Discover Burlington Ontario

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Tourism Burlington Celebrates 30 Years

by Pam Belgrade

30th anniversaryWe’re throwing it back to the summer of ’85, when Tourism Burlington was officially established as a destination marketing organization.  What did Burlington look like thirty years ago?  What attracted people to visit? Here are a few interesting facts which may bring back fond memories for those of us who remember the city in 1985.


Demolishing Brant Inn

Stepping Back in Tourism Time

The Chamber of Commerce working with the City set up a Visitor Information Centre at Spencer Smith Park in 1970 repurposing a refreshment shack from Mountainside Park. It was set up on the site of the former Brant Inn which had been demolished in 1969.

Outgrowing the space in the “shack” as it was affectionately known, a new building was erected on top of the Mohawk Canoe Club in 1973. It was a cottage style with a deck to view the lake and housed the Chamber of Commerce office, a shared meeting room, visitors counter and refreshment area. Now that would have been a busy spot!

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Tourism Office at Spencer Smith Park

In 1984 the Chamber advised they no longer wanted to operate the visitor centre and in 1985 the Burlington Visitor and Convention Bureau was formed with assistance by the Downtown Burlington BIA. (It seems that Team Burlington was informally in place even 30 years ago!)

An accommodation boom occurred in 1985-86 with the Venture Inn (Waterfront Hotel) shown below, Admiral Inn and Relax Inn (Comfort Inn) opening adding over 300 more hotel rooms to our inventory.

Our first Board Chair was Councillor James Grieve (shown at official opening of new facility with Mayor Roly Bird).  Tourism was big news back in the day!

Opening of Visitor Information Centre - Councillor James Grieve & Mayor Roly Bird

Opening of Visitor Information Centre – Councillor James Grieve & Mayor Roly Bird

We have had a number of General Managers including the first Pam Banks in 1985, former City Director of Parks & Recreation Laurie Branch in 1990 (who went on to be a long time volunteer with us – we miss you Laurie!), realtor Penny MacKenzie from 1991-94 and former business owner Elaine Scrivener from 1995-99, just to name a few.

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Opening of Venture Inn

In 1985 the Burlington Sound of Music celebrated it’s 5th anniversary (did you attend that year?) and the RBG attracted 750,000 visitors including 59 tour buses.

Recent History

Visitor Information Centre 414 Locust St.

Visitor Centre Locust St.

Tourism re-located from Spencer Smith Park to Locust Street when the original centre was demolished for waterfront redevelopment. The new centre officially opened in July 2003 where we continue to welcome visitors and residents and provide visitor information such as guides, maps, souvenirs and information about exciting events happening in the city.

You can help us to celebrate our 30th anniversary by becoming a local ambassador – encouraging people to play and stay in the city.  To help you in this quest we have listed the top thirty things you should know about Tourism in Burlington.  You will now be able to dazzle your friends and visiting family with your tourism expertise.  (All this information and more can be found on our website – good to know for planning your next staycation. )

Tourism in Burlington …Who Knew?

  1. Burlington was first named Wellington Square.
  2. You can travel through 3 time periods at Ireland House at Oakridge Farm. Experience the lives lived in Burlington in the 1850’s, 1890’s & 1920’s.
  3. We are home to the Canada’s largest free musical festival with the Sound of Music festival every June.
  4. Ever seen The Notebook? The romantic lead, Ryan Gosling is one of our Famous Burlingtonians and has been sited downtown occasionally. (Our office gals hearts were all aflutter!)Ryan Gosling
  5. Canada’s only Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) is in Burlington with its 2,700 acres of gardens, walking trails, nature exhibits and events.  (Tourism is looking pretty young compared to the 80+ RBG!)
  6. You can ski, see bison and raptors, rock climb, visit an Iroquoian village, fish, pedal boat, hike and more all at Halton Conservation Areas. Get out there!
  7. Our musical ambassador’s a.k.a the Burlington Teen Tour Band has travelled to Germany, Hawaii, France and this year the Netherlands. (They also received the Tourism Burlington Ambassador Award in 2014)
  8. Where can you enjoy experiences that inspire? At the Burlington Performing Arts Centre which was the largest capital project for the city and opened in 2011. It is a LEED certified, state of the art facility with a 718 seat main theatre, 225 seat community theatre and 5,000 sq.ft. lobby.
  9. Thousands of Santa’s can be seen running on our downtown streets in December for the annual Santa 5km.  A jolly good time for runners and spectators!
  10. Paletta Mansion Before Laura Secord adorned chocolate boxes she was the original owner of the property where Paletta Mansion is located on Lakeshore Rd.
  11. Tourism Burlington promotes culinary experiences by coordinating the Taste of Burlington. Twice a year we team up with various restaurants to present a delicious fixed price menu program. (A yummy part of our jobs!)
  12. Burlington is home to some friendly ghosts with locations like Emma’s Back Porch, Ireland House, Joseph Brant Museum, and Paletta Mansion all claiming residential spirits. Have you seen a ghost here in Burlington?
  13. We’re choc-o-holics in Burlington! Try our self-directed chocolate trail to sooth that sweet tooth.
  14. Home to an acclaimed collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics, the Art Gallery of Burlington has eye-catching exhibits and a fabulous gallery shop. (We shop here regularly for gifts for our packages).
  15. Every year we celebrate Canada’s birthday with the Strawberry Social taking place at Joseph Brant Museum and Canada Day festivities and fireworks at Spencer Smith Park.  A summer highlight.
  16. We’re home to Canada’s Largest Ribfest every Labour day weekend.  An annual treat for residents and their visiting friends and family.FB_RibfestChef
  17. In the spring our blue skies get even brighter when the kite festival takes flight at Brant Hills Park – a great free family outing!
  18. Experience the ultimate staycation at beautiful Beachway Park and visit Burlington Beach rentals, where you can rent paddle boats, stand-up boards, kayaks and sun umbrellas.
  19. You can master the game of golf or pretend to at one of our nine pristine and challenging golf courses.
  20. Go Fish! There are some great fishing spots in the Burlington area. (Our fishing information is one of our more popular pages…who would have thought!)
  21. If your family and friends need a place to stay while visiting, try one of our cozy and friendly bed and breakfasts!  They serve delicious home cooked breakfasts and are very knowledgeable about our city.
  22. Fresh fruits and veggies are must in season and luckily Burlington has a several farmer’s markets. Burlington Mall and downtown’s Centro Garden are great locations for fresh local produce and baked goods.
  23. A mainstay in Burlington you can have a tour and enjoy beer brewed locally at Nickel brook.FB_NickelBrookBeer
  24. Discover local heritage and culture with our free Culture Days and Door’s Open events the last weekend of September.  Our centre will have activities during these events, drop in!
  25. If you are staying at one of our local hotels and arriving on two wheels, pick up your special cycling package. Burlington has numerous picturesque cycling trails throughout the city and has a bronze award from Share the Road.
  26. The downtown walking tour is a step back in time, where you can view exteriors of historic homes, churches & businesses on this self-guided tour.  A very popular activity for visitors.
  27. Burlington’s official twin cities are Itabashi, Japan and Apeldoorn, Netherlands.
  28. Our visitor centre has a welcome in French, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, German, Italian, Urdu (and soon Portuguese) for visitors. Plus you can translate our entire website with a quick click on our homepage.
  29. Bronte Creek Provincial park offers camping, nature trails, a historic farm, animals, play barn, picnic areas, skating & one of the largest outdoor pools in Canada.FB_BrontePool
  30. Burlington has a magnetic hill on King Rd. in north Burlington. (An article first appeared about this phenonomen in the local paper in 1985.)

For the remainder of the year, follow us on Twitter to see our Throw Back Thursday features taking you back to 1985 and before.  We look forward to another 30 years of promoting the Best City in Canada to the world.

Pam Belgrade & Emily Hribljan

Leave us a comment below and tell us your favourite thing or interesting fact about Burlington.

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