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History of Toronto and County of York in Ontario
Part II: The County of York - Chapter III

Modern Territorial Divisions of York.—Parliamentary Representation. The Rebellion.—Want of Harmony Among, its Leaders. —Inaction and Defeat.—Execution of Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews.—The Place of their Interment.—Gallows Hill.— Origin of the Name.

IN addition to the statutory territorial divisions indicated in the preceding chapter, several Acts of partial application only, affecting the County of York, were passed both before and after the Union of the Provinces of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841. In 1827, 1832 and 1836, three several enactments came into operation regulating or affecting the local boundaries, but in a brief sketch like the present it would serve no useful purpose to follow minutely the course of Provincial legislation. Suffice it to say that by the statute 14 and 15 Victoria, chapter 5, passed during the session of 1851, just before the second Lafontaine-Paldwin Administration went out of office, it was enacted that the County of York should consist of the townships of Etobicoke, Vaughan, Markham, Scarborough, York, King, Whitchurch, Gwillimbury East and Gwillimbury North. By-4his Act, which came into operation on the 1st of January, 1852, the counties of York, Ontario and Peel were declared to be united for municipal and judicial purposes. By section 5 provision was made for the dissolution of unions of counties, and under this enactment Ontario separated from York and Peel at the close of the year 1853. York and Peel remained united until 1866, when a separation took place, and they have ever since been entirely disti ict municipalities.

Several subsequent partial enactments were consolidated in chapter 5 of the Revised Statutes of Ontario, the 41st section whereof enacts that the County of York shall consist of the townships of Etobicoke, Georgina, Gwilhmbury East, Gwilhmbury North. King, Markham, Scarborough, Vaughan, Whitchurch, York, the City of Toronto, and the villages of Aurora, Holland Landing, Markham, Newmarket, Richmond Hill and Yorkville. In a municipal sense, this the present division, except that the Village of Yorkville was last year admitted into the City of Toronto under the name of St. Pauls Ward.

The reader hardly needs to be informed, however, that the municipal divisions are not identical with the divisions for the purpose of Parliamentary representation. It has been seen on a former page that in very early times one member was considered sufficient to represent a tract of territory very much larger than the present County of Yoik. To trace the progress of Parliamentary representation for the County of York from that time down to the present would occupy much space, and would be attended with very little benefit or entertainment to the reader. It will be sufficient to begin with the Union, at which date York was divided into four electoral Ridings, known respectively as the First, Second, Third and Fourth Ridings. During the First Parliament, which lasted from the 8th of Apr 1841, to the 23rd of September, 1844, these constituencies were respectively represented by James Hervey Price, George Duggan, Mr. James Edward Small, Robert Baldwin, and Louis Hypolite Lafontaine. The Second Parliament lasted from the 12th of November, 1844, to the 6th of December, 1847. Messieurs Price, Duggan, and Baldwin continued to represent their various constituencies. Mr. Small was reelected for the Third Riding, but his return was declared null and void 011 the 14th of March, 1845, and his opponent, George Monro, was declared to have been duly elected. Mr. Monro accordingly represented the constituency from that time forward until the close of the Second Parliament. As for Mr. Lafontaine, his representation of an Upper Canadian constituency was merely a temporary expedient, and after the close of the First Parliament he was returned for the Lower Canadian constituency of Terrebonne. Before the assembly of the Third Parliament a re-adjustment and re-naming of the constituencies had taken place, and they were thenceforward respectively known as the North, East, South and West Ridings. The North Riding consisted of the townships of Brock, Georgina, East Gwihuiibury, North Gwillimbury, Mara, Rama, Reach, Scott, Thorah, Uxbridge, and Whitchurch. The Fast Riding was composed of the townships of Markham, Pickering, Scarborough, and Whitby, The South Riding comprised the townships of Etobicoke, King, Vaughan, and York ;. and the West Riding was made up of the townships of Albion, Caledon, Chinguacousy, Toronto and the Gore of Toronto. During the Third Parliament, which lasted from the 24th of January, 1848, to the 6th of November, 1851, the North Riding was represented by Robert Baldwin, the East Riding by William Hume Blake and Peter Peiry, the South Riding by James Hervey Price, and the West Riding by Joseph Curran Morrison. During the Fourth Parliament an Act was passed increasing the representation to sixty-five members from each section of the Province. Thenceforward York was divided into three constituencies only, the North, East and West Ridings. Without consecutively following the representation and divisions of the county any further, it may be said that by the eighth section of the second chapter of the Consolidated Statutes of Canada, the Count}'' of York is divided into three Ridings, to be called respectively the North Riding, the East Riding and the West Riding; the North Riding consisting of the townships of King, Whitchurch, Georgina, East Gwdimbury and North Gwilhmbury; the East Riding consisting of the townships of Markham, Scarborough, and that portion of the Township of York lying east of Yonge Street, and the Village of Yorkville; the West Riding consisting of the Townships of Etobi coke, Vaughan, and that portion of the Township of York lying west of \ onge Street. Py statute 45 Victoria, chapter 3, passed on the 17th of May, 1882, entitled "An Act to re-adjust the Representation m the House of Commons, and for other purposes," it is enacted that the East Riding of the Count) of York shall consist of the townships of East York (i.e., the portion lying east of Yonge Street), Scarborough and Markham, and the villages of Yorkville and Markham ; and that the North Ridingshall consist of the townships of King, East Gwilhmbury, West Gwilhmbury, North Gwilhmbury and Georgina, and the villages of Holland Landing, Bradford and Aurora.

Representation in the Local Legislature is provided for by the eighth chapter of the Reused Statutes of Ontario, entitled "An Act Respecting the Representation of the People in the Legislative Assembly/' whereby it is provided that the County of York shall be divided into three Ridings, to be called respectively the North Riding, the East Riding and the West Riding; the North Riding to consist of the townships of King, Whitchurch, Georgina, East Gwill'mbiiry and North Gwilhmbury, and the Villages of Aurora, Holland Landing and Newmarket; the East Riding to consist of the townships of Markham and Scarborough, that portion of the Township of York lying east of Yonge Street, and the villages of Yorkville and Markham ; the West Riding to consist of the townships of Etobicoke and Vaughan, that portion of the Tow nslrp of York lying west of Yonge Street, and the Village of Richmond Hill Upon the admission of Yorkville as a portion of the City of Toronto, in 1883, ii was specially provided that the village should for Parliamentary purposes still remain attached to the East Riding of York.

Independently of territorial and Parliamentary divisions, there is not much to record in the way of purely County history, beyond what is given in the various Township histories which will be found elsewhere in this volume. The County played a very conspicuous part in the Rebellion of 38' hut the details of that dl starred movement are recorded at considerable length -n the " Brief History of Canada and the Canadian People," with which the reader of these pages may be presumed to be already familiar. The merest outline is ail that can be attempted here. The public dissatisfaction with the many abuses which existed in those days, and with the high-handed tyranny of the executive, was intensified in 1836 and 1837 by the injudicious proceedings of the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Francis Bond Head. That dignitary employed the most corrupt means during the elections of 1836 to secure the return of members favourable to his policy, and the leading Reformers of Upper Canada were defeated at the polls. The most shamelessly dishonest means were employed to secure the defeat of William Lyon Mackenzie m the Second Riding of York, for which constituency he had already been returned five times in succession, and he had as often seen unjustly expelled from membership in the Assembly. The combined tyranny and abuses of the time had long since aroused a spirit of resistance, and before the year 1837 was many months old this spirit had begun to assume an active shape. An enrolment of the disaffected throughout the Second Riding took place, and the list included many persons of the highest respectability and intelligence. Mackenzie's paper, The Constitution, circulated largely throughout the constituency, and his influence there was paramount. He and his coadjutors made urgent and repeated inflammatory appeals to the people of the Province generally, who ware incited to strike for that freedom which could only be won at the point of the sword. A Central Vigilance Committee was formed, and Mackenzie devoted all his time to the organization of armed resistance to authority. Drillings were held at night throughout nearly the whole of the northern part of the County of York. It was at last settled that an attempt should be made to subvert the Government. The time fixed upon for the commencement of hostilities was Thursday, the 7th of December (1837), at which date the rebels were to secretly assemble their forces at Montgomery's Tavern, a well-known hostelry on Yonge Street, about three miles north of Toronto. Having assembled, they were to proceed in a body into the city, where they expected to be joined by a large proportion of the inhabitants. They were to march direct to the City Hall, and seize 4000 stand of arms which had been placed there. The insurrectionary programme further included the seizure of U e Lieutenant-Governor himself and his chief advisers, the capture of the garrison, and the calling of a convention for the purpose of framing a constitution. A provisional government was to be formed, at the head of which was to be placed Dr. John Rolph, one of the ablest men who has ever taken part in Upper Canadian affairs.

The scheme promised well enough, but there was no efficient organization among the insurgents, who were from the beginning doomed to failure. The details seem to have been largely deputed to Mr. Mackenzie's management, and if active energy could have insured success at the outset, the insurgent programme would have been fully carried out. Sir Francis Head, though kept continually informed of treasonable meetings in various parts of the Home District, treated all such intelligence with contempt, and made no preparation to defend his little capital. There was absolutely no possibility of failure on the part of Mackenzie and his forces, if they had manifested the least ability for conducting an armed insurrection. But the leaders had no common plan of operations, and were out of harmony with each other. No one seems to have been invested with undivided authority. Mackenzie reached the house of his friend and co-worker Mr. David Gibson, in the neighbourhood of Montgomery's, on the evening of Sunday, the 3rd of December, when, to quote his own words: "To my astonishment and dismay, 1 was informed that though I had given the captains of townships sealed orders for the Thursday following, the Executive had ordered out the men beyond the Ridges to attend with their arms next day (Monday) and that it was probable they were already on the march. Instantly sent one of Mr. Gibson's servants to the north, countermanded the Monday movement, and begged Colonel Lount not to come down, nor in any way disturb the previous regular arrangement. . . . The servant returned on Monday with a message from Mr. Lount that it was now too late to stop; that the men were warned, and moving, with their guns and pikes, on the march down Yonge Street—a distance of thirty or forty miles, on the worst roads in the world—and that the object of their rising could no longer be concealed. I was grieved, and so was Mr. Gibson, but we had to make the best of it. Accordingly, 1 mounted my horse in the afternoon, rode in towards the city, took five trusty men with me, arrested several men on suspicion that they were going to Sir Francis with information, placed a guard on Yonge Street, the main northern avenue to Toronto, at Montgomery's, and another guard on a parallel road, and told them to allow none to pass towards the city. I then waited some time, expecting the Executive to arrive, but waited in vain. No one came, and not even a message. I was therefore left in entire ignorance of the condition of the capital, and, instead of entering Toronto on Thursday with 4,000 or 5,000 men, was apparently expected to take it on Monday with 200, wearied after a march of thirty or forty miles through the mud, in the worst possible humour at finding they had been called from the very extremity of the county, and no one else warned at all."

This was certainly a disheartening state of affairs, though as a simple matter of fact there is no doubt that the city might easily have been taken vast then, even with a less force than 200, if the rebels had been efficiently commanded. But the change of date from Thursday to Monday seems to have completely disheartened Mackenzie, who from that time forward seemed to act without either energy or judgment. Instead of proceeding into the city, he actually kept his forces at Montgomery's until Thursday in a state of complete inaction. By that time the authorities in Toronto had of course become aware of the movement. Assistance had been summoned from Hamilton and elsewhere, .and all hopes of success for the insurrection were at an end. On Thursday the loyalist forces advanced northward and met the rebels a short distance north of Gallows Hill. A skirmish followed, but was of very short duration, as the rebels were altogether outnumbered, and fled in all directions. Mackenzie and the other leaders succeeded in making their escape to the United States; all except poor Samuel Lount and Peter Matthews, who were captured and executed at Toronto on the 12th of April following. Their remains are interred in the Toronto Necropolis.

As, owing to their tragical ending, much interest ,s felt in these unfortunate persons, it may not be amiss to give some account of them. The following is condensed and adapted from "Canada in 1837-38, a work written by Edward Alexander Theller, an Irish-American citizen who acted as a "Brigadier-General in the Canadian Republican Service." Samuel Lount was born in the State of Pennsylvania, and lived there until he migrated to Upper Canada, which event took place when he was about twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. He settled near the shores of Lake Simcoe, in what was then a wilderness. By industry and frugality he in course of a few years amassed considerable property. To the many poor settlers wdio came from Europe and obtained grants of land from the Government he was a friend and adviser, and in cases of necessity he frequently supplied their wants from his own purse or his own granaries. He saw and deplored the many grievances which afflicted his adopted country. In 183411c was elected a member of the Provincial Assembly, in which he served until 1836, when, owing to the machinations of Sir Francis Head and his advisers (who did not scruple to employ the most corrupt means to achieve such a result), he was defeated at the polls by a brother of Chief Justice Robinson. Like Mackenzie, Rolph and other leaders of the Reform party, he despaired of accomplishing anything of importance by further constitutional agitation, so he allied himself with the insurrectionary movement, and marched a body of men to Montgomery's. When the collapse of the movement came, he fled, with others, to the neighbourhood of Gait, whence, accompanied by a friend named Kennedy, he made his way to the shores of Lake Erie. Having secured a boat, they attempted to cross to the United States, but their little craft was driven ashore by floating ice. They were at once captured and forwarded to headquarters at Chippewa, where Colonel MacNab's camp was. Lount had no sooner reached Chippewa than he was recognized. He was next sent to Toronto and placed in jail until his trial. There was no question as to his guilt, in a legal and technical sense, and he attempted no defence. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death. The sequel has already been told.

Peter Matthews was a wealthy farmer, possessed of great influence among the people in the neighbourhood of his residence. He had served as a Lieutenant in the incorporated militia of the Province during the War of 1812, '13 and '14, and had signalized himself by his bravery. He made common cause with Mackenzie and Lount, and raised a corps in the neighbourhood of his home, at whose head he marched to Montgomery's. On the morning of that fatal Thursday he proceeded with a company of men to the Don Bridge, for the purpose of creating a diversion in the east end of the city. While there he heard the noise of the engagement at Montgomery's, and was compelled to vacate his position. He fled from the scene, and took refuge in the house of a friend, where, a few days later, he was discovered and captured. He adopted the same policy as Lount, and made no defence. He suffered the extreme penalty of the law, as has already been related. "He was," says Theller, "a large, fleshy man, and had much of the soldier in his composition; and sure am I that he demeaned himself like one, and died like a man who feared not to meet his God." Mackenzie, in his "Caroline Almanac," bears testimony to the same effect. "They behaved," he remarks, "with great resolution at the gallows; they would not have spoken to the people had they desired. He adds: "the spectacle of Lount after the execution was the most shock ing sight that can be imagined. He was covered over with his blood, the head being nearly severed from his body, owing to the depth of the fall. More horrible to relate, when he was cut down, two ruffians seized the end of the rope and dragged the mangled corpse along the ground into the jail yard, some one exclaiming: This is the way every d—d rebel deserves to be used.


A word upon the subject of Gallows Hill, near which the engagement between the loyal and insurrectionary troops took place. Every "person living in or near Toronto is fami1 ar with the spot, but comparatively few are acquainted with the tragical circumstances to which it is indebted for the name it bears. In the early years of the present century a rude wagon track ascended the hill a short distance west of where the road now&is. Near the top was a narrow notch, with high banks on each side, caused by excavations. Lying directly across the notch, and at a sufficient height to admit of the passing of loaded wagons beneath, was a huge tree, which had been blown down by a violent storm, and which lay there undisturbed for many years. In the late twilight of a summer evening a belated farmer, driving home from attending market at York, was horrified to find ari unknown man hanging by a rope from the tree which spanned the roadway. No clue was ever obtained, either as to the identity of the man. or as to the circumstances under which he met his death, though it was commonly believed that he must have committed suicide. The name of Gallows Hill soon afterwards came into vogue as applied to the spot, and it has been perpetuated ever since. Such is the origin of a phrase which has been a household word in and around the Upper Canadian capital for more than seventy years.

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