The relaxation of the COVID lockdown will come too late for Emma’s Back Porch—Burlington’s gathering place for food and drink for decades. With its perch on the Lake Ontario shoreline, Emma’s offered a spectacular view of the Lake and the Beach strip.
The ”Estaminet Standard Hotel” opened, with four tables, under the management of George and Emma Byrens in 1919. Estaminet, by the way is a French work for small café or bistro. The property continued under the ownership of Harold Lazier until 1930 when it was repurchased by Ms. Emma Byrens. During Ms. Byrens’ proprietorship the restaurant expanded and flourished to international notoriety. Following her retirement in 1952, Ms. Byrens sold the property to Reginald Cooper who operated it until 1963 when it was taken over by his son Brian. The younger Mr. Cooper made several enlargements to the building yet was able to maintain the comfortable atmosphere that the Byrens had created. The property has since changed ownership several times.
From the outset, the Estaminet was billed and regarded as ”Canada’s House of Hospitality” serving patrons including: Louis St. Laurent, L.B. Pearson, John Diefenbaker, Barbara Ann Scott, Robert Service, A.Y. Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Liberace, Mitchell F. Hepburn, John Robarts, and Bill Davis. International dignitaries and local residents alike have signed the Estaminet guest books dating from 1919 (these remain within the Joseph Brant Museum Collection).
Since 1973, the old Estimate has seen a string of owners until 1992 when it officially became home to Emma’s Back Porch & The Water St. Cooker. The restaurant names were selected in honour of the building’s historical value and to continue both old and new traditions.
The Twittersphere lit up today with people expressing sadness at the loss of the iconic eatery. Typical was the tweet of Mayor Marianne Meed Ward who wrote, “this is heartbreaking news for our community that @Emmasbackporch is closing after 30 years. Burlington has lost an icon. So many memories of so many of our residents made here. Emma’s is one of the reasons my husband and I moved from Toronto to Burlington.”
The site had opened as a restaurant in 1919—the year of the Spanish Flu Pandemic, and now closes—a victim of another. The property sits in an area where significant high rise development has taken place, however the site received a heritage designation in 2009.