Smiths Falls History & Mystery: Death of a carpenter

John Perrin Headstone
Photo credit: Ted Outerbridge
Posted on: September 21, 2022

John Perrin was a member of the team of carpenters who built the Keyhole House in Smiths Falls in 1892. During its construction, he left his signature on the back of a door frame in a second-floor bedroom. The following year, John married Annie Weekes. Tragically, seven months later at the age of twenty-seven, John was dead. He is buried at Hillcrest Cemetery, along with his parents and siblings. 

In Canada during the 1890s, the average life expectancy was 50. Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death among adults, followed by Typhoid from contaminated water. Forty percent of deaths were infants under the age of one. John’s obituary made the front page of the December 21, 1893 edition of The Rideau Record. It read:

“After a long and painful illness Mr. John L. Perrin succumbed to the call of death on Wednesday morning. The deceased young man was a zealous worker in the Methodist Church and had always taken a deep interest in the Y. M. C. A. He was only twenty-seven years of age and a young wife is left to mourn the loss. The funeral took place this morning at 10 30 o’clock to the public cemetery.”

We know that John Leslie Perrin was born on November 5, 1866, in Montague, Ontario and died on December 20, 1893. The 1871 Census tells us that his parents were Wesleyan Methodists. His father, Thomas Perrin (1836-1920) was an Irish farmer who lived to be 84. His mother, Sarah (1837-1923) was Scottish and lived until the age of 85.

We also know that John was the fourth of seven children. He was the younger brother to William Humphrey Perrin (1859-1920), Barbara J. Perrin (1860-1884), and Elizabeth (Perrin) Lee (1862-1916), and elder brother to Emma (Perrin) Thompson (1872-1928), Isabella (Perrin) Lumsden (1874-1958), and Laura Marie (Perrin) Wood (1878-1964).

John was building the Keyhole House for architect George Thomas Martin. Martin also happened to be the architect for the 1895 addition to Trinity Methodist Church where John was active. John’s obituary in The Rideau Record mentions that he was also active in the YMCA. On January 5, 1888, The Rideau Record reported that a meeting was held at the Baptist chapel to form a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). By March, regular meetings were being held in the town hall. The YMCA was vital to the growth of the Canadian Pacific Railway by supporting railway workers in the late 1800s. Railway YMCAs would later become more extensive along the Canadian National Railway. Railway YMCAs were built along developing rail lines, providing recreation, literacy programs, reading rooms, and accommodation to railway workers who were otherwise limited to visiting saloons during their leisure hours. Several YMCAs today can trace their roots back to a railway.

John’s widow, Annie Maria Weekes (1868-1955) was born to Edward and Mary Jane Weeks in Lombardy, Ontario. Four years after the heartbreak of losing her husband in 1893, she restarted her life and married Clarence H. Hawkes on November 3, 1897. They had five children together. Clarence was an implement agent and died at the age of 52 from an injury. At the time of the 1921 Census, Annie Hawkes was a 50-year-old widow living at 37 McGill Street North in Smiths Falls with her five children and two lodgers. Annie died in 1955 at the age of 87 and she is buried at Hillcrest Cemetery just a few steps away from her first love, John Perrin.

Ted & Marion Outerbridge are currently restoring a Smiths Falls heritage home built in 1893. They are also being swept away by local history & mystery. You can follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @thekeyholehouse or email ted@tedouterbridge.com.

Column by Ted Outerbridge

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