Perth’s Millionaire Bachelor – Who Inherited His Fortune?

The story of John McLaren, Perth, Ontario’s whiskey baron, and eligible bachelor millionaire, is one of the town’s most intriguing tales. Inventor of the ‘Mickey’, McLaren amassed a fortune during his lifetime, and when he died, unmarried and childless, there was a great deal of interest in who would inherit his money.

Read about the McLaren fortune, the scandalous court case, and the people who tried to claim a share of his millions. The story, “Perth’s Millionaire Bachelor” is one of a collection of short stories in the new book, “Lanark County Comfort”:

Who would inherit his millions?

Minnie, his special girl?

His half-sister Barbara?

His half-brother Hugh?

His half-sister Eliza?

His business manager, Frank?

His nephew, Jack?

His niece, Janet?


McLaren Will case

John McLaren – Inventor of the Mickey

First to manufacture ‘the Mickey’ – liquor in a 12 ounce bottle, Perth native John McLaren made his fortune distilling alcohol.

A Mickey is actually one of a series of uniquely Canadian alcohol measurements. “Two four” (a case of 24 beers), “twenty-sixer” (a 750 ml bottle of  liquor) and “forty-pounder” (a 1.14 liter bottle of liquor) are all virtually unknown outside of Canada.

The very first ‘Mickey‘ was John McLaren’s  “Old Perth Malt Whiskey”, a bottle could be had for .80 cents, and was hailed as being “equal to the best ever brewed in Scotland”. Most whiskies in those days were aged very briefly, usually four days or less, and McLaren aged his for a full month before it was distributed to the local bars and liquor stores around Lanark County.

“McLaren’s Whiskey – Aged for a full month!”

McLaren's mickey

“.90 cents for a mickey,  –  .80 cents if you bring your bottle back for a refill…”

Robert McLaren, an enterprising young man from Scotland, founded the McLaren Distillery in Perth, in 1841, on a section of land known today as Stewart Park. He died before his son John, came of age, and the business was placed in a trust with Robert’s wife, John’s step-mother. John took over the distillery around 1866 when he was in his mid-thirties.

j-a-mclaren-distillery

Some say it was the combination of the clear waters of the Tay River and the secrets learned from the Scots that led John to become the local ‘Whiskey King’ or ‘Baron of Booze’.

Henry Kehoe sitting in front of Spalding and Stewart

photo: Henry Kehoe sitting in front of Spalding and Stewart Distillery in Perth.


McLaren John photo

McLaren distillery.jpg

McLaren's whiskey bottles

“McLaren’s whiskey, produced with water from the Tay River in Perth, cures flat feet and the common cold!”

A favourite among whiskey judges, Old Perth Malt Whiskey enjoyed a unique reputation and even some doctors of the time regarded it as “non-injurious”. It became a household staple, said to cure everything from flat feet to the common cold. The popularity of McLaren’s whiskey grew in leaps and bounds, and in its heyday was sold from coast to coast, all across Canada.

McLaren whiskey bottles 1

photo:  from Perth Remembered

McLaren whiskey ad

John laboured day and night, expanding his operations, and became the town’s wealthiest businessman. Some say he was secretive, reserved, and was not one to discuss his personal or business matters.

McLaren Distillery from Perth Remembered

McLaren whiskey bottle 2.jpg
Photo above:  J.A. McLaren Distillery – located behind the town hall in present-day Stewart Park.

Wooden Whiskey case Spalding and Stewart

photo:  ‘Perth Remembered’

John McLaren, Perth Whiskey King

Found Dead !!!!!

mclaren-will-14

Eligible Perth Bachelor John McLaren

dies without a will!

He never married, had no children, and for the most part lived a quiet life and kept to himself. When John McLaren passed away at the turn of the century, many in the town of Perth began to speculate – who would be the heir or heirs to his fortune?

mclaren-will-13

By 1902 the town of Perth was “never more absorbed in one topic of conversation” as they were during the trial held in the local courtroom to settle the case of John McLaren’s Will.


Frank Walker, long-time employee swore that John McLaren had confided in him about his childhood and they shared a special relationship.

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Walker told the court that John promised he would be taken care of from the proceeds of John’s estate”

“If I die tonight, you are provided for.”

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John A. Stewart, McLaren’s nephew, well-known Perth lawyer, and respected member of parliament, claimed that he drafted a will for Mr. McLaren in 1897, witnessed his signature on the document, and that his uncle had left everything to him.

John A Stewart

photo: John A. Stewart, McLaren’s nephew

Lizzie McIntyre said

she had John McLaren’s will

stuffed down the front of her dress !!!

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“Why in Hell should I have a will?”

Frank Buffam swore that John McLaren

didn’t even have a will:

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Lizzie McIntyre accused George Rogers of stealing McLaren’s will from his house at midnight:

mclaren-will-7

Many people in Perth thought John McLaren left his millions to Minnie Hamilton.  The lovely Minnie was known as his ‘favourite’.  She was McLaren’s live-in ‘housekeeper’ in their hideaway home outside of Lanark:

“Everyone knew that Minnie was his special girl!”

mclaren-will-10

………………………………………..

Many local businesses carried spirits manufactured

by McLaren’s Distillery in 1903:

Smiths Falls: 9 hotels and 1 store

Carleton Place: 8 hotels

Perth: 7 hotels and 2 stores

Franktown: 2 hotels

Ferguson’s Falls: 1 hotel

Innisville: 1 hotel

Maberly: 1 hotel


McLaren's whiskey bottle

Early Hotels of Perth

– from an article “The Perth Courier” –  1964

“The year 1896 was a good period for the hotel industry in Perth.  Five recorded hotels flourished within the town boasting a grand total of 165 rooms, and five bars.

According to 19th century observers, Perth had a high caliber of service, and had an excellent reputation as a fine hotel town.  One such observer was the old Perth Expositor which noted how strangers “always judge a town by its hotels” and then carried the impression of hospitality and service to the far reaches of the land.

The hotel business of 1898 was a vast improvement over the rude taverns and inns of early days.  Several of the hotels survived the turn of the century and can be readily seen in today’s busy commercial trade.  The only hotel still bearing the same name and remaining in the same location is the Revere House at Wilson and Foster.

The hotels of Perth began just prior to the Boer War, and were five:  Barrie’s Hotel, Hicks House, Allen House, Revere House and Queen’s Hotel. They were all located in the business section of down town Perth and catered to a through trade from road, stage and traveling salesmen.  Since 1900 the road trade has shifted west to Highway 7 where an assortment of motels enjoy a lucrative business from an almost entirely auto trade.

In 1896 the oldest hotel was Barrie’s operated by Thomas Barrie.  It had thirty rooms and a well stocked bar.  A resort of the surrounding farming community, the hotel enjoyed a heavy seasonal business.  Mr. Barrie was hailed as a “jolly good natured fellow” with a “pleasant greeting” for all.

The Hicks House, now the Perth Hotel, was hailed as the “leading commercial hotel” in eastern Ontario, sporting a bar, billiard room, free bus rides and a variety of fare on the table.  The proprietor was John Wilson, noted for his catering and disciplining of the “hotel attaches”.

The Queen’s occupied thirty rooms, a bar, a billiard room and stables across from what is now Girdwoods Store on Foster Street.  Owned by Frank A. Lambert, father of Edward Lambert, present day proprietor of the Imperial Hotel on Wilson, the Queen’s closed its quarters in 1918 after purchasing Barrie’s from James P. Hogan who succeeded Mr. Barrie as operator.  Queen’s and Barrie’s are thus the modern day Imperial Hotel operated by Ed Lambert who took over from his father in 1934.

In 1896 Revere House was a 25 room establishment run by W.J. Flett who is described as one of the best hotel men in the valley.  He enjoyed a popular local trace.

Largest hotel in Perth, now closed to business, was a fifty room spread called the Allan House, situated to the west of the town hall in a block now occupied by Chaplin and Code and the Coin Wash. Andrew Robinson the proprietor, was famous for his “uniform courtesy and kindness” and the free bus rides to the train and stages.  Mr. Robinson purchased the Allan House from I.C. Grant after ten years as an employee of the Hicks House.  

Needless to say, the hotels of Perth had close connections with Crystal Sprine Brewery and McLaren’s Distillery, two enterprises which made Perth famous from Nova Scotia to British Columbia.”

(article published in “The Perth Courier” 1964)

McLaren whiskey jug.jpg

……………………

Did one of these Business Owners in Perth inherit McLaren’s money?

Someone in  Perth got McLaren’s millions!

*images of John McLaren, his whiskey, and ads for the Perth Distillery, and transcripts of the McLaren will case – from – “The Perth Courier”
photo – Henry Kehoe in front of Spalding and Stewart Distillery – “The Perth Courier”
photo – McLaren’s amber glass whisky bottle from ‘Collectable Treasures’
photos – malt whiskey bottle, whiskey jug, old distillery photos – Perth Remembered

“So, who inherited John McLaren’s vast fortune?”

Did his ‘girl’, Minnie Hamilton inherit McLaren’s millions?

Was it his nephew, George Rogers?

Did lawyer John Stewart get the money?

Was it his half-sister, Lizzie McIntyre?

Did he leave the money to business manager,Frank Walker?

Who inherited the money from the Whiskey King?

To discover more about the curious case of John McLaren’s will, and the trial that had the whole town of Perth talking, read the story “Perth’s Millionaire Bachelor”, from the book “Lanark County Comfort”.
At The Book Nook, 60 Gore Street E., Perth, Ontario. o order, or to reserve a copy: 613-267-2350.
lc-comfort-post-launch-poster
Available :lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com or at The Book Nook,  Spark Books  https://www.sparkperth.ca/ in Perth, and  Mill Street Books  https://millstreetbooks.com/, in Almonte.

arlene-in-front-sept-11-2021

 


Arlene Stafford-Wilson

Member, Association of Professional Genealogists
Honorary Life Member, Lanark County Genealogical Society
Author of : “Lanark County Christmas”, “Lanark County Comfort”, “Lanark County Collection”, “Lanark County Calling”, “Lanark County Classics”, “Lanark County Connections”, “Lanark County Calendar”, “Lanark County Chronicle”, “Lanark County Kid”, & “Recipes & Recollections”
available at local stores or email: lanarkcountybooks@gmail.com

http://www.staffordwilson.com

Festival of the Maples

Festival of the Maples Poster for article

With over 160 vendors, live entertainment, and the finest tasting maple syrup produced in the world, the Festival of the Maples in Perth is the place to be on Saturday, April 30th, 2016!

You may not know that Lanark County is the maple syrup capital of Ontario, and you may not know some of the history leading up to the very first festival that was held back in the 1970s.

The story that follows is dedicated to the Lanark County families who played such a significant role, back in the early days, leading up to this annual festival in Perth: Andrew and George Korry, Bowes family of Glen Tay, Ernie and Evelyn Miller family of Glen Tay, Robert McEwen of Prestonvale, Ken VanAlstine of Maberly, Leonard and Tom Adam of McDonald’s Corners, Brien and Marion Paul west of Hopetown, Lanark, James ‘Carman’ and Edna Gibson of Dalhousie Township, Don and Marion Dodds of Clayton, George Coutts of Rideau Ferry, Wheeler family of McDonald’s Corners, and Fulton family of Pakenham to name a few.

Taffy on the Tay

Years ago, many of the local farmers produced maple syrup. Some just made enough for their families and for some it was a supplement to their farm income at a time of year that was less busy than during the summer months. There were also a few dealers in the area that sold sugar bush supplies – Max Miller of Snow Road, Percy Drysdale of McDonald’s Corners, and W.J. Ballantyne in Lanark. James Brothers Hardware and the Co-Op also sold supplies for maple production. Labels for the bottles were often printed by ‘The Perth Courier’.

The Korry family across the road from us had a medium sized sugar bush and they produced not just enough for the family, but enough to sell locally. Andrew’s son-in-law John Chaplin sold it through his dairy to the local customers on the milk routes. Andrew Korry and his son George spent a few very busy weeks making syrup each spring and my brother Tim worked with them in the bush one year. They used a team of horses with a tank mounted on the sleigh to draw the sap back to the evaporator at the sugar shack; typical of many other producers at that time.

The Bowes and the Miller families near Glen Tay also produced their own syrup. I remember that Art Bowes used to tap quite a number of trees in the mid-sixties. Their farm was known as Tayview farm and it straddled the Tay River and was very picturesque. At that time they had about 300 acres which included hay fields, pastures and of course maple bushes. His son Doug was on our school bus and he used to talk about helping his Dad back in the bush each spring.

The Miller family’s farm, known as Tayside was owned by Ernest ‘Ernie’ Miller and his wife Evelyn (Mather). The Miller family arrived from Scotland in 1809 and their farm was purchased by Ernie’s great grandfather Dodds in 1858. Their kids were Diane, Nancy, John and Ruth. Evelyn was a lovely, soft-spoken lady and she was my first 4H club leader. I also remember that Ernie was tapping about 1,500 trees back in the sixties and had about 30 acres of maple woods. Ernie was a forward thinker and one of his ideas at that time was that sap should be gathered by trucks from each farm and taken to a large central evaporator – similar to the way that milk was trucked to cheese factories. It seemed through the years that Ernie was into everything. When he wasn’t farming he wrote history books, he researched genealogy, he worked with young people and it was no surprise to me when he was inducted into the Ontario Agricultural Hall of Fame in 2003.

The McEwen clan in Ferguson Falls was another family who made their mark in the maple syrup business back in the 60s. In 1966 Robert McEwen of Prestonvale opened up the first pancake house in the area. Originally, Robert made his syrup the old fashioned way out in the bush and boiled a cauldron of sap over the fire. Later, in the 1970s I remember that he was one of the first to use plastic pipelines to bring the sap from the trees to one main location. Dad knew the McEwen family well, having grown up in that area and said that Robert often spoke of the difficulties involved in syrup production. There were always problems like getting reliable labour and often the lack of capital to purchase new equipment. Robert was very active in the local industry and at one time was the President of the Lanark and District Maple Syrup Association.

Ken VanAlstine in Maberly had over 2,000 trees tapped when I was a kid and he was among the first to use pipelines. He experimented at first and tapped just 200 trees using the pipeline system but the rest was collected in buckets the traditional way and transported to the evaporator by horse and sleigh.

Ken, like other producers in the area found the cost of hiring labour prohibitive and that distributers wanted too much money per gallon. Ken was well known in the area for his excellent quality maple syrup and said on his best day at that time he gathered 3,300 gallons of sap.

Another local family of producers was the Adam family of McDonald’s Corners. Leonard Adam and his brother Tom tapped an average of 2,250 trees and had about 500 acres of land between them. They were hard workers and spent many days sawing, chopping and stacking the 20 cords of wood required for their evaporator and were one of the first to use a brand new style of evaporator which was 4 by 14 feet. They produced enough to sell locally and the remainder was shipped out West.

Brien and Marion (McLaren) Paul of R.R #3 Lanark had a 575 acre farm about three miles west of Hopetown and began maple production in 1953. Marion was raised on a farm near the village of Lanark, was known locally as the ‘First Lady of Maple’ and became a maple judge at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. Their kids Kathy, Wayne and Darrell were also very involved and provided additional labour for the family business. In 1972 Kathy was even crowned Maple Queen in the local competition.

Back in the 1960s they used two sleighs, one pulled by a tractor and the other by a team of horses. Brien’s father Raymond Paul often tended the evaporator, keeping a watchful eye as the steam boiled off into the air. Russell Foster and Raymond Watt often assisted the Paul family with the production. They tapped an average of 4,000 trees at that time and produced about 700 gallons of syrup and used approximately 30 cords of wood during the season.

The Paul’s were pioneers in the maple industry and were very modern in their approach. They were one of the first to install plastic tubing and an oil fired evaporator. The plastic pipes were attached to the tree spiles and the sap flowed through the pipes and emptied into a storage reservoir located behind the evaporator. Brien and Marion were inducted into the International Maple Hall of Fame and were members of the Ontario Maple Producers and the Lanark and District Maple Producers Association.

Gibson was a name known for their excellent syrup. James ‘Carman’ Gibson and his wife Edna (Rodger) had a maple business in Dalhousie Twp at R.R. # 4, Lanark. The nearby areas of Hoods and Poland were also known for their fine quality maple syrup. The Gibson family began tapping trees in 1821 with the arrival of James Gibson from Lanark, Scotland. He was the first pioneer settler in the area and named their new home Lammermoor after the Lammermoor Hills in Scotland. Their five children Verna, Beatrice, Norma, Carol and Earl all helped out with the operation. They also raised beef, dairy on their busy farm and hauled milk to the Middleville cheese factory.

When locals think of a long running maple operation, the name Dodds comes to mind. They had a substantial sugar bush at R.R. 2 Clayton in the Lanark Highlands. The Dodds family has owned Springdale Farm for generations and Don and Marion Dodds and their sons Bryan and Stephen helped with production through the years. The family has won many awards for being long term maple producers and as recently as last year Stephen Dodds won Grand Champion Trophy at Perth Festival of the Maples for 2011. Their long, long, list of awards include trophies for World Champion Maple Syrup, Sugar Maker of the Year, and a meeting with HRH Prince Charles at the Royal Winter Fair.

One of the maple syrup families that I remember fondly was the Coutts family on the Rideau Ferry Road. I’ll never forget how George Coutts used to invite the local kids to visit his sugar shack and he would take the time to patiently explain how the maple syrup was made. Miss Norma Devlin from the North Elmsley School was invited each year to bring her grade one class to visit the Coutts farm. George along with his son Kenneth showed the children how syrup was made and even provided the kids with some maple taffy at the end of the tour. At that time the Coutts family was tapping about 1,300 trees and produced more than enough syrup for both the family and for area sales.

The ancestors of the current Fulton family began to tap their maple trees back in the 1840s. Their large 370 acre farm is located between Almonte and Pakenham and they have tapped their huge 4,000 tree sugar bush for generations. Well known for their high quality syrup they have also operated a pancake house for many years and their sugar camp has been a popular attraction for both area families and visitors.

With these and so many other excellent producers in Lanark County, it’s not surprising that back in the 1970s there were talks of having a maple festival in the town of Perth. It was Vic Lemieux, owner of Norvic Lodge at Christie Lake, who first came up with the idea and presented it to the Perth Chamber of Commerce. Vic was successful in his campaign to launch the first festival, with the hopes that it would bring people out to celebrate the spring season after a long, cold, winter.

On April 19, 1975 the very first Festival of the Maples was held in Perth and it was quite an event!

When we arrived at the Festival that Saturday, they had closed part of Gore Street and Foster Street and the local maple vendors had set up their displays. At 10 a.m. the Festival was officially opened by the Ontario Minister of Industry Claude Bennett. The Legion ladies and the ladies from St. Andrew’s church had home baking for sale, and there were also side-walk sales on Gore Street and many arts and craft exhibits.

There were a tremendous number of district producers and many of them offered syrup for sale in various sized containers. Pancakes were available for purchase and free samples of Balderson cheese were given away and I recall we went back a couple of times to that booth! One of the oddest things was to see a wood burning evaporator set up on one of the main streets of Perth. I’ve seen a few of those out in the bush, but I never thought I’d see one in town!

Fiddling and step-dancing competitions were held that year and I remember Dawson Girdwood saying that some of the best fiddlers from Eastern Ontario were competing in the open and junior fiddling classes. Jimmy Heney, one of our neighbours won the fiddling prize hands down, as he often did and Karen Grey of Perth was the top step-dancer that night.

The folks in Perth were always up for a good beauty competition and so part of the evening program at the arena that night was the crowning of ‘The Sweetest Girl in Lanark County’. Miss Perth 1975 Michelle Hughes crowned the winner, Maple Queen Susan Thompson of Perth.

Over the years we always attended the Festival and each spring it seemed to grow by leaps and bounds. Every year it seemed that there were more vendors selling their maple goods, more artisans displaying their crafts and an increasing number of booths and displays. We also noticed a steady growth of tourists who had come from Ottawa, Kingston and even as far away as the States to visit.

People in Lanark County, understandably, have always taken their maple syrup very seriously. Because of this, it was devastating to many when January of 1998 brought the most destructive ice storm in Canadian history. From January 4th to 10th Lanark County was severely affected by freezing rain and ice pellets that fell and accumulated on tree branches day after day. This ice created a thick, heavy coat, damaging both the maple trees and the pipelines in the sugar bushes. Millions of tree branches were caked with the build-up of ice and became so heavy that they split right off of the trees; severely affecting the sap flow. At the time, there were speculations that it could take forty years for production to return to normal.

Many of us, have participated in making maple syrup at one time or another and know from experience that it’s extremely labour-intensive. We also have a clear understanding of the enormous amount of sap it takes to make a very small quantity of syrup. No matter how modern the equipment or methods, it still takes forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

Now, add in the hours of labour for the tapping, transporting from the tree to the evaporator, the boiling down, the straining, the bottling and the labeling. Next, factor in the cost of equipment such as the spiles, the pails or tubing, the evaporation tank, fuel, the straining equipment, the bottles, cans and cost of transporting to market. Fifty dollars a gallon really doesn’t sound like all that much anymore now, does it?

So, the next time you pass by the maple syrup display in the grocery store aisles, or visit a maple vendor at his farm or at a festival, please remember how it’s produced. Remember the proud, hard-working families who settled in Lanark County and passed down their knowledge through the generations. Think of the enormous quantity of sap required to make a very small container of syrup. Most of all please stop and consider the origin of your syrup and take it from this Lanark County kid – you won’t find any better, more flavourful syrup, than from the Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario.

(an excerpt from “Lanark County Chronicle: Double-Back to the Third Line”,
ISBN 978-0-9877026-2-3 , available at local book stores)

http://www.staffordwilson.com