The first thing that struck Pernia Jamshed as she sifted through Heritage Mississauga materials for the hydro box treatment she undertook to honour William Lyon Mackenzie, was how drab everything looked.
“The colours, the black and white photos, were very dull,” the 19-year-old Cooksville artist said just before her work was unveiled at the southwest corner of Creditview Road and Eglinton Avenue on Oct. 14.
“I wanted more of a colour focus. I wanted to make him the focus — he’s the central medallion to show his importance.”
The old images are indeed, sedate and muted. But there’s arguably no more colourful, cinematic — dare we say, electric — character in our political history than William Lyon Mackenzie.
He’s most famous for a three-day chase across Mississauga in December 1837, pursued by “300 of the hottest Orangemen,” as local citizens sheltered the fugitive. He miraculously avoided capture, fleeing to the U.S.
We know “The Worthy Settler” Abasalom Wilcox hosted him one night in his Dundas Street home. The next afternoon, Mackenzie made his way past the spot where the refreshed hydro box now commemorates him to cross the Credit River near Barbertown Road, staying at William Comfort’s Inn.
Knowing the inn was watched, Comfort took a wagon north on Mississauga Road the next day while Mackenzie and a young Irishman (“The Emeralder”) went south.
Comfort was followed and thrown in jail and his pregnant wife, who had cold water thrown on her after she “threw a fit” when ruffians threatened her children, died soon after.
Mackenzie may have hidden in Warren Clarkson’s barn the third night, says Heritage Mississauga’s Matthew Wilkinson.
He spoke from its headquarters in the Grange, built for John Beverley Robinson, the first chief justice of Upper Canada.
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It was Robinson who banished several rebels and sentenced two to hang.
“The chase sequence makes a good backstory but it obscures what Mackenzie stood for,” says Wilkinson.
This area, especially Streetsville, was an epicentre of political factionalism.
While the Erindale Village elite had Family Compact connections, and Streetsville hosted one of the original Orange lodges which still stands, Reform was the consistent popular choice.
In a celebrated incident, the Town Line Blazers (a group of rough Irishmen living along Winston Churchill Boulevard) rousted Mackenzie and his supporters from Mother Hyde’s hotel in Streetsville, eating up their banquet spoils.
Mackenzie’s Reformers, however, held widespread support. Although regularly ejected from the Legislature, he represented this constituency seven times, once beating Timothy Street in a byelection 119-1.
“Streetsville has a long history as a polling station and political centre that traditionally voted Reform,” says Wilkinson.
Mackenzie supported a secret ballot, wanted clergy reserves broken up for housing and urged fair access to public office.
There’s a local account of Sheriff Frederick Starr Jarvis standing with a gun at an “open vote,” announcing that anyone voting Reform would be jailed.
Wilkinson is delighted with Mississauga Art Council’s transformation of drab utility boxes into bright historical touchstones.
“Anything that lets us connect to the place — and the story of the place — is a wonderful thing.”
John Stewart is a retired longtime journalist with the Mississauga News. His column, My Back Pages, appears each week.