Remembering William Lyon Mackenzie and the 1849 Riot: March 22: Snapshots in History

March 23, 2018 | John P.

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Many Torontonians and Canadians are familiar with the name William Lyon Mackenzie. Yes, that is the same William Lyon Mackenzie (1795-1861) who served as the first Mayor of Toronto, as one of the leaders in the Rebellions of 1837, as well as a journalist and a Member of the Legislative Assembly in Upper Canada. Following the failure of the Rebellions, Mackenzie went into exile to the United States of America from 1838-1849 during which time he became an American citizen in 1843. With the establishment of responsible government under the Baldwin-Lafontaine administration, many of the leaders from the Rebellions received an amnesty, including Mackenzie who had submitted a written request to be included therein.

It is the period following the amnesty and Mackenzie’s visit to Toronto in March 1849 that remains the focus of this blog post. What kind of reception would Mackenzie receive? Mackenzie had gone to visit his father-in-law John McIntosh at his home in Toronto. Mackenzie’s son-in-law Charles Lindsey recounted in his 1862 biography of Mackenzie (Volume 2, pages 294-295 [pages 309-310 in PDF format]) as to what happened on the evening of March 22, 1849:


"...His arrival in Toronto was the signal for a Tory riot. On the evening of the 22d March, a mob collected in the streets, with flambeaux and effigies of Attorney General Baldwin, Solicitor General Blake, and Mackenzie. They marched defiantly past the Police Office, burnt two of the effigies opposite the residences of the Crown officers, and then proceeded up Yonge Street, to the house of Mr. John McIntosh, where Mr. Mackenzie was staying. Here, by the aid of two or three blazing tar-barrels, the mob burnt the remaining effigy and assailed the house, broke the windows, and attempted to force their way through the door. All the while, the Chief of Police and at least one member of the City Council were quietly looking on. Next day, the Mayor caused special constables to be sworn in with a view of preventing a repetition of these outrages; and an alderman, in his place in the Council, declared that he "would not hesitate an instant" to assassinate Mackenzie, were he not restrained by fear of the law! For many nights after the house was well guarded, and was not again attacked. The Examiner had condemned these outrages in fitting terms, and the premises of the proprietor were threatened with attack. A mob assembled in King Street for that purpose; but when it became known that there was a number of armed men in the building, they dispersed without attempting any violence. Two persons had been stationed on the ground floor with double-barrelled guns, and the first man who might have broken in would have been instantly shot..."


The Globe newspaper, in an article entitled “RIOT IN TORONTO” in the March 24, 1849 issue on page 91, recounted what had happened on the evening of March 22, 1849 but it is hard to read because the left side of the article is partly obscured in the digitized version. However, to view the referenced article from 1849 in full, please access the Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card.

Following this incident, Mackenzie returned to the United States for a brief time but returned with his family to stay in May 1850. Mackenzie won a by-election for a seat in Haldimand County for the Parliament of the Province of Canada in 1851. Mackenzie served in the Parliament until 1858, fighting for causes such as opposition to the clergy reserves and to government funding of religious colleges. He supported the direct election of mayors by the people rather than by councils as well as adopting decimal-based currency. In failing health and with diminished confidence in the reform movement, he resigned from politics in August 1858. Mackenzie died on August 28, 1861 in Toronto at 66 years of age.

Consider examining the following items from Toronto Public Library collections:


The life and times of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie  with an account of the Canadian rebellion of 1837  and the subsequent frontier disturbances  chiefly from unpublished documents Volume 2 1862

PDF, 1862


The life and times of Wm. Lyon Mackenzie  with an account of the Canadian rebellion of 1837  and the subsequent frontier disturbances  chiefly from unpublished documents Volume 1 1862


PDF, 1862





The firebrand William Lyon Mackenzie and the rebellion in Upper Canada 2008

Book, 2008 - See also ebook, 1977


Victory!!! Cayuga Gazette extra ohq-ephe-s-r-87

Ephemera, 1851