Rebellion, insurrection, intrigue part of historic past of Burlington home


Published November 7, 2023 at 12:11 pm

museum Burlington historic home Ireland
Ireland House and Museum in Burlington

To most, Ireland House in Burlington is a welcoming museum that allows visitors to take a step back in time.

But while the gentle setting on Guelph Line paints a picture of pleasant days gone by, there was a point where its founder had to take up arms to protect his home and family.

Construction on what was to become Joseph Ireland’s home at Oakridge Farm began after the English immigrant purchased the land and after a lengthy building period, was completed in 1837. The use of fieldstone covered with a limestone-based mortar has helped preserve the integrity and appearance of the structure.

But around the same time as the home’s completion, insurrection was on the minds of some in what was then Upper Canada.

Upset with the political ruling class of the day the Reformers, led by former Toronto mayor William Lyon Mackenzie, planned to overthrow the existing political establishment through rebellion.

Much of the support for Mackenzie’s cause came from rural parts of the province and that’s when Joseph Ireland took notice.

It was known that some of Ireland’s neighbours were reform-minded and he received reports that his house and farm would fall into rebel hands if the coup was successful. Ireland needed to take action.

While the rebellion was put down in Toronto, Mackenzie fled to the United States where he sought American support for his cause. It is suspected that Mackenzie sought refuge with many of the same neighbours that Ireland feared.

With insurrection still in the air, Ireland joined with 100 volunteers who travelled to the Niagara area to stop the rebels from continuing the fight from their base at Navy Island.

“They (Ireland and his group) made the journey by sleighs provided by local patriots and most were away from their homes for the entire period of the rebellion,” according to documented research by the Flamborough Archives and Heritage Society.

With rebels out of the way, Ireland returned to life on his farm but he was no less active.

He served on the building committee of St. John’s Church and became involved in local politics, ultimately serving on the municipal council of Nelson Township and working as a justice of the peace.

When Nelson died in 1869 the home continued to be occupied by his descendants until 1985.

In 1987 the City of Burlington purchased the home and turned it into a museum that interprets three distinct periods and showcases a collection of furniture and items that are largely original.

As an ongoing operating museum, Ireland House now offers educational programming and facility rentals, but for that brief period in 1837, it was the base where one family decided to take a stand and protect its land.


(Joseph Ireland)


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