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,. By the time land beside the bay was deeded to Captain Joseph Brant at the turn of the nineteenth century, 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, 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 railway is to ship goods marked the end of the commercial wharves.
Farming still thrived though, 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. During the First World War, 300 local men volunteered for duty in the Canadian Expeditionary Force—38 did not return. In 1915, Burlington was incorporated into a town