By Justin Field
No farming gets done on what’s left of Thomas Montgomery’s former property, these days.
What came to be known as Montgomery’s Inn, was built around 1830, by Thomas and Margaret Montgomery, farmers and Irish immigrants. At one point, the Montgomerys owned 400 acres of farmland, between Bloor Street North to Dundas Street West, and from Kipling Avenue in the West to Royal York Road in the East.
Cars whiz by as the old building sits at the corner of Dundas and Islington Avenue. under the gaze of new condominiums, its stone walls a testament to Toronto’s not so distant past.
“In 180 years, it has been a family farm, a tavern, an inn, a family home, a rental farm, a church, and a museum,” the Montgomery’s Inn website explains. “Forty years ago, it was saved from the wrecker’s ball, restored, and opened as a museum.”
Now every Wednesday, the Montgomery’s Inn Indoor Winter Market provides a link to the site’s agricultural past.
With a greeter at the door, the warmth washes over you as soon as you enter the building. To the left there is a newly renovated office, big glass and bright lights, but to the right, there are the old wooden floorboards of the Inn.
Fresh cheese, milk, apple cider, honey, vegetables and more sat on tables, smiling vendors greeted as people walked by, a warm place on a cold day, in more ways than just the temperature.
Fresh bread is baked every Tuesday by volunteers to be sold at the market, all proceeds going back to the Inn through the Montgomery’s INNovators. The objective of this citizen-led volunteer group is to provide, “leadership and support to ensure that Montgomery’s Inn continues to be both an active museum, and a gathering place in the community” Montgomery’s Inn’s website says.
Fresh produce at the Montgomery’s Inn Indoor Winter Market
In the market, arrows guide customers through the museum, giving the feeling of a tour of the site while also visiting vendors. The floorboards creak underfoot, and a dining room is set up to look as it would have when the Montgomery’s lived in the Inn.
Blue light streams through an old hallway, a wooden bench sits on the right hand side, a steep stairway on the left. Rumours have it that Mrs. Montgomery’s ghost likes to hover at the top of it, giving people chills as they pass by.
Running a farmers market out of a museum may seem unorthodox, but historical interpreter and Farmers Market Manager Kate Hill Nicholson thinks that it’s a good way to engage with the Etobicoke community.
“It seems very odd for a museum to have a farmers market, but we are a neighbourhood museum, we’re not going to attract tourists, we’re not going to attract people from Scarborough to travel across town. We really need to do the most we can with the people in our neighbourhood, but a lot of the time with museums you only visit once,” Hill Nicholson said.
The market itself has been running for eight years, and the indoor portion has been running for five, Hill Nicholson said. In those eight years, the museum has become a staple in the local Etobicoke community.
“We wanted to find something that would bring people back, week after week, so that they would build the museum into their everyday life, and it would become a hub in the community, and the farmers market has done that. We have people who come 50 weeks out of the year to the museum, faithfully,” Hill Nicholson said.
Giving both greetings and information on their products, the market vendors provide a doorway to a world not always available in a big city; fresh fruit and vegetables, probiotic goat milk, water buffalo cheese are just a few of the winter anomalies.
Vendors travel from all across the GTA and beyond in order to come to the market every week, maintaining a close relationship with the customers who have become regular faces over time.
“If someone doesn’t show up they’re sending a text message, they’re calling and asking around ‘Have you seen so and so’ because a lot of them are elderly and it’s difficult for them to get out of the house, so some of our vendors will even stop and drop things off for them at their homes,” Hill Nicholson said.
The rich history of the Inn lives on through the community engagement thanks to the vendors and customers alike, and brings a wide range of people from around the community and elsewhere.
The market allows for the agricultural and rural history of Montgomery’s Inn to continue, nearly two centuries since the Inn was established. It opens for the winter season on November 7, and runs until the start of spring, every Wednesday from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m.
You can find any other information about both the museum and the market at http://montgomerysinn.com/.