Burlington was incorporated as a village in 1874 and was a town by 1906. It was originally located in Nelson Township in Halton County, Ontario. In 1962 it annexed the better part of Nelson Township and became a city. Halton County became the Regional Municipality of Halton in 1973.
The map of Halton County circa 1951 from Ontario Archives locates the communities and physical features of the county. (Click at the bottom of the page to see the map enlarged.)
Before pioneer settlement in the 19th century, 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. In 1792, John Graves Simcoe, the first lieutenant governor of Upper Canada, named the western end of Lake Ontario "Burlington Bay" after the town of Bridlington in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England. The land beside the bay was deeded to Captain Joseph Brant at the turn of the nineteenth century, and by that time the name "Burlington" was already in common use. With the completion of the local survey after the War of 1812, the land was opened for settlement. Early farmers prospered in the Burlington area because of the fertile soil and moderate temperatures. Produce from the farms was shipped out via the bustling docks of the lakeside villages of Port Nelson and Wellington Square, as well as Brown's Wharf in the nearby village of Port Flamborough (which was to become Aldershot). Lumber taken from the surrounding forests also competed for space on the busy docks. However, in the latter half of the 19th century, the increased wheat production from Western Canada convinced local farmers to switch to fruit and vegetable production.
In 1874, Wellington Square and Port Nelson were incorporated into the Village of Burlington. However, the arrival of large steamships on the Great Lakes made the small docks of the local ports obsolete, and the increased use of railways to ship goods marked the end of the commercial wharves.
Farming still thrived, and the resultant growth resulted in continued prosperity. By 1906, the town boasted both its own newspaper—The Burlington Gazette—as well as a town library and a local rail line that connected Burlington to nearby Hamilton. In 1915, Burlington was incorporated into a town.
As more settlers arrived and cleared the land, cash crops replaced subsistence farming. Gradually, mixed farming and market gardens became the dominant form of agriculture, and in the early twentieth century the area was declared the "Garden of Canada". The first peaches grown in Canada were cultivated in the Grindstone Creek watershed, located in the south-west part of the city. the farming tradition has passed down through the generations. Today over forty percent of the Grindstone Creek watershed is still devoted to farms, orchards and nurseries.
Following the Second World War, cheap electricity from nearby Niagara Falls and better transportation access due to the Queen Elizabeth Way (an expressway opened 1939) encouraged both light industry and families to move to Burlington. The population sky-rocketed as new homes were built, encouraging developers to build even more new homes.
In 1962, Burlington annexed most of the Township of Nelson, as well as Aldershot, formerly a part of East Flamborough Township in Wentworth County. By 1967, the last cash crop farm within the city had been replaced by commercial enterprise.
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1914 are now available [October 2012]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada. All of the original census (1851-1911) images are online with the exception of that for 1861. Not all of them are indexed. Later censuses are not yet available. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited.
E-books and Books
Some websites with more local information on Halton County