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The Four Invasions of Lindsay

July 20, 2023

Railway Sketch of Lindsay, 1882

By Guy Scott

Did you know that Lindsay has a history of armed conflict? Here are the four times that the town has been attacked or invaded:

Rebellion Redux, December 1837

The last month of 1837 saw a nasty little revolt in Upper Canada, called the Rebellion of 1837. Frustrated by their defeat in the elections of 1836, the Reform Movement of Upper Canada, led by William Lyon Mackenzie led an armed revolt. The objective was to overthrow the government of Upper Canada by armed force and install a “republic” instead. The government of the day was the so-called Family Compact, also known as the Conservatives. Mackenzie was violently anti-monarchist, anti-English and pro-American, not a good combination in Loyalist Ontario. The revolt fizzed out at the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern on Yonge Street, on the way to Toronto. But the Revolt led to a lot of hard political feelings all over the colony, and Lindsay was no exception. William Purdy, founder of the village, was a vocal Reformer. A rumour spread around the area that missing “traitor” Mackenzie was hiding in Lindsay. Consequently, one quiet day in December, a column of 300 armed loyalists from Peterborough “attacked” the village to search for the “Little Rebel” (little referring to Mackenzie’s height). The leader, Major Murphy, had a grudge against Purdy. The 30 odd residents of Purdy’s Mills were astonished at the invasion force. No resistance was encountered from the confused locals, Mackenzie was not uncovered and Purdy was arrested. As it was too late to return to Peterborough that night, the army bivouacked in and around the local tavern. The next day the army returned to Peterborough, a little hungover, dragging their prisoner with them. William Purdy spent a few months in Cobourg Gaol before being released and told to “mind his own business.” The angry Purdy decided to mind his business elsewhere and left Lindsay to found Meaford in Grey County. Lindsay got a new miller, and Major Murphy replaced Purdy as postmaster.

Attack of the Angry Farmers, Summer 1838

In 1827, the Purdys were allowed to build a 10 foot dam on the Scugog River at Lindsay. When the dam was completed, the locals had a debate over how long it would take the mill pond to fill up to the top. Estimates ranged from 24 hours to a week. It was 7 months (and a spring runoff) before the level reached the top of the dam! The Scugog River drains an area all the way back to Port Perry. The dam flooded 60,000 acres: much of it part of pioneer farms! Scugog Swamp became Lake Scugog and dozens of settlers upstream were literally flooded out. Trees were killed, swamps filled and the mosquito population multiplied. A plague of fever and ague (likely malaria, pneumonia and a touch of typhoid fever tossed in) gripped the country. Hundreds fell sick and many died: one report said up to 1/3 of the residents in the area upstream perished that summer. For several weeks, Ops Township recorded in excess of 10 deaths per week from ague. A revolt was brewing!

A great band of farmers from Ops, Manvers and Cartwright Townships armed themselves and marched on Lindsay. The mob marched to the Purdy Dam and ripped it out by hand. Nobody opposed them, the Purdys finding it convenient to be out of town that day. No shots were fired, nobody was hurt and the mob returned to their homes. The dam was rebuilt at government expense, but only had a height of 7 feet this time. As compensation, the owners were paid $1,600. The situation was resolved… for now!

The Twelfth of July Relived… Almost, July 12, 1846

Billy Parker was a noted “Orange fighter” from South Emily. One day while frequenting the Lindsay tavern, he received a beating: both to his body and his pride. To get his revenge on the “Catholic Village,” as Lindsay was called, Parker incited the local Orangemen to local Orangemen to celebrate the Glorious Twelfth by attacking Lindsay so he could get his revenge.

Fortunately, the village residents were warned of the impeding attack and prepared themselves as best they could. Muskets were solicited from the countryside. Scythes were turned into swords and pitchforks became bayonets and spears. The single log bridge over the Scugog River was torn down and the armies deployed on each bank.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and a parley led to the withdrawal of the Orange Army. The day ended after a tense standoff with no shots fired and no casualties, except the town bridge!

Get the Damn Dam… Again!, Summer 1847

The flooding issue from 1838 was never quite resolved. The flooded property was still flooded and property disputes still simmered. Lake Scugog was not going away. But others actually liked the new setup. The merchants of Port Perry enjoyed the fact the settlement was now actually a port, with water access to the Trent Canal via the new lock at Lindsay. The lumbermen loved the new water levels that made their river drives easier. But resentment among local farmers flashed again when the government added a foot to the height of the dam at Lindsay. For the excuse of 12 inches, the upstream agriculturalists once more downed their ploughs and took up arms for another attack on Lindsay. Once again, the assault was not opposed by the Lindsayites as hundreds of angry farmers seized the dam and adjusted the water levels by removing the 12 inch planks from the top. One of the frenzied farmers slipped into the top sluice and was sucked through the machinery of both the grist and sawmills. Miraculously he was unhurt. When asked by the incredulous attackers how he managed his feat, he replied, “I didn’t have time to take notes! The army returned to their homes and after an appropriate “cooling off period,” the dam was raised again by its 12 inches. No further invasions ensued and the town of Lindsay was left in peace to this very day.

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