The Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern was an incident in the Upper Canada Rebellion. The abortive revolutionary insurrection inspired by William Lyon Mackenzie was crushed by British authorities and Canadian volunteer units near a tavern on Yonge Street, Toronto.
The site of Montgomery’s Tavern was designated a National Historic Site in 1925.
In 1835, Sir Francis Bond Head was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. The reformers of Upper Canada believed initially that he would support them in restructuring the governance system of the province. However, Bond Head believed the reformers were disloyal to the British Empire and supported the Family Compact. The reform-dominated legislature refused to pass that year’s money bill and Bond Head responded by refusing to grant Royal Assent to all legislation from the parliamentary session, causing a recession in Upper Canada. The Executive Council resigned en-mass and Bond Head called an election in 1836.
Bond Head campaigned for Tory candidates, appealing to the people’s desire to remain part of the British Empire. Many reform candidates lost their seats and the new Tory-dominated legislature passed a series of legislation that entrenched their power or supported their business enterprises.
Prelude to the Battle
When the Lower Canada Rebellion broke out in the fall of 1837, Sir Francis Bond Head sent the British troops stationed in Toronto to help suppress it. With the regular troops gone, William Lyon Mackenzie and his followers seized a Toronto armoury and organised an armed march down Yonge Street, beginning at Montgomery’s Tavern on 04 December 1837.
Anthony Anderson and Samuel Lount were commanders of the forces gathered at Montgomery’s Tavern. While on a scouting mission Mackenzie, Anderson and other rebels encountered John Powell. While attempting to take them prisoner Powell shot Anderson and escaped to Toronto. Lount refused to command the rebels by himself, so the leadership decided that Mackenzie would be the commander.
On 05 December, MacNab arrived in Toronto with sixty men from the Hamilton area. MacNab was named commander-in-chief and leader of the battle against the rebels by Bond Head. At a council-of-war meeting on 06 December, Fitzgibbons was furious at this appointment because he felt he was the best person for the role and left the meeting early. The meeting decided to attack the rebels the next day and MacNab informed Fitzgibbon that he resigned as the leader so Fitzgibbon could take the role. The government forces had 1,200 men and two cannons, and Bond Head ordered that they march towards Montgomery’s Tavern at noon. Fitzgibbon sent two detachments ahead of the group to march several hundred yards away from either side of Yonge Street. The rest of the army marched up the street.
Anthony Van Egmond arrived at the tavern on 07 December expecting to command a well-armed rebel force. When he saw the poorly-equipped militia he proposed defending their position until reinforcements arrived from the rural areas of Upper Canada. Mackenzie demanded that Egmond plan to attack the government troops instead and the rebel leaders decided to send 60 riflemen to the Don Bridge to divert the government troops if they arrived from that path.
A sentinel of the rebels saw the government’s troops approach the tavern from Gallows Hill. One hundred and fifty men were posted in the woods approximately a half-mile south of the tavern on the west side of Yonge Street. Several dozen took up positions behind stump fences on the east side of Yonge Street. The rest of the rebels were at the tavern without arms.
When the government forces arrived the rebels fired upon them. Fitzgibbon split the militias at the front of the group into two sections to continue their march. Major Carfrae turned his artillery and fired upon the rebels. The western detachment that had been sent ahead earlier that day attacked the rebels, who fled towards the tavern. The government army’s march continued to Montgomery’s tavern. A cannonball shot through the dining room window and the rebels in the tavern fled. When Bond Head arrived at the tavern he ordered that it be burned down.
Aftermath and Legacy
Refer to the Patriot War (1837-1838).
The rebels fled to the United States, travelling in groups of two. Van Egmond and Lount were captured by British forces; the former died of an illness he received while imprisoned and the latter was hanged for treason. Other men were also sentenced to hang for treason and ninety-two men were sent to Van Diemen’s Land. A group of rebels escaped Fort Henry and travelled to the United States.
Following the rebellion, the site of the tavern was used to build a hotel, with the structure of the old Davisville Hotel. In 1858 it was sold to hotelier Charles McBride of Willowdale (1832-?), who renamed the tavern Prospect House. The tavern would serve as Masonic Lodge and North Toronto township council office. McBride sold the hotel in 1873 to build another hotel, Bedford Park Hotel, on Yonge Street. Prospect House burned down in 1881, and the vacant land was sold to proprietor (and later as hotelier) John Oulcott of Toronto, who rebuilt a three-storey Oulcott’s Hotel (Eglinton House) in 1883. Oulcott sold out in 1912 and the hotel went to various owners. In 1913, the federal government purchased the hotel and remodelled it as a post office for the North Toronto postal district. It was torn down in the 1930s to be replaced by the current structure. The site of the tavern is now occupied by a two-storey Art Deco post office designed by Murray Brown and built in 1936. The building, Postal Station K, bears the cypher EviiiR, for Edward VIII, King of Canada for eleven months in 1936; it is one of a few buildings to bear this mark in Toronto. As of spring 2016, construction is underway to incorporate the post office into a new building which will include retail space and podium for the 27-storey Montgomery Square luxury rental apartment building.