By Sally Smith
A dark shadow is once again plaguing the green grounds of Last Duel Park in Perth. James Laverdure, 45, of Lanark County, was killed in the early morning hours of Aug. 7 in the campground, the same place where, back in 1833, friends Robert Lyon and John Wilson squared off over the honour of schoolteacher Elizabeth Hughes.
The park stretches along the banks of the Tay River, accommodates 47 serviced campsites as well as unserviced tent sites, is available from May to October, and has picnic areas and public docks. But the tragic events of last month have brought the future of the park to the fore in Mayor John Fenik’s mind.
The campground, he says, has been on his mind for some time, long before the homicide. This month he will ask Perth town council to take a “good, hard look” at the 27-acre campground with the premise that maybe the town shouldn’t be in the campground business. He said, even six months ago, “[Council] was talking about re-evaluating it, especially since it takes a lot of staff time.”
He commented that a sleep cabin was built in the park in August and maybe the park could be repurposed, possibly equipped with oTENTiks like those used at Upper Beveridges Lock, while still keeping it “green, a park, a space for the people.”
Some campers at the campground might agree, others might not. While it’s a lovely place to camp — beautiful sunsets, short walk to the town of Perth, peaceful days — you never know who your neighbours will be.
One longtime seasonal resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said “emotions were running crazy” in the park. She said the longtime park residents had previously questioned the management of the park. “This is a gem of a park and [the town is] not managing it properly — and now this happens!”
She says those who use the campground most are seasonal campers, some have been camping at the park for 20 to 30 years. She adds, “They’re very loyal to each other.”
A seasonal site from May to October costs about $1,800, but the day-use sites can be had on the spot with an online booking. Some people even come and tent without booking, “a squatter type of thing,” as she describes it.
She says that the day after the murder, “all the tents were gone. [The town] actually cut the grass around the site completely changing the visual of it.”
Shannon Baillon, director of community services in Perth, confirms it’s easy enough to get into the park. All you have to do is access the park’s registration system, book a spot, state how long you want to stay, and pay. Or, you can go to the campground and book your site on the spot. “It’s a pretty common practice. Most campgrounds operate this way. So do provincial parks,” she says. Information requested is just a name, phone number, email, and address.
It’s hard to tell from this small snippet of information who will be sleeping in the next site. Campers are asked to abide by the rules and regulations of the campground but even so, sometimes things get out of hand.
Baillon says, “It’s unusual to kick anyone out, or prevent anyone from booking,” but she adds, that in the past some people have been banned for occurrences. “Generally, lack of payment…or if they have not followed the rules and regulations of the park in a previous year,” she explains.
And although this is the first homicide in more than 10 years in the town, Baillon says, as far as she knows, “it’s the first one in the park since the infamous one.”
At the time of press, the murder was still being investigated by Lanark County OPP.
Photo (main image) by Sally Smith: Last Duel Park sign.