Beaver Dams and other battles during the War of 1812. He passed away two days before his wife of cholera. They were buried side by side on April 27th, 1845 at St. Luke’s Cemetery.
461 Elizabeth Street | 905 333.3013
In 1845 Andrew Gage (the son of Burlington’s founder, James Gage) donated a swath of land, in order to facilitate the construction of a church. The initial structure was very small; by 1877 a larger church was needed. Consequently, the original church was moved to the back of the lot, in order to serve as a Sunday school. Later, the two structures were bricked and attached. The current structure boasts 12 unique stained glass windows imported from Scotland.
2437 Dundas St. West | 905 335.9394
Nelson United’s history extends back to the first settlers in Nelson Township, the present-day city of Burlington. In 1809 Moses McCay received the patent to 200 acres of land. Then, in 1830 he sold one acre to the Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1854, David Springer bought 100 acres and sold half an acre to the Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1859, they built the current stone church and a Sunday school was built one year later to meet the needs of the expanding congregation.
5800 Guelph Line | 905 335.0911
Joseph Colling, the first farmer in the Lowville area, donated his land to the church in 1846. Before construction, services were held in a school on the northeast corner of Britannia Road and Guelph Line, then in a frame building on the present site. At that time, it was named the Colling Church, and in 1855, it became the Lowville Wesleyan Methodist Church. It became one of 25 churches in the Nelson circuit. The present church was built in 1872 from orange bricks from the Bronte area.
472 Locust St. | 905 634.1743
Built in 1875 by James Cushie Bent, this church was purchased in 1968 by the Roman Catholic Church to serve the local francophone congregation as the Église Saint-Philippe. The church blends a simple Gothic revival style with an Italianate square tower with bull’s-eye windows.
2464 Dundas Street, RR #1 | 905-336-5164
This is the second oldest Anglican Church in Burlington, founded in 1835 though worship has taken place in the present building since 1839. Though St. Luke’s, Wellington Square was established in 1834, the people who had settled in the Nelson area found that travelling to the more southerly parish over the rough and muddy roads was inconvenient at best. Joseph Ireland, William Spence and John Wettenhall successfully petitioned the Bishop of Quebec (who spent half of each year in Toronto) for a local church. In 1835 the first service was held in an old schoolhouse which was located near the present rectory building.
The Irelands are buried near their homestead at St. John’s Anglican Church, a congregation in which Joseph Ireland is one of the founding members.
Sir Allen Napier MacNab | February 19, 1798, Died: August 8, 1862
Sir Allen Napier MacNab was born in Niagara-on-the-Lake in 1798 to Allan and Anne MacNab, who had roots in the Loyalist army. He continued this military heritage when he fought in the War of 1812 at the age of 14. In 1826, after his service, McNab relocated from York (currently Toronto) to Hamilton. He began to amass a large fortune due to his established law practice and investments in real estate. Around 1830, he started his political career which ultimately resulted in MacNab becoming the Premier of the Province of Canada from 1854-1856, and succeeded by John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. Sir Allen McNab died at his estate in Hamilton in 1862. His former residence, Dundurn Castle, is open to the public for tours and additional information.
In 1806, the Davis and Ghent families moved to Burlington onto land they had purchased from Joseph Brant. Ten families purchased a plot of land at the front of the Davis farm for burial plots. The cemetery was established in 1848, and is the interment site of two veterans from the War of 1812, Private Asahel Davis and Thomas Ghent. The red brick wall with its stone foundation was built in 1888. this cemetery with its unique brick wall is recognized and protected through heritage designation.
Identified as “the finest cemetery site in North America” by the Hamilton Spectator, Woodland Cemetery, owned by the City of Hamilton, sits on a scenic and historic parcel of land facing Hamilton Harbour in Burlington. The cemetery has ties to the War of 1812, as well as multiple sections dedicated to Canadian Soldiers.
Bayview Cemetery and Mausoleum was built in the early 1920s and was then known as the “Hamilton Mausoleum”. It was the first of its kind for the region. Bayview is the only privately and family-owned, independent, licensed cemetery, crematory and mausoleum in the area. Bronze doors open upon the stately simplicity of the cella or chapel in the mausoleum. Construction used materials marble from the quarries in Philipsburg, Quebec, while the main walls of the building are of Queenston sandstone. A central feature of the mausoleum is the stained glass windows. They were designed by the well-known decorative artist and mural painter Mr. James Blomfield OSA (1872-1951) and feature classical iconography.
These cemeteries are an exciting part of the history of Burlington. In north Burlington, there are several cemeteries that once belonged to pioneer families that inhabited the area. These families would all be buried together on their land. They were often associated with churches that were established by the surrounding families. The list of these cemeteries includes:
- Appleby Cemetery
- Campbell – Davidson Cemetery
- Colling Pioneer Cemetery
- Deforest Cemetery
- Kilbride Presbyterian Cemetery
- Kilbride United Cemetery
- Vernon Cemetery
- Nelson United Cemetery
- Salem Cemetery