Hot passion and cold lead

Perth: Ontario: It was a Canadian crime of passion. 

Messy and old fashion.

That’s what the people say.

How memorable is Canada’s last known duel to the death, played out on the banks of the Tay River on the dewy morning of June 13th, 1883? Just ask the proud people of Perth, this charming, and otherwise peace-loving, town south of Ottawa and north of the St. Lawrence River.

Why, they’ve got a Last Duel Park and a Last Duel Cemetery. They drink Last Duel Lager (“Raise pints not pistols”). They have a Last Duel historical marker and Last Duel downtown wall art. Indeed, the actual pistols fired are still on display in the town museum.

Listen, Perth’s Last Duel is celebrated proudly, right along with its Mammoth Cheese (“A slice of history”). 

This was no gunfight at the OK Corral, but rather a tragedy of almost Shakespearean proportions. 

We’re talking rival law students. The love of a good school teacher. And an enthusiastic second to help keep the pot a boil. Yea, an affair of honor in true Victorian fashion.

Imagine if you will John Wilson, aka, the aggrieved party of the first part (law students, remember?) Hopelessly in love with the fair Elizabeth Hughes. Besotted, infatuated, dumbstruck.

How besotted? Wilson was given to writing long, bittersweet poetic odes to the fair Elizabeth.

What can it be that makes me sad?

“I surely can’t be turning mad.

“And yet indeed, ’tis very plain

“I am in love; let me think again.”

Then into Wilson’s subarctic Garden of Eden slinks Robert Lyon (the aggravating party of the second part). 

Lyon, we are given to understand, was “a suave well-heeled young man who liked to flirt” took a fancy to the fetching Liz, and ultimately ended up bad mouthing her.

One can only imagine the bitter verbal fusillade that led to an exchange of, um, lead. Indeed, it would likely have warmed the cockles of the Bard himself.

Lyon: “This woman’s an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and on at pleasure.”

Or words to that effect.

Wilson: “You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe!”

Or words to that effect.

And then there was Henry Le Leivre, Wilson’s buddy and duly appointed second in this affair de honour. He was said to be a “bellicose army veteran,” who, we are told “aggravated” the dispute with fatal consequences. 

Le Leivre (to Lyon): “Thou leathern-jerkin, crystal-button, knot-pated, agatering, puke-stocking, caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish pouch!”

Or words to that effect. 

Oh the humanity! This “sorry affair” could only end one badly…at least for the party of one of the parts.

“Lyon was killed in the second exchange of shots,” we are reliably informed via historical marker, “while Wilson was acquitted on a charge of murder, married Miss Hughes, and became a member of Parliament and a Judge.”

Nonetheless, insists Perth, “theirs was not a happy union.” 

Small wonder. Bloodstains on one’s dress shirt being more indelible than lipstick on one’s collar. 

The people of Perth were undoubtedly shocked (shocked) by all of this. But in true Chamber of Commerce fashion they have resolved to make the most of this “harsh form of male pride, frontier justice and elite bravado.”

Be sure to visit the Last Duel Cemetery to see the engraved marker of Robert Lyon; see Inga-Va _ the house where the couple lived; or go to the Matheson House – home of the Perth Museum where the actual pistols are on display.”

Oh, and did I mention the Last Duel Lager? Pretty tasty that. 

Author: floridavelocipede

A sometime journalist who used to string words together for a living before I retired to run a non-profit cycle touring organization that will henceforth go unnamed, as I have subsequently retired from that career as well. I write a bi-monthly column, theater reviews and an occasional magazine piece for my old newspaper. If I still had a business card it would read: Ron Cunningham: Trained Observer Of The Human Condition. Because like The Donald, you know, ego.

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