Lanark County’s Historic Perth: ghosts, walking tours... and shops

With Katharine and Eric 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 on her brochure, “Guided Walks of Perth.”

It’s all too rare that history comes alive so you can feel the heartbeat of a village. But Ms. Code weaves her magic spell with bubbling enthusiasm.

For 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 makes the point to emphasize that Perth, unlike many towns dotting our region, was intended 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.

So it is, she notes, that there are many fine stone homes dating from the early 1800s, the legacy of the industrious military men who came to settle here. Built by Scottish and Irish stonemasons, they are a feature of Perth and are architectural highlights of Ms Code’s tours.

Laughter is another feature of this author’s tours -- 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, also held here in 1833. The fight was a pitiful affair between law students Robert Lyon and John Wilson. Robert liked to flirt and unfortunately he chose to do so with a governess named Elizabeth Hughes.

“Wilson was passionate about her, and wrote awful romantic poems to her,” says Code. Sadly, on June 13, 1833, at 6:00 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: his employer even burned Wilson’s effigy in front of his own home.

As Code spins the tales of Perth, the village comes alive and time slips away.

And that’s a good thing: in our hectic daily lives, it’s good to pause a while and take in the sights and sounds of a village like this.

To step back even further in time, enter the Perth Museum which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It is located in the heart of the village, in a stone house built in 1840 for prosperous Scottish merchant, the Honorable Roderick Matheson. The very first point of interest is the front door, which has no doorknob. It accentuates the fact this was a wealthy family home, for a servant had to let visitors in.

Step inside to view four period rooms. The 1840s kitchen, with its generous fireplace, proves to be most people’s favourite. Its bright, open space makes you feel that someone will soon bustle in, tut-tutting that the fire has somehow been allowed to go out.

Behind the kitchen don’t miss the back room where you’ll find the special exhibitions (see sidebar).

Perhaps most fittingly, considering its military start in life, Perth is where you will also discover the Hall of Remembrance, housed in the Royal Canadian Legion. Opened on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1993, it honours “the memory of all men and women who made the supreme sacrifice, in the defence of freedom.”

This Hall of Memory is packed with fascinating memorabilia. Donations of photographs, uniforms, model aircraft, posters... you name it... now number over 18,000 from a total of 653 donors.

A most intriguing exhibit was an eight foot replica of the tunnel painstakingly dug by officers at Stalag Luft III POW camp in Sagan, Germany in 1943. The Hollywood movie called The Great Escape, starring Steve McQueen, immortalized the story of the 75 officers who escaped via this 350 foot-long tunnel.

This astonishing collection of extremely colourful, obviously well-loved memorabilia is well-worth viewing. Thoughtfully arranged, the walls are packed with fascinating photographs, many taken by journalists who were documenting the wars as they raged. Some of the most gripping are close-ups of youths in uniform, depicting the run of emotions from despair and shock through to courage, joy and hope.

But Perth is hardly all history, ghosts and memories. No, there’s a great deal more to this vital shopping and artisan’s haven.

If you like nothing better than a bargain, then don’t miss the factory outlets, which include the Heritage Silversmiths’ Gift Shoppe and Factory Outlet. Here you can find flatware through to gifts for babies and brides. Or, shop for Canadian-made ladies clothing at Leigh Morgan Fashions. Another popular spot is the The Mill Store Clothing & Yarn Outlet where you can purchase sportwear, knitwear, outerwear, swimwear and other family clothing at up to 40% off the retail cost. If it’s a pair of shoes you’re looking for, find popular brands like Buster Brown and Naturalizer at Brown Shoe Factory Outlet.

Finally, don’t miss seeing local artisan’s work. In fact, Lanark county is home to many artists and craftspeople, being the home of the popular Perth Artist’s Studio Tour held every October. But it’s not autumn yet, so step into Riverguild Fine Crafts to find a selection of local artists works. Here you’ll find the inspiring quilts of Bridget O’Flaherty, a Perth area resident whose business card alone looks as if it should be a collector’s item!

It’s no wonder that Perth boasts so many fine artists -- and such civic pride. Only an hour’s drive southwest of Ottawa, we dare you to head down the road to explore this pretty, historic village.


Getting there:

Perth, situated in Lanark County, is a one hour drive southwest of Ottawa, on highway 7.

Get a comprehensive tourism pamphlet from the Perth Chamber of Commerce, 34 Herriot St., Perth, ON K7H 1T2 (613) 267-3200.

Lanark County is in Ontario East. Get a great roadmap of this region by calling 1-800-567-3278.

When you go

Susan Code’s 90 minute walking tours are $5 per person, $15 per family with children under 16. For more information contact her at (613) 267-2595 (E-mail: Her book, A Matter of Honour: And Other Tales of Early Perth, is a great read. (ISBN 1-896182-27-5; $18.95, General Store Publishing House).

Perth Museum (Matheson House), 11 Gore St. E., Perth, K7H 1H9 (613) 267-1947, Susan McNichol, Curator. Entry by donation. From March 1-April 9 enjoy “Grandma’s Attic” featuring treasures from the museum’s collection. April 15-May 14 is the Annual Art Show and Sale where you can find local artisan’s works.

Hall of Remembrance, Royal Canadian Legion, Branch No. 244, 26 Beckwith St. East, Perth, K7H 3E4, (613) 267-4400. Mon-Sat., 11:00-4:00. Free.

Riverguild Fine Crafts. 51 Gore St. E., (613) 267-5237.

Bridget O’Flaherty, quilt artist. Check out her website at

Final Tip: Visit the Festival of the Maples on Saturday April 29 from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. This celebration of the maple season, includes maple producers exhibits, petting zoo, craft displays, 4-H displays, entertainment and horse drawn trolley rides. Call Perth Chamber of Commerce (613) 267-3000 for times.

Bed and Breakfasts: contact the Chamber for a B&B listing.

Don’t want to drive? Contact Rocks and Trees, a company that drives individuals or groups in comfortable vans on tours of our National Capital Region. For information, contact them at P.O. Box 13, Pakenham, Ontario, K0A 2X0; Tel: 613-624-5752; Fax: 613-624-5750; E-mail:; Internet: