It Was Once the Garden of Canada
A Journey into Burlington, Ontario
It’s now considered the west edge of Greater Toronto, a neighbor of Hamilton and geographic centre of the Golden Horseshoe, a densely populated and industrialized region home to over 8 million people. But in an earlier time it was part of what used to be known as the “Garden of Canada.
Burlington is now in the midst of yet another period of change. But change is not new to this city of 175,000 nestled between the northwestern edge of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Escarpment.
Originally settled by Europeans in the wake of the War of 1812, the area was covered by the primeval forest that stretched between the provincial capital of York and the town of Hamilton, and was home to various First Nations peoples.
Burlington’s name first surfaced when a section of Lake Ontario was named Burlington Bay, after the after the town of Bridlington in Yorkshire, England. By the time land beside the bay was deeded to Captain Joseph Brant at the turn of the 19th century, the name "Burlington" was already in common use.
Gradually, mixed farming and market gardens became the dominant form of agriculture, and in the early 20th century the area was declared the “Garden of Canada”. The first peaches grown in Canada were cultivated in the Grindstone Creek watershed, which is located in the south-west part of the city.
Though major changes after World War II (QEW and industrialization) changes the city, a connection to those earlier days persists. The farming tradition has passed down through the generations. There are 115 parks and 580 ha of parkland within the city.
Moreover, Burlington is home to the Royal Botanical Gardens, which has the world’s largest lilac collection. Ontario's botanical garden and National Historic Site of Canada features over 2,700 acres (11 km2) of gardens and nature sanctuaries, including four outdoor display gardens, the Mediterranean Garden under glass, three on-site restaurants, the Gardens' Gift Shop, and festivals.
As importantly, today over forty percent of the Grindstone Creek watershed is still devoted to farms, orchards and nurseries.
In recent years, Burlington has seen high rate of growth. Between 2001 and 2006, the population of Burlington grew by 9%, compared to Canada's overall growth rate of 5.4%. By 2006, the population topped 160,000. To accommodate this growth what used to be farmlands north of Dundas Street (former Highway 5) and south of Highway #407 were developed into more suburban housing.
The city is also known for its culture and revitalized waterfront. One wonders if those from an earlier time would recognize their hometown But, in the midst of all the change, there is an effort to not forget how this area was once called “The Garden of Canada”.