Our First Settlers – Part Two

Burlington Gazette – History by Helen Langford

Our First Settlers – Part Two
Tues., October 25, 1977

Let us try to set the scene of our first settlers. Can you imagine Burlington about 1790 after the American War of Independence? The bird’s-eye view from the top of the Skyway bridge almost makes early descriptions come alive.

Robert Land’s cabin and small clearing would be marking present day Hamilton; Richard Beasley’s trading headquarters would be perched on top of the cliff at Burlington Heights (Dundurn Castle site). The bay would be almost crowded with Indians fishing from canoes for abundant salmon, maskinonge and pickerel. It was even safe to eat them to those days!

Below the Skyway bridge, the sand strip, which we know as the Beach, would look like a gentleman’s estate covered with giant virgin oak. It was an easy riding or walking route: shaded, cool and with a lack of underbrush consistent with a mature forest.

This park-like forest of oak extended along the north shore of Burlington Bay (Lake Geneva) as far as the present Royal Botanical Gardens. Many years later, a remnant of these oaks was used by sailors as a landmark, guiding them to La Salle Park. The Sentinel Oak stood near the present corner of Park Ave. and La Salle Rd.

The swampy areas at the northern foot of the Skyway bridge have all but gone now. A deep inlet was formed by the creek flowing into the bay at the site of the present Flood Diversion Channel just west of Joseph Brant Hospital. The Indian trail to Burlington Heights skirted this area along the present Lockhart and Greenwood Rd. A shallow pond, behind the sand strip, extended from the bay to the hill in front of the present Joseph Brant Museum – Can you imagine the Provincial Police headquarters, some of the hospital and the new Skyway Sewage Plant sitting in water and bullrushes?

The natural outlet from the bay to the lake was much closer to Burlington than is the present canal. It was quite shallow – an important factor in the War of 1812 and in our early shipping industry.

It is difficult now, unless you have traveled in our Provincial Parks, to imagine the awesome beauty of the wild and often unfriendly scene of Burlington less than two hundred years ago.

Source: Langford, Helen. Burlington Gazette [Ontario], 25 Oct. 1977. Microfilm. Burlington Public Library – Central Branch. Reel 50.

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