PHOTOS: The Brant Inn keeps Burlington connected to a remarkable past


Published April 17, 2024 at 9:20 am

Brant Inn Burlington Elington Armstrong
The Brant Inn as it appeared in its heydays.

It’s difficult for Burlington to let go of the Brant Inn.

And with good reason.

The hotel and ballroom was one of North America’s most popular nightspots attracting visitors from across Southern Ontario and Upstate New York during its heydays in the 1940s and 1950s.

People came to dance to the big band sounds of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman or listened as Andy Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Liberace sang and performed.

“It was a magical place, extra special, it put Burlington on the map,” explained Eddie Johnstone, 88, who was a regular concertgoer back in the day. “People came from everywhere and there were just as many celebrities in the audience as there were up on the stage.”

Johnstone said stepping into the large nightclub was like entering another world, where you could rub shoulders with the elite without leaving your own backyard.

“It was like one minute you are walking down Brant Street and once you passed through the doors (of the Brant Inn) you felt that this must be what Hollywood or New York’s Times Square felt like,” Johnstone continued. “I was just pumping gas at the time but I cleaned up pretty good and felt right at home when I was on the dance floor.”

Situated near where Spencer Smith Park and Maple Avenue are now located, the Brant Inn was built back in the early 1900s and served many purposes during its timeline including that of a military hospital.

It was during the period immediately after World War II that its notoriety spread. Weary, yet buoyed by military victory, returning soldiers were looking for excitement. An entrepreneur named John Murray Anderson seized on the opportunity and started to bring in top acts to “the Brant” to meet the newfound demand.

A live radio show called Meet Me at the Brant Inn helped spread the word and soon Burlington was the place to be.

“If you have to remember Burlington was kind of a sleepy little town and the crowds that came to the Brant Inn really shook that up,” said musician historian Jimmy Edwards. “But it was the location that made it work. It had been popular before the war but then it took off. Hamilton was nearby and very much in competition with Toronto for being Ontario’s main big city so there was a lot of activity going on. And for the people of Toronto, it was close enough to get to but still a bit of a fun road trip. And the entertainment was first-rate. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Glenn Miller…we’re talking some big names. Everything was just right.”

Johnstone said it was the hub of activity for the area and while the nights were filled with glitz and glamour, during the days it was used for weddings, birthday parties, meetings and other social events. “People were always coming and going,” he said.

But like all good things, the high times at the Brant Inn ended when tastes changed as big bands made way for rock and roll, and television delivered the top acts without you having to leave your living room.

As crowds dwindled the Brant Inn changed ownership and while plans initially called for a high-rise on the site, when it was demolished the land was left vacant until the park and other projects were developed.

But as mentioned, it’s hard to let go, and really, why should we?

The Museums of Burlington haven’t forgotten and one of its major if not favourite fundraisers again this year will honour the famous hotel that played host to all the stars.

An Evening at the Brant Inn takes place June 22 at 6 p.m. in the Marquis Gardens at the Waterfront Hotel where attendees can relieve those glory days through dining, dancing and swing music. Funds raised through the event go to the preservation of the collections and development of programming at the Museums of Burlington.

Ticket purchases and information about the event can be obtained through email [email protected] or call 905-634-3556 x 324.

As for Johnstone, distance has kept him away from Burlington for several years. If things were different, he said, he would be on the dance floor come June 22.

“I still clean up pretty good and I still can teach people a thing or two on the dance floor,” he said. “Maybe next year.”

(Photos from the Burlington Historical Society, Ivan Cleaver Postcard Collection, Dorothy Turcotte, Roland L. Bird Political Records and Memorabilia Fonds)


Lombardo orchestra Burlington Brant

Guy Lombardo and his orchestra perform at the hotel.


Burlington Brant dance

Dancers crowd onto the floor at the Brant Inn.

orchestra Basie band jazz Burlington

A flyer promoting an appearance by Count Basie and his orchestra.


Ella Fitzgerald Brant Burlington

A newspaper clipping of Ella Fitzgerald’s shows.


Brant Burlington demolition

A worker carries out the carpeting during the demolition of the Brant Inn,

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