Montgomerys Inn in the west end of Toronto is many things: a living history museum, a community centre with teas, concerts and art exhibitions, and a great tourist attraction.
Multiple roles are nothing new for a building that has experienced a colourful career path lasting nearly two centuries. Serving at different times as a farmhouse, travellers’ inn and tavern, courthouse and church, this beautiful old fieldstone building harbours many treasures worth discovering.
The original Montgomery's Inn was built in wood in 1830 but rebuilt in stone in 1832 for its first owners, Thomas and Margaret Montgomery. From the outside, this handsome Georgian-style home is quite imposing. The odd configuration, with the two doors along the front, is due to the fact that part of it was an inn, and the other part was the family home. That first door on the left would have taken you right into the inn’s pub in the old days, while the door on the right would have taken you into the hall of the family home. (Today you enter through a side door of an extension not visible in this photo.)
The fieldstone walls that lend this old mansion its “antique allure” were actually covered with a white pebbledash finish from its early years. The pebbledash was only removed in the 1960s when the building was being restored as a museum.
Despite its elegant exterior, much of the interior is more humble in appearance – original bare wood floors, hand-hewn rustic beds – with some notable exceptions.
I visited this museum recently for a St Patrick’s Day Tea (more about that later) and enjoyed the one-hour guided tour included with the entrance fee.
Come inside with me now and learn a little about the history of the home and the people who lived here.
Brief History of the Montgomery Family:
Thomas (1790-1877) and Margaret (1808-1855) Montgomery immigrated from Northern Ireland in the early 1800s. They not only founded and ran the inn; they also owned and farmed 400 acres of land around the property.
Margaret cooked, cleaned and looked after the guests’ needs with the help of her servants. Thomas took care of the financial side of the inn business and his other properties as well. Over the years, the family bought more than 200 other parcels of land and became wealthy landlords. Although Margaret died at the age of 47, Thomas survived to the ripe old age of 87.
Margaret gave birth to seven children but only two boys lived to adulthood. Sadly, these tragedies were all too common in those days, when infant death rates were high. One son, Robert (1837-1864), who became a minister, predeceased both of his parents, dying when he was only 27 and leaving behind a widow and children. The other son, William (1830-1920), who worked with his father managing the properties, seemed to inherit his father’s good genes and longevity, and lived until he was 90.
The building is divided into two sections: one for the family and the other half for the public.
One of the first rooms I saw on my tour was the sons’ bedroom. The thing that struck me the most was the simplicity of it. There’s almost a Mennonite feel to this room – sparse but homey. It should be noted however that although the furniture is “of the period” (i.e. mid 1800s), none of it belonged to the family (who moved out in the late 1800s). The furniture you see was instead purchased for or donated to the museum. So we don’t really know if the boys’ room actually looked like this or not.
The design of the parents’ bedroom is markedly different. For one thing, it’s much larger, and for another, it boasts more sophisticated, finely-crafted furniture.
Of all the rooms in the house, though, the sitting room is the most luxurious.
This is where the family sat together and entertained company. There’s a nice cabinet in the corner (you can’t see it here) with all kinds of fancy chinaware displayed. This would be the “showing off” room where you’d take your guests to impress them.
One of my favourite rooms at Montgomery's Inn is the home office. This is where Thomas kept the records of the inn and his landholdings. See how tiny it is! They didn’t need the space for computers, printers, telephone and all our modern trappings.... just a few ledgers, bookcase and quill pens.
Over across the hallway you’ll find the inn section with three guest rooms. One is big enough to house a family with a double bed and trundle bed, and the other two dorms have a few beds each:
The kitchen and dining room at Montgomery's Inn are large – a necessity given the fact that the inn would house several guests at a time and meals would also be served in the pub for drop-in guests.
The pub is a large room with several rough wooden tables seating six or eight persons, with the bar in the corner.
Upstairs in the inn section is the ballroom – a bit of a grand name for a large open space that was used as a courtroom, for meetings and for parties. One of its claims to fame is that some of the accused from the 1837 Rebellion were put on trial here at Montgomerys Inn. (Note: This inn should not to be confused with Montgomery’s Tavern that was on Yonge Street. That building burned down; there’s a post office there now at 2384 Yonge Street.)
Events at Montgomery's Inn:
In addition to the St. Patrick's Day tea (yummie... see below), the Montgomery's Inn also hosts special events for Valentines Day, Mothers Day, etc as well as concerts and art exhibitions. On certain days they sell bread and other baked goodies made in their 19th century kitchen, and books and gifts in their tiny gift shop.
Montgomerys Inn is located at 4709 Dundas Street West, Etiobicoke, a borough of Toronto. The immediate neighbourhood is also known as the Villlage of Islington.
In the Neighbourhood:
If you like art, you’re just a short hop, skip and jump from the marvelous murals of the Village of Islington. These are a group of 14 murals adorning buildings along Dundas Street West, depicting scenes from the community’s past.
The Montgomerys were Irish immigrants, and if you’re interested in the history of the Irish in Canada, you might want to visit Ireland Park on the lakeshore right near Harbourfront Toronto. In the 1840s, while Thomas and Margaret Montgomery were running their inn and building up their fortune, millions of their countrymen were dying from the famine and typhus epidemic. Many tried to immigrate to Canada and other countries and died on the way. For more information, see my article about Ireland Park Toronto.