Lanark County’s historic Perth: ghosts, walking tours and festivals

Jun 22nd, 2018 | By | Category: Adventure

By Katharine Fletcher

“Murder, mayhem, scandal, outrage –  step back into historic Perth’s fascinating past on a 90-minute guided walking tour. Duels, hangings and everyday shenanigans highlight the tour and, if lucky, maybe a ghost or two will make an appearance.”

So writes author and local historian Susan Code. It’s all too rare that history comes alive so you can feel the heartbeat of a village, however, Code weaves a magic spell, transporting us back in time.

Indeed, Perth is full of history. Founded in 1816 after the War of 1812, it was built by design as part of Britain’s attempt to create a military presence in the Ottawa Valley. Code emphasizes Perth was designed as a permanent settlement. This is important, she adds, because “There was no pioneer stage. One in five settlers was military, and many had access to money. There were tradesmen and not as many unskilled people as in other settlements.”

She explains there are many fine stone homes dating from the early 1800s, legacy of the industrious military men who settled here. Built by Scottish and Irish stonemasons, these heritage buildings are a feature of Perth, representing architectural highlights of her tours.

Laughter is another feature of her walks –  as are tales of ghosts like Farmer Hughes, or of Harold who appears in the village’s Bank of Montreal. “Don’t worry,” she adds, “All Perth’s ghosts are friendly.”

And you cannot escape the tale of the last fatal duel in Canada in 1833. The fight was a pitiful affair between law students Robert Lyon and John Wilson. Lyon liked to flirt and unfortunately he chose to do so with a governess named Elizabeth Hughes.

Says Code: “Wilson was passionate about her, and wrote awful romantic poems to her.” Sadly, on June 13, 1833, at 6 am on the banks of the Tay River, the lovelorn Wilson challenged Lyon to a duel, and history notes the sorry tale. Lyon died and was buried in Perth and, although Wilson eventually married Hughes, theirs was not a happy union. In fact, the town turned against him, says Code, and his employer even burned Wilson’s effigy in front of his own home.

To time-travel further, explore the Perth Museum, located in a stone house built in 1840 for prosperous Scottish merchant, Honorable Roderick Matheson. Intriguingly, the front door has no doorknob, accentuating the fact this was a wealthy family home because a servant had to let visitors in.

Also, outdoorsy activities abound. There’s paddling, cycling, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, and  hiking nearby in beautiful Lanark –  all revealed on a brochure (see link below). For instance, kayak or canoe the Tay River or Canal. Because the 10-km long Tay Canal courses through town, paddling from Perth to the Rideau Canal’s Beveridge Locks is a thrilling way to get to know this 200-year-old settlement and immediate watershed.

Finally, Perth is famous too for its cultural vibrancy, where the annual Stewart Festival (music) and  Perth Artist’s Studio Tour (October)  are renowned. But it’s not autumn yet, so step into Riverguild Fine Crafts artists’ co-op to find a selection of local artists works.

It’s no wonder that Perth boasts so many fine artists –  and such civic pride. Only an hour’s drive southwest of Ottawa, I  dare you to head down the road to explore this pretty, historic village – but let’s not plan to duel.

Perth Festivals and Events

Stewart Park Festival, July 13-15

Stewart Park Festival is a must-attend for all lovers of music. Relax along the banks of the Tay River and enjoy a great weekend of over 30 free outdoor concerts. Host to all kinds of talented performers from around the world including soul, jazz, pop, or even Estonian folk, Stewart Park Festival has all your musical interests covered.

For more information visit
www.stewartparkfestival.com

Perth Classic Festival

The Classic Theatre Festival will offer 16 shows a week this summer. On the mainstage will be three professional productions of classic plays from Broadway and the London stage at St. James Anglican church at 54 Beckwith Street East in Perth.

There’s Always Juliet is a re-discovered comic gem about whether love at first sight truly exists, by John van Druten and plays June 22 to July 15.
Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw, is the ultimate family mystery show, a very witty mother-daughter conflict about the source of the family’s wealth. It plays July 20 to Aug. 12.
Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton is also known as Gaslight, and it’s a gripping cat-and-mouse thriller about an unsolved murder that was one of the longest running shows in Broadway during the 1940s. It plays Aug. 17 to Sept. 9, Performances are Tuesday to Sunday at 2pm, Wednesday and Saturday at 8pm.

Perth through the Ages and the Lonely Ghosts Walk, are both historic walking plays that bring to life the rich characters and stories from the town, performed on the beautiful heritage streets of Perth, starting at the Perth Museum on Gore Street East.

The Lonely Ghosts Walk (Thurs. and Fri. at 7 pm from July 5 to Aug, 24) looks at the adjustment of war brides who settled in the area after 1945.

Perth through the Ages (Wed. to Sun. at 11am from June 27 to Aug. 26) is focusing on the stories of Perth during the Second World War, when rumours of an escaped spy set the town on edge. New for 2018 is the Classic Dinner Theatre, at Michael’s Restaurant in Perth. (Tuesdays at 5 pm from June to to Aug. 28) Enjoy G.B. Shaw’s comedy Overruled, a hilarious tale about two very conventional couples facing an unconventional challenge.

For more information visit classictheatre.ca or call 1-877-283-1283.

If you go:

• Perth: perthtourism.ca

• Lanark County Tourism: lanarkcountytourism.com/community/town-of-perth

• Lanark brochure map of outdoorsy things to do: lanarkcountytourism.com/files/2012/04/LC-Outdoors-Map.pdf

• Pre-book your 90-minute walking tours with historian Susan Code by contacting her. She only does tours by advance booking: beautifulperth.com/susancode.html

• Canoeing the Tay: tayriver.org/canoeing.php

• Perth Museum (Matheson House): perth.ca/content/perth-museummatheson-house

• Riverguild Fine Crafts: riverguild.com

• Shopping: perthtourism.ca/shopping.html

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