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Prosperous land surveyor David Gibson was part of the Upper Canada Rebellion and was later pardoned. - North York Historical Society photo
Prosperous land surveyor David Gibson was part of the Upper Canada Rebellion and was later pardoned. - North York Historical Society photo

North York’s Original Gibson House Torched by Government Soldiers

Pardoned for treason, David Gibson rebuilt his home which ‘still stands today, 170 years later,’ writes Susan Goldenberg

There are two good reasons to visit Gibson House, North York’s best known historic site, at Park Home and Yonge Street across from the North York Civic Centre, in December.

One, the enjoyable Christmastime festivities.

Two, Dec. 7 marks the 181st anniversary of when the original house, built by prosperous land surveyor David Gibson, was burned down in the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion by government soldiers because Gibson was a rebel sympathizer.

Born in 1804 in Scotland, Gibson was close friends with rebel leader William Lyon Mackenzie. They wanted to overthrow the rich, intermarried “Family Compact” which controlled everything — churches, the law, politics, education, banking, property. The rebels trained on Gibson’s land.

The original Gibson House was burned down by government soldiers. - North York Historical Society photo
The original Gibson House was burned down by government soldiers. – North York Historical Society photo

Greatly outnumbered and poorly armed, the rebels were quickly defeated by government forces Dec. 7, 1837 in the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern just north of Yonge and Eglinton in what was then part of North York. Gibson, who had been in charge of 54 prisoners, released them, then fled. Sir Francis Bond Head, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, ordered Gibson’s wooden home burned down.

Since Gibson wasn’t there, it was up to his wife Eliza to cope. She hid their children behind a snowbank, then returned to collect his surveyor tools and the face and works of a grandfather clock. The family found refuge with a friend.

A proclamation was issued for the arrest of David Gibson. He was among many rebels who were later pardoned. - North York Historical Society photo
A proclamation was issued for the arrest of David Gibson. He was among many rebels who were later pardoned. – North York Historical Society photo

A $2,000 reward was offered for Gibson’s capture. After days hiding outdoors in the cold, he arrived at a friend’s near Oshawa where he spent a month concealed in a haystack until secretively crossing Lake Ontario to the United States. He was later joined by his family.

A new government pardoned most rebels, including Gibson, in 1843 but he remained in the U.S. until 1848 when he returned to his North York property and built another home, this time of bricks, made from clay on his land. This is the home that still stands today, 170 years later. The grandfather clock was reassembled.

The rebels’ goal of democratic government ultimately was achieved.

Gibson died in 1864.

In the 1960s the North York Historical Society saved the house from demolition by a development project.

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on December 27, 2018, on toronto.com.