Tour the Heritage Homes of Burlington's Early Settlers | Adventure #23

So much of Burlington’s charm lies in it’s history. But, as was suggested in a recent Heritage Burlington Open House, “History only has value if people know it.” Realizing this, we wanted to discover some of the stories of our past as told by the buildings that have been passed on to us.

It was time to step back in time a bit to discover our shared history by taking a leisurely stroll on a self-guided walking tour of Downtown Burlington.

We started at the Tourism Burlington Visitor Information Centre on Locust Street. At Tourism Burlington we picked up two different “Walking Tour of Heritage Burlington” booklets.

A Walking Tour of Heritage Burlington

  • Burlington Art Centre Neighbourhood Tour: This self-guided tour begins at the Burlington Art Centre and features a look at many of the classic heritage properties in the surrounding neighbourhood.
  • Burlington Downtown Tour: This tour begins at City Hall and provides an opportunity to explore some of the most intriguing buildings in the area of Brant Street first hand.

There is a third Walking Tour too! Before we left home, I had printed off an older version of the Burlington Downtown Walking Tour from the Tourism Burlington website. This document isn’t glossy and colourful but it has much more detailed information about many of the properties.

Before starting our tour, we saw this “Picture Yourself in Burlington” photo stand-in and couldn’t resist! Mrs Burlington and Baby Burlington are striking up a chord as members of the Burlington Teen Tour Band while Jr Burlington looks on as Bur Bear.

If you’re ever wondering “what to do?” in Burlington, the Visitor Information Centre is the perfect place to figure it out. On display are hundreds of brochures and booklets, posters and pamphlets for things-to-see in Burlington and beyond.

We decided to follow the more detailed tour we had printed at home but also reference the colour brochure for its photos and shorter synopses.

We set off towards City Hall passing by The Queen’s Head at the corner of Elgin and Brant. What’s amazing about this building is that it has operated continuously as a tavern since it was built in 1860. It was first known as the Zimmerman House, then later in the century as the Queens Hotel. At that point in history, it was a stop for the electric cars of the radial line that ran from Hamilton to Burlington and Oakville.

The County Atlas of 1877 described this hotel as: “the Zimmerman house, a fine, handsome three-storey brick veneered building, erected at a large cost by one Peter M. Zimmerman — a first class resting place for the weary traveler.”

I’m always fascinated at how buildings can take on completely different looks over time. Below is a photo of the Queen’s Hotel almost 100 years ago dressed up with bunting and sporting verandas around two sides of the building. The radial line passes right in front of the building.

Queen's Hotel ca 1918

We arrived at City Hall, and took some time to appreciate the monuments in Civic Square.

  • The Millennium Fountain was built and installed to mark the year 2000.
  • The Anniversary Clock arrived in 1999 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Burlington’s incorporation as a village.
  • The Drinking Fountain was first erected in honour of the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860.
  • The Bronze Statue (1922) was originally placed in what was then known as LaSalle Park, now Spencer Smith Park, as a memorial to the soldiers who fought in WWI.

Further in our tour, we came across a line of fine homes built in the mid-1800s along Elizabeth Street.

The house at 490 Elizabeth is an example of the neoclassical style, with a large two storey porch gracing the front elevation. The typical doorway adds charm to the entrance as does the semi-elliptical fan transom with sidelights around the door. Some of the glass is the original made by hand. The windows are symmetrical, with six over six panes, square headed without surrounds.

Next door is the Laing-Speers House built in 1855 by James Laing. It was later owned by Dr. Speers in the early 1900’s who was the Medical Officer of Health — it was his job to convince council of the necessity of sewers.

The 19 November 1902 Gazette reported that “Dr Speers is moving into his new house today. The Dr. will have one of the finest homes in the village. The building

is fitted throughout with every convenience and will be lighted with electricity.”

Later the building was used as the Burlington Public Library for over 20 years. The town purchased the property in 1952 and did renovations (including a new addition at the back) to give better service until the new library was built on New Street in 1970. The house is now the home of the Rosewater Spa.

Burlington Public Library

Along the way, we played an impromptu game of hide ‘n seek. We almost didn’t see him here. 😉

Another highlight on Elizabeth Street is Knox Presbyterian Church. One of the interesting bits of trivia we learned from the longer guide (a detail not included in the published brochure) was that the church windows were ordered from Scotland and shipped to Canada in Molasses!

Our walking tour took us to see over 20 classic properties in the downtown core and left us with a better knowledge and appreciation of Burlington’s heritage.

You too can find the gingerbread house with a window in its chimney, discover the modern day coffee shop that was once home to Vaudeville style stage shows, and walk through heritage homes that are now incorporated into a shopping plaza. Just pick up a map and set out on a sunny day to let history be your guide!

Thanks to Heritage Burlington for publishing these Walking Tour guides and to the Burlington Historical Society for providing the resource material to make them possible.

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