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Town of Perth

Town of Perth

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Perth is a thriving community with all the modern conveniences wonderfully blended with the charm of an "Old Ontario" town. It is accessible by boat from the Rideau by locking through the Beveridges locks into the Tay Canal which will lead you to downtown Perth (larger boats can tie up at Last Duel Park). It is easily accessible by road from both Kingston and Ottawa.

There are many things to see and do in Perth. Matheson House, built in the 1840s is now home to the Perth Museum. The Round Garden is a popular spot with visitors. It is designed for the blind, the elderly and the handicapped with waist high plant boxes and visitors are encouraged to touch and smell. Just south of Perth is the Perth Wildlife Preserve, a haven for waterfowl.

The site of the last fatal duel in Upper Canada is now home to Last Duel Park, located on the banks of the Tay. There is a launch ramp here as well as docking facilities. An interesting looking stone house is Inge-Va, built in 1824.

And, of course, no visit to Perth would be complete without taking a moment to view the full scale replica of the Mammoth Cheese, located near the former site of Perth's old train station. It is a replica of a 22,000 pound cheddar made in Perth for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.

There are lots of events held in or near Perth. The spring kicks off with a Festival of Maples, celebrating the region's sweet maple syrup. The Stewart Park Festival is held annually near the end of July. It hosts more than 30 live concerts with music ranging from country, to folk, to jazz. Garlic lovers will not want to miss the annual Perth Garlic Festival, held in early August. The end of August heralds Perth's Fall Fair, with everything one would expect from a classic Ontario agricultural fair.


Perth was originally laid out in 1816 as a military settlement in 1816 and to act as an administrative centre for settlers in the region. It was settled to a large degree by pensioned, half-pay officers and soldiers. The idea was that when the need arose, Perth could be called upon to quickly raise a well trained militia. A by-product of the military heritage is that in its early days Perth was described as being "very, very snooty" with the class system rigidly enforced.

Perth was laid out on the banks of the Pike River, renamed Tay after the river of the same name that flows beside Perth, Scotland. The name of the community was originally Perth-on-Tay, shortened to Perth in 1820. In 1823 it was named the administrative centre of the Bathurst District. In 1850 it became the county town of Lanark County.

The last fatal duel in Upper Canada was held in Perth on June 13, 1833 between two law students, Robert Lyon and John Wilson. Wilson alleged that Lyon had made a slight about the character of Elizabeth Hughes, a girl Wilson was sweet on. The duel appears to have been encouraged by James Boulton, the lawyer who John Wilson was studying under. The other student, Robert Lyon was studying under lawyer Thomas Radenhurst. Boulton and Radenhurst had been at odds for years, including threats to duel each other. Lyon ended up on the losing end of the exchange with Wilson shooting him dead. The tide of public opinion turned against James Boulton who was forced to leave Perth later that year. John Wilson ended up marrying Elizabeth Hughes. (read the full story in the Tales of the Rideau section)

During the construction of the Rideau Canal, business interests in Perth advocated for a canal link from Perth to the Rideau. There was no interest from government so private funds were raised for the construction. Four small wooden locks, designed by Perth resident John Jackson, were originally proposed. Two were built at Barbadoes (present day Port Elmsley) before the money ran out in 1831. After additional financing was received, the rest of the system was completed between 1832 and 1834. In the end, five wooden locks, six overflow dams, a turning basin in the centre of Perth, and several hundred yards (metres) of embankments provided a 3.5 foot (1.1 m) navigation depth from Perth to Port Elmsley, near the mouth of the Tay.

The canal was not much of a success for vessel navigation, but large amounts of squared timber were barged down the Tay, on their way to market in Montreal. Tolls on the Tay were not enough to keep up the maintenance and the canal was allowed to deteriorate. In 1865 several of the locks were destroyed by logs, and the canal was shut down.

With navigation between Perth and the Rideau shut down, the residents petitioned the local member of Parliament, John G. Haggart. Haggart was a long time member of Parliament for South Lanark, and would eventually become the Minister of Railways and Canals from 1892 to 1896. He also had some family history with canals, his father worked as a stonemason during the building of the first Welland Canal and he was the contractor who built the lock and weir at Chaffeys Lock on the Rideau Canal.

Presumably Haggart had some influence in launching an investigation of Tay Canal improvements in 1881. The existing canal works had been taken over from the Tay Navigation Company by the Federal government, allowing the government to do whatever work it wanted in making improvements. Two routes were proposed, one following the existing route of the Tay, and a second involving a canal cut through a swampy section to Beveridge Bay.

Despite lobbying by the residents of Port Elmsley, the route that would take the canal from Perth to Beveridge Bay was chosen. In 1885 construction on the new canal, sometimes known as "the second Tay Canal" was started. The locks were built to the same design and specifications as the Rideau locks. They were completed in 1887. Final excavation of the canal to the required navigation depth and the basin in Perth were not completed until 1891. For a time, the canal from the Beveridges Locks to Perth became known as "Haggart's Ditch".

Perhaps because of Perth's military heritage, it did not see a great deal of industrial development. Many of the industries that did set up shop did so on the outskirts of town, preserving the heritage character of the downtown core. Perth was getting a bit run down by the mid-1960s when a push began to revitalize the town and restore its distinctive heritage. These efforts continued through the 1970s and 1980s, restoring much of Perth's original charm.

In 1830, Perth's population was about 350. By the turn of the century it had grown to 3,500 and today it stands at about 5,900.

You might be also be interested in the Heritage Walking Tour of Perth

For more information about Perth, follow the Perth links on the Links Page.

You will also pass through Perth on the Ecology Tour Central and the Heritage Tour Central driving tours.

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Comments: send me email: Ken Watson

©1996- Ken W. Watson