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Rebellion of 1837


1837 was a time of turmoil. Rebellions broke out in both Upper and Lower Canada, where rebels attempted to overthrow the government and violently opposed the political status quo. The rebellions led to the pivotal Durham Report, which in turn united the two colonies (see Act of Union) into the Province of Canada, and to the arrival of responsible government — which were significant milestones on the eventual road to Canadian Confederation.

The Rebellion in Upper Canada was principally led by William Lyon Mackenzie, a Scottish-born newspaper publisher and politician who was a fierce critic of the ruling Family Compact, an elite clique of officials and businessmen who dominated the running of the colony.

In 1837, after years of failed efforts for change, Mackenzie convinced his followers to try to seize control of the government. About 1,000 rebels gathered for four days in December at Montgomery’s Tavern, north of Toronto. On December 5, 1837, several hundred poorly organized rebels marched south on Yonge Street and exchanged fire with a smaller group of loyalist militia. Routed, the bulk of the rebel force fled in a state of confusion once the firing started, and the hunt for the rebels was on. Mackenzie’s escape route passed through historic Mississauga, where he was sheltered by reform supporters for three nights along his route, often a great personal risk.

Many other early residents of historic Mississauga took part in the rebellion, either as would-be rebels, or as loyal supporters and members of the local militia charged with guarded bridges and apprehending Mackenzie and his followers.