I’ve been meaning to write this article since last summer, but life gets in the way, and unfortunately, my writing time suffers for it. My sister lives in Perth with her man and this article is dedicated to them. Trevor was kind enough to tell me what I should see and do with the limited time I had in Perth last summer. Keeping his suggestions in mind, my sister offered to drive me around town to show me some of the historic spots I was interested in. Perth is famous for a number of things besides its beauty.
Driving through town, I realized Perth lives up to its name. It really is one of the prettiest towns in Eastern Ontario.
It is also a tiny town. I didn’t realize how small it is until I looked it up, but according to Wikipedia, Perth’s population was at a whopping 5,840 residents back in 2011. That’s slightly more than the number of residents in my husband’s hometown in Algona, Iowa.
So here is a little background history for you: Perth Ontario is located on the Tay River. It’s approximately 83 kilometers southwest of Ottawa, which is the capital city of Canada. (You’d be surprised at how many people I meet who think Toronto is our capital city!)
Perth is the seat of Lanark County and it is known for a number of things, including a rich military history, some phenomenal architecture and parks, and it is home to one of Canada’s most famous Olympian athletes and one of the most famous horses in the world.
Oh, and the world’s biggest cheese.
YUP. It’s true. I have photographic evidence, so keep scrolling if you want to see it and want to know WHY Perth is home to the World’s Largest Cheese.
Lanark County was established in 1815. The Settlement forming on the Rideau River was referred to as the ‘Perth Military Settlement’.
The town of Perth was officially established in 1816 after the War of 1812. A great number of the first settlers in Perth were military veterans, but veterans from France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Scotland were offered land in return for their service.
Many Scottish immigrants were stonemasons, and their work is still standing today in Perth’s buildings and in the locks of the Rideau Canal. I’ve included a section on Perth’s architecture below. The buildings are stunning.
Here is another interesting tidbit of information for you before I begin my photo tour of Perth: Perth was the first town in Ontario to receive a telephone! The town dentist, Dr. J.F. Kennedy, was a friend of Alexander Graham Bell, and he installed a direct telephone connection between his home and his office. By 1887, Perth had 19 telephones.
The switchboard for these telephones was located in Dr. Kennedy’s office.
On with our tour!
Home of Ian Millar and Big Ben
Perth is the home of Ian Millar and Big Ben. Yes, that Ian Millar – the two-time winner of the Show Jumping World Cup and Olympic silver medalist. He also holds the record for the most Olympic appearances and he lives just 30 minutes away from where I grew up in Carleton Place.
As we drove by Millar’s estate and grounds, Millar Brooke Farm, which are marked with seemingly unending white picket fences that identify his property, I watched the undulating gentle green hills go by and pondered over this man’s illustrious career, and the sadness of the death of his beloved Big Ben (1976-1999).
Big Ben is buried in Perth on Millar Brooke Farm and the town erected a life-sized bronze statue of Big Ben and Ian Millar in Stewart Park, which is across from the Code’s Mill building.
Bronze statue of Ian Millar riding Big Ben in Stewart Park.
The Canadian show jumping legend who beat an American rider 47 years younger than Miller in 2014 was 67-years-old at that time and he was riding Dixson at the Spruce Meadows Masters in 2014, a horse that has been said to be about 85% of the way to being a Big Ben. Dixson, was also a great horse. Millar often said that together, they showed no fear, and that Dixson always wanted to win as badly as Millar did.
Millar has never had another horse like Big Ben, who was euthanized in December 1999 at the great age of 23 after developing colic.
The last time Millar won at Spruce Meadows was in 1991 and he was riding Big Ben.
In a National Post article, Millar was quoted as saying,
The minute I put my leg on a horse and say, ‘Come on, let’s go,’ I absolutely believe that the horse and I can do it, and that we will do it… And I am always shocked when we actually don’t do it. If the analytical mind ever overrode that optimist in me, I’d be in some serious trouble.
Now that is how you win. That is determination and optimism. (If you don’t know me, you should know I’ve always been an optimist. My cup is always half full, hopefully with beer, but nevertheless, full.)
Last Duel Park
Last Duel Park is probably the most talked about and notorious story about Perth, but if you go to the park, you’d never even know why it’s there unless you knew the story beforehand.
There is a plaque just outside of Inge-Va House at 66 Craig Street, which is now home to the Perth and District Chamber of Commerce. It states that the last victim of the last fatal duel in Perth fought and died on June 13, 1833. The last pistol duel was between two law students. (Law students! Really?)
John Wilson and Robert Lyon were former friends until they argued about remarks that had been made by Lyon about a local school teacher named Elizabeth Hughes.
Many people believe the last duel in Perth was over a woman, but local author Doug Smith’s short book, The Deadly Duel at Perth: Frontier Justice in Upper Canada 1833, claims that someone was writing anonymous love letters to various women in town.
The author claims that the duel was a result of a prank by another law student named Simon Robertson, who forged Wilson’s name on letters to Elizabeth Hughes and a number of other ladies in town.
Robert Lyon was a military man and was a ‘crack shot’, so the fact that he was killed in this last duel in Perth is more than a little ironic.
Dueling in 1833 was illegal, so both men agreed to step over the Perth town line to avoid being arrested. Lyon lost his life and Wilson was eventually acquitted.
Although John Wilson can lay claim to being the last person to duel in Perth, he is not the last person to duel in Canada. That honour belongs to a British officer named Major Henry Warde and Colonel Robert Sweeney on May 22, 1838 on a newly built horse racing track in a borough of Montreal.
There really isn’t much to see in this park, but the history is pretty cool.
To the left of Last Duel Park as you are driving past it, there is an RV and camping ground. This is a well known spot to while away your summer vacation under the shade of the giant trees with the peaceful sound of the river running by you. The RV park is on the banks of the Tay River, and some of these families stay here all summer to enjoy the beautiful weather.
The downtown core of Perth consists of shops, restaurants, antique stores, flea markets and boutiques. There are many artisans in Perth as well, and it’s easy to find something extra special to take home as a souvenir. Perth’s Farmers’ and Craft Markets are really popular during the summer. Most of these businesses operate out of the century-old stone buildings in town, but there are a lot of outdoor stalls in Perth during the summer as well.
The Links O’Tay Golf course is within walking distance from the downtown core. It is Canada’s oldest operating golf course and it made golf history in 1890.
There are also a lot of churches in town owing to the great number of immigrant families that served in the military.
I am not religious in the slightest bit, but I do enjoy looking at churches and going inside for a gander. I’ve been slightly obsessed with church architecture ever since I read Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth, which is one of my favorite books.
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – Perth, Ontario – 1818
Someone’s home. I love that green hedge fence!
Perth Manor Boutique Hotel, Drummond Street West
This beautiful home was constructed in 1878 by J.T. Henderson, formerly of Belleville, Ontario. It used to serve as a family home and was originally called the Thurreson Place.
It opened as a mercantile house where he sold various dry goods, liquor, and steamer tickets. His daughter, Jessie Mable, took over the house later. Today, it is a one of Perth’s most popular boutique hotels.
The County Registry Office was constructed in 1872.
Fiddleheads Bar and Grill is a popular eatery in town. I wasn’t so impressed with the food. The restaurant is ok, but I found it to be a little pricey for what you get. The interior is gorgeous though. Someone has obviously put a lot of work into restoring this building.
The Tay River splits into two channels while winding its way through Perth. Perth’s Town Hall is situated on the island formed by these two channels. During the summer, the Perth Farmers’ and Craft Markets are always packed on Saturdays and you can shop and walk around the waterfront all day long.
I can’t comment on the craft markets as I wasn’t there on a Saturday, but maybe I’ll see it this summer when I’m home and then I can update this post with a little more information for you.
Craig Street Cemetery
Call me morbid, but I like cemeteries. I was only able to walk around this one for a little while, but we got there at the right time and it was simply gorgeous in the fading sunlight of the day.
Perth is home to Canada’s oldest pioneer burial ground, which is located at St. Paul’s United Church Cemetery. The cemetery is at the southeast end of Last Duel Park.
The Craig Street Cemetery, which is often called the the “Old Burying Grounds” as demonstrated in my first photo below, contains many historic graves. It was used from 1820 to 1873.
We visited the cemetery late in the afternoon, just when the sun is at its dreamiest point in the sky. The sunlit meadow full of old gravestones was beautiful at that time of day. It was so quiet, all you could hear was the whisper of the wind in the trees.
The cemetery is divided up into different areas, with Roman Catholics at one end of the grounds and Presbyterians buried at the other end. The Anglican tombs are in the center of the cemetery. Some of the gravestones were really hard to read, but there is a clear photo in the series below that is for a Bell family member that moved from Ireland to Upper Canada in 1820.
As you can see from the photo directly below, Robert Lyon is buried in this cemetery on the Presbyterian side. By the time I found his tombstone, the shade of the tree he was buried under was casting too much of a shadow over his grave and I wasn’t able to get a decent photo of it.
Lyon was killed just a short distance away in Last Duel Park on June 13, 1833 after his duel with John Wilson.
Perth’s Great War Memorial Hospital
We were really pushing things by the end of our Perth tour. We couldn’t stop to see the grounds properly, but I wasn’t overly bothered by that. I spend enough time at hospitals and I was happy enough to get out, stretch my legs, and get a photo of the plaque for the hospital. I’ve always wondered about the history behind this plaque every time I drive by it on the way to my sister’s place.
It turned out I wasn’t wrong. It’s a great story!
The hospital opened in 1925 and it was built to honour those that served in the war. Over the years, the hospital has grown to serve the growing healthcare needs of the town, but it originally opened with 20 patient beds with new extensions being added in 1939, 1950 and 1982. It’s part of the Perth and Smith Falls District Hospital now.
What’s interesting about this building is that is was built in 1858 as the home of Judge John Glass Malloch and it had been standing empty for almost 50 years.
The people of Perth were extremely practical with their purchase of the building, though. They bought it for a whopping $9,812.45CDN to repurpose it for a town hospital!
The original house has a dedication plaque just inside the front gate that names the men in the area who died in World War One and World War Two.
The Great War Memorial Hospital Foundation was formed in 1982 to assist and improve the facilities of the Great War Memorial Hospital of Perth District. Major J.A. Hope, a Perth barrister in 1921, suggested that a hospital serve as a tribute to its heroes and as a necessary service to the people of the area.
Well, anyone who knows me knows how much I love cheese, even thought I’m not supposed to eat it. A girl can look, though. And this girl marveled at this structure.
Behold! Feast your eyes on the world’s largest cheese in Perth, Ontario.
In 1893, a 22,000 pound brick (barrel? can?) of cheese, known as the ‘Mammoth Cheese’ was made in Perth for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was produced to promote Canadian cheese around the world.
If you want to know why Canadian poutine is so famous, it has a lot to do with cheese, by the way. Real Canadian poutine is all about CHEESE CURDS. It’s not true poutine if it doesn’t have cheese curds mixed in it.
Voilà. Real Canadian poutine less than 10 minutes from my mom and dad’s place in Carleton Place. Unfortunately, the chip truck that serves this poutine blew up, but that is a story for another time.
Another interesting piece of information: Canada’s oldest active town band is from Perth. The Perth Citizens Band has been giving concerts on the band stand behind City Hall for over 150 years. It also played ‘The Maple Leaf Forever’ as the Mammoth Cheese was shipped to the Chicago World Fair in 1893.
(Huge Balderson Cheese fan here, by the way, especially Balderson cheese curds (as seen above). My dad has never been happy about that because if we have them at home, he has to share.)
I’d like to conclude with this selfie photo of my mom and my sister, who took this photo of themselves while I was visiting the ladies room at Fiddeheads.
They probably won’t be impressed that I included it in my post, but that’s what you get when you have a sister that blogs and you’re using her camera while she’s taking a bathroom break.
Thanks for the tour, Shaunzie.
I had a great day with my mom and my sister in Perth, one of the prettiest towns in Ontario.