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1905 Old Home Week - return to table of contents

From The
Perth Courier
June 30, 1905,
Page Three.

PERTH'S EARLY SCHOOLS --
TEACHERS AND FOLK LORE.


Late John Manion -- The Old Cannon -- Warlike
Enthusiasm -- Canal Traffic of Other Days.

(By JOHN W. DOUGLAS, Shellburne, Late Senior Major 42nd Regt.)

You have asked me as one of the "Old Boys" for some reminiscences of the past of Perth, that might be of interest. This is, or might be, a big contract, for in resurrecting the past one is apt to become garrulous, hardly knowing where to begin, much less to end. As a good beginning may portend a happy end, I decide to open on education. Perth's record on this is a noble one, so, mayhap, I cannot do better than disentomb some of the incidents of my school days.

One fact will show I am "no chicken" now. Born on the "Douglas lot" almost opposite the dwelling of the late Hon. Roderick Matheson, on 3rd. March, 1840, I first attended school over Malcolm McPherson's carpenter shop, corner of Drummond and Herriott streets, first corner east of Kellock's drug store. I can see myself even now as "Ma" sent "her John" forth to drink at the fountain of knowledge. Turning Ellis' corner (now Kellock's) I was in deadly fear of Brooke's dog Brisco, but evidently escaped being "gobbled" for I am to the fore yet. The school was kept by a Mr. Scott, a fine man, yet as an evidence of changed times I may mention one incident which occurred at school almost immediately after I entered. I saw a boy "hoisted" on another's back, and when properly in place, and the fundamental part of his pants taut as a well-blown bladder, they were dusted by some of Templeton's harness leather well applied. Needless to say that the pumping done by the urchin's legs did not produce sounds from his lungs quite equal to those of St. Andrew's organ. The Misses Fraser then assumed the mantle of pedagogy, and after them a clinker as regards to discipline, Duncan, afterwards the Rev. Duncan Morrison. He was no joke, and leather rose in price for tawse did their duty relentlessly. His school subsequently was removed to D'Arcy street, where Walker, the tailor's premises, were built later on. His was an ascetic's sway[?], and we suffered in the flesh.

The pence table, spelling and grammar were ground into us indelibly. At times Mr. Morrison was irascible and everyone suffered even upon suspicion. He struck a snag in Duncan Haggart, brother of the Hon. John, for calling him up to get a half a dozen. Duncan said, "I didn't do anything" (with a slow Highland twang). "Hold out your hand," again said the irate Master. Same reply. The next thing we saw was a free fight, for Duncan fought like a tiger, his Highland blood being up. The master's "barn door" unmentionables were all disarranged and torn, and Duncan left never to return for shortly after he died of inflammation, I think, caused by a dip he got in the river. Until he died, from the largest to the smallest boy in the street, he was worshipped as a hero.

Then followed one whom Goldsmith limned out in the "Deserted Village," William Somerville.

"A man severe he was and stern to view,
I knew him well and every truant knew."
Yet withal he had a manly way that "caught" the boys, for much as we disliked his predecessor, we respected him. He was a splendid mathematician and grammarian, as well as geographer, and having the gift of imparting knowledge we "could lick" the high school boys in any of these lines. the high school was taught by John McIntyre, in the west end room of the old school in rear of where the public school now stands, and I soon graduated into it, and had ground into me -- not yet forgotten -- Latin grammar, etc.

One incident of my school days had far-reaching results. During the time we attended school with Mr. Somerville, we used to play shinny in the street, and thereby hangs a tale, for one day we broke a pane of glass in the store of the late Murdoch McDonnell. He was like Duncan Morrison an ascetic, and being a trustee we were soon confined to the present school grounds at the common school, and it was penitentiary for us. I swore, and so did the late Mr. F.A. Hall, barrister, that if ever we grew big we would go in for big school grounds.

And the day came, and we fought the good fight, and if you have a Collegiate Institute in Perth to-day lay it to the penalty we paid, i.e., the boys generally in the old school grounds. There was a most determined opposition to the purchase of so much ground, and the expenditure of so much money, yet, I take pride in saying it, progress triumphed.

My school days, and a few years just previous were full of episodes of entrancing interest to "Old Boys" old enough to remember them. In the after part of the thirties the fatal duel between John Wilson and Robert Lyon, law students, took place on the old McLaren farm at the east end of the town. But for one of the seconds, a Mr. Lelivre, it would have ended harmlessly, for he insisted upon a second shot, which resulted in poor Lyon dropping dead shot through the heart. I don't doubt but that Sheriff Thompson can point out the very spot where the duel took place. My father met the duelling party just opposite the old Hugh Ryan property. No blame was attached to Mr. Wilson, indeed he was rather looked upon as a man of mettle and a hero. Which fact is evidenced by the result of the trial at Brockville shortly after. "Not guilty" was the verdict with which public feeling was wholly in accord. A tinge of romance was shed over the grave of Robert Lyon, and many a love-lorn lass and swain have made pilgrimages to the old cemetery to shed a sympathetic tear over the grave of one who was a knight true to death to his lady love.

It may not be generally know that there were really about a dozen duels fought in or near Perth, all of which resulted harmlessly, save that of poor Lyon. But that some near relatives of parties implicated are yet living, I might relate some incidents that were common talk when I was a lad.

The settlement being a military one a bellicose spirit permeated all classes which fanned into flame on small provocation.

What "Old Boy" will ever forget the fall and spring fairs of these "good old days." It always seemed to rain on or just previous to the day. The roads were horrible and farmers at any distance had to start the day previous with any cattle and horses they had to sell. As a consequence, lanes and even the main streets were clogged with hundreds of vehicles. Meeting each other, old soldiers fought their battles o'er again, whiskey flew, and many an old grudge eventuated in free fights which everyone viewed as a matter of course. One of these I particularly remember. It began just opposite Matheson & Balderson's law office, and soon a dozen were in it, with a crowd of between five hundred and a thousand people excited and yelling, many anxious to take a hand in. Soon Sheriff Dickson appeared on the scene, and being a very powerful man, he worked his way in and grabbing the two chief belligerents, he "yanked" them off to the"jug," but not without getting many a dig and sly kick from sympathizers of those taken to limbo.

During my school days the murderer Barry was hanged from the second story of the court house, in the presence of thousands. The crowd jeered at the hangman who gave them their own, for he yelled back at them that "he'd hang them all for a shilling a dozen."

Then what conservative "Old Boy" and reformer for that matter will ever forget the memorable election at which Malcolm Cameron, the "bare-footed boy," later known as "The Coon," was beaten. The triumphal procession afterwards was miles long, and with whiskey at about an old country shilling a gallon ther was lashing of it and voters almost swam in the "crathur." It was a momentous election for South Lanark which has ever since been a dyed-in-the-wool conservative constituency.

The Late John Manion.

You asked me for some fact on the late John Manion. He was a man, every inch of him, and as loyal a British subject as ever lived. His father was a sergeant in the 49th Foot and fought at Lundy's Lane, and at Chrysler's Farm. John had a memory like a log book, and related to me some of the incidents that he remembered. His mother was with the regiment, which with arms and military supplies was sent in bateaux down Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence, opportunely arriving to take a hand in the fight at Lundy's Lane. The women of the regiment remained in the boats while the fight took place, and had a narrow escape as one of the boats was cut free by a cannon shot. He said that hearing the firing he crawled up to the brow of the hill to take a look, when a British officer happening along threatened to cut off his head if he did not clear out.

For many years, "John" was captain of the battery which fired the royal salutes on the birthday of our late Queen Victoria, of blessed memory.

As urchins we looked upon him as a great man, and in maturer years always regarded him with great respect.

Cannon 150 Years Old.

Regarding the old cannon in front of the court house they have a most interesting, romantic and unique history. This I cull in the main from Belden's Atlas, which, by the by, is a perfect mine of information of the early history of the County of Lanark.

The cannon was manufactured in Belgium about the year 1750, and were soon captured by the French, and later on were recaptured by the then Duke of York from the French in Flanders. They were part of the outfit of the army sent out to the rebellious "thirteen colonies" and were used throughout the revolutionary war till captured by the Americans when Gen. Burgoyne surrendered to them at Saratoga. They were then used by the Americans and subsequently in the war of 1812-15, being part of the outfit of the American forces at Chrysler's Farm were captured, my grandfather, the late John Cox, a sergeant in the 18th Light Dragoons, I am proud to say, having a hand in that glorious victory.

After peace was declared they were presented to the Town of Perth by the military authorities and have ever since been used as mentioned.

When the Boys were Ready.

Military enthusiasm was roused into action in 1862, by that portentous event, the "Mason & Slidell" affair. War was looked upon as certain, and but for the queen would have followed. Drill sergeants were sent out from the old country, and almost every able-bodied man in the town turned out to drill. Two of the home guard, Sheriff Thompson and James Allan, are yet to the fore to testify to the intense interest with which everyone drilled. Sergeant Cox, who was our instructor, is yet alive in Toronto and put us through the goose-step and squad drill most assiduously, and in due course we had the only arms then available, Queen Bess muskets weighing about fifteen pounds in our hands, to drill with. These were the relics of the Windmill, having been used there. Anent this item some of the boys out with us in '66 can testify that bullets were picked up by some members of the Perth Rifles at the Windmill. And further since I came here I met an old lady, named Reaburn, who well know Capt. McCrum, of the Gananoque company, who was "out" in '66, and who being in Ogdensburg in '37 actually saw the Yankee forces start. She is yet alive in Owen Sound, and a reporter with a ready pen could extract a mine of interesting history from her lips, for besides seeing what I have mentioned she was in Toronto when William McKenzie's patriots paraded the streets.

Traffic on Old Tay Canal.

You can reach Montreal now in three or four hours. It took a whole day when I was young for the "Royal Mail" to get to Brockville, and sometimes two or three from there to Montreal. And lucky indeed were you if the leather and springs of the stage did not collapse and spill you on the road. When the "Royal Mail" arrived, the coachman, swelling with importance, as he sailed up the street, blew his horn and everyone wa at the door to see it lumber up the street and haul up at Glascott's Hotel.

Then what a stir the arrival of the British Queen, and other giant craft which then navigated the Tay canal, caused. Merchants then got their goods twice a year. The voyages to and fro were not exactly on a par with those of the old canal man in the States. In a blow the boat began to rock a little, and an old lady tremblingly enquired of the tar: "Oh, sir, is there any fear?" "Oh, yes, mum," gruffly said Jack, "plenty of fear, but no danger." The boats often struck a snag and went to the bottom, and besides the loss of goods entailed, they blocked navigation, so that goods were often delayed months. No sooner were the boats safe in port, however, in that land-locked harbour, that we knew as the "Basin," than Perth's streets were alive with carts, trucks, and teams of one kind and another unloading the craft. It was amazing the amount of stuff they would disgorge. The sailors had a fat time, if inclined to "take a horn," as most of them were, for every boat had large consignments of the very best liquors. A gimblet hole on top and another at the end of a barrel, and the supply was inexhaustible. Then we urchins had a good time, for sugar always came in puncheons, in which were auger holes, and with us a discarded candle mould did the business, and our fingers and knives yielded a bounteous supply of "gum," in the shape of pitch from the sides of the craft.

"The good old days," "All days when old are good," says Byron, but these were good old days, and if so minded, Sheriff Thompson could fill your whole supplement with items of far greater interest than the few I have jotted down.

1905
Reunion
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