If you stand at the foot of Brant Street and look up from Lakeshore Road, it’s hard to imagine anything but a bustling main corridor – yet, not that long ago, Brant Street was nothing more than a dirt road with a smattering of stores.
Since the 1800s, however, the city’s main artery has been transformed from a quiet country road in a small village to the lively city street that exists today. The evolution of Brant Street has been marked by several key developments, one of which occurred in 1947 when the street saw the opening of its first grocery store. At the time, there had only been a greengrocer. The arrival of a new grocery store was met with such excitement that crowds lined the streets.
In 1954, another grocery store came to Brant Street triggering an even larger celebration. Not only did the opening of Loblaw’s draw a huge crowd but promoters even brought in a helicopter.
In the 1960s, the stores along Brant Street reflected the lifestyles of the residents and included Crest Hardware, one of five hardware stores on the street, along with a watchmaker, bakery, and shoe store. Then there was Queen’s Hotel, which was built in 1860 as Zimmerman House (later becoming the Sherwood Inn, followed by Coronation House). The area was also an employment hub, with a cannery factory on the lake at the foot of Brant Street, providing jobs for many in the surrounding area.
The change that perhaps most defined the street’s future came in 1965 with the construction of Burlington’s Town Hall. Built on the site of the old library, Town Hall, later renamed City Hall, was the only building of its stature at the time.
In 1966, the street underwent the ‘Brant Street Spruce-Up’. A sign of its growing popularity – some buildings were renovated and the street and sidewalks received a facelift.
The 1970s brought a lull to the downtown due to the popularity of the new Burlington Mall, which opened in 1968. Since then, however, many changes have been introduced to rejuvenate downtown, and today’s Brant Street has pulled shoppers back to the core.
Walking down Brant Street today, you’ll find an assortment of unique and local shops, including home decor stores like Centro and Pure Boutique, and eateries and cafes like The Queen’s Head, Saigon on Brant, and the famous Kelly’s Bake Shoppe. For those who are fashion-forward, Brant Street has Bush’s, Posh Couture, Joelle’s and Jeff’s Guy Shop, and Mirella’s, all popular clothing boutiques – and you can even get inked at The Tell Tale Heart Tattoo and Gallery.
Also downtown is Burlington’s oldest funeral home, Smith’s Funeral Home, which came to Brant Street in 1942. Down the street is Wendel Clark’s Classic Grill and Bar and further toward the lake is sweet-spot Castelyn Belgian Chocolates.
The popularity of Brant Street today has been closely tied to developments at Spencer Smith Park, once a small shoreline park called Lakeside Park and renamed Spencer Smith Park in 1942.
Over the years, the many festivals at Spencer Smith Park, including Ribfest and the Sound of Music, have introduced thousands of people to Brant Street. But many people are unaware of the park’s beginnings – a landfill site that originally sat where Brant Street meets Lakeshore Road.
Another little-known fact is that Brant Street was named after Joseph Brant, a Mohawk military and political leader, and the surrounding streets, including Caroline and Elizabeth, were named after his family members.
The opening of the Brant Street Pier in June 2013 was another significant change that brought more people to the core. There are more changes on the horizon, and some aren’t without controversy, specifically the plans for a high-rise across from City Hall.
While the dirt road of yesterday is long gone, Brant Street still remains central to the city’s identity – and who knows where it will go from here.
by Denise Davy
Burlington Historical Society
Downtown Burlington Business Association
Castelyn Belgian Chocolates
The Queen’s Head
Saigon on Brant
Kelly’s Bake Shoppe
Mirella’s Lady Boutique