Biography of Peter Perry
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One of the pioneer merchants in what is now the County of Ontario, and one of the most prominent and public spirited men that ever lived in this county, was Peter Perry, son of Robert Perry, a United Empire Loyalist, who left the State of New York, and settled near the foot of the Bay of Quinte, County of Lennox and Addington, soon after the Revolutionary War, being a farmer in that part of Upper Canada until his death, about 1840. Peter was born at Ernestown, near Kingston, in 1793, received such an education as the district schools could furnish to farmers’ boys in these early days, and was engaged in agricultural pursuits until 1836. In that year he removed to what is now the Town of Whitby, which was soon called, and is still known by old settlers as “Perry’s Corners.” Here he became a general merchant and produce dealer; the first man who dealt in merchandise of all descriptions, and bought farm products of every kind at this point. He was the best known man in this section of the Province, and very prominent in public matters until his demise, which occurred at Saratoga, N. Y., August, 24, 1851, and was caused by the breaking down of his constitution through over work in public enterprises.
Mr. Perry entered public life in 1828. With Marshall S. Bidwell, as his colleague, he was that year elected to the Parliament of Upper Canada, and remained in the House with Mr. Bidwell until 1836 A large portion of the municipal laws of today, as affecting municipal councils, and assessment and taxation of property, were foreshadowed in several bills introduced by Mr. Perry, some of which became laws and remain incorporated in the municipal statutes of today; and, as since enlarged and improved, they are no doubt equal in excellence to similar laws in any country on the globe. It was during this period that the agitation of the “Clergy Reserves” question was commenced, and Mr. Perry was among the leading men in trying to effect the settlement of that question.
On settling in Whitby, the whole back country being a dense and almost road less forest, Mr. Perry immediately addressed himself to the arduous and praiseworthy task of opening and improving the country through the building of roads and the bridging of streams. About 18 t4, through his influence, a grant of money from the Provincial Government was obtained for the improvement of Whitby harbor, and the construction of a road from that point to Lake Huron, a distance of nearly 100 miles. Something like $120,000 had been expended, and the road completed about twenty miles, when Mr. Perry died and the enterprise stopped. Meantime he commenced the agitation of the question of the separation of Ontario from the old Home District, a project which was consummated in the year of his death, Whitby being selected for the shiretown.
Although strongly pressed to go into public life again as representative from Lennox and Addington, and also for the Riding in which he lived, Mr. Perry declined doing so until 1849, when, upon the appointment of Hon. William Home Blake as Chancellor, he consented to become a candidate for the Third Riding, was elected by acclamation and was a member at the time of his death. Though, during the last two years of his life, he was in feeble health, yet on. account of his energy, public spirit and thorough acquaintance with Canadian politics, he had an influence on the floor, second, probably, to that of no one outside the Government. He was a Reformer.
In the troublous times of 1837-38, though a zealous advocate of the great principles of “Responsible Government,” Mr. Perry did not sympathize with William Lyon Mackenzie in the course he took on that memorable occasion. Soon after the rebellion Mr. Perry, with Sir Francis Hincks, made a long and laborious journey to what is now the State of Iowa, with the object of selecting lands for the purpose of finding another home and starting out in life anew. The report then made by these two gentlemen of that western territory, then an almost unbroken prairie country, was printed and scattered throughout the Province, and was regarded at that time as a very important document. Shortly afterwards the fatuous report of Lord Durham, who had been sent out by the British Government to examine into Canadian affairs, was published, and that report, changed the minds of Messrs. Perry and Hincks, and they decided to remain in Canada.
In private, as well as in public, Mr. Perry lived an eminently useful life, being kind to the poor and a friend to everybody. His generosity was sometimes imposed upon, but he preferred to “err on virtue’s side,” rather than stop to inquire into the actual merits and demerits of every applicant’s claims for aid. He held connection, we believe, with no church, but was a liberal supporter of the Gospel and of benevolent societies. In short, his life was spent for the benefit of his neighbors, his constituents, and his country and he knew not what it was to tire in such noble work.
About 1814 Mr. Perry married Miss Mary Ham, of Lennox and Addington, a daughter of a U. E. Loyalist. She has had eight children, is still living, now in her eighty-fifth year, and sees the fourth generation of daughters, all living. Her own children were two sons and six daughters, four of the latter being dead. The four living are married and have families. Robert Ebenezer, the elder son, is a miller and a general business man, residing at Bracebridge, County of Muskoka, and John Ham, the youngest son, is still living in Whitby, holding the office of Registrar of the county since its formation in 1853. Though a much younger man than many others in. the same office, he is one of the oldest officials in that particular position in the Province, and it is proper to here add that the present registrar law of Ontario, which is as near perfect as any law of the kind of which we have any knowledge, was drafted by Mr. Perry, in 1863, at the request of the Hon. J. Sandfield Macdonald. Mr. Perry was sixteen years in the Municipality of Whitby, holding every office from Councilor and Mayor to Warden of the county, and his usefulness in the community is second only to that of his venerated father.