Port Perry – Once the Crime Capital of Canada
When you think of crime and gun fights, you may think of the American west of the 18oo’s. In the span of a few months, back in the 1920s, the old west was in fact the old east and the location was Port Perry, Ontario. Port Perry was a sleepy port town of just over 1,100 inhabitants. Things moved generally slow in Port Perry. In 1928 the local newspaper reported that: Dorman Corbman’s fruit store was moving to Leonard Block; Port Perry Star offers $1,000 worth of accident insurance for one dollar with every subscription; and that Mr. W.H. Harris purchased a 22′ sailing sloop with an 8′ beam in Toronto and has sailed it to Lake Scugog. Typical small town news. But things were about to change for the resident of Port Perry.
In December of 1928, these two articles appeared in the Star:
Alix Gilboord Store robbed for the third time since coming to Port Perry.
This time thieves took $535 worth of clothing and drygoods.
R B Smallman’s Blacksmith Shop was broken into by two thieves, who were captured and sentenced to three years in Kingston penitentiary.
Not so sleepy a small town? But it didn’t stop there.
The Seagrave store, as well as the Greenbank store, was also robbed. In that same week, the Smallman’s blacksmith shop and Brock’s store were also robbed. When apprehended the criminals had hand guns in their possession.
But the story did not stop there.
During the night of Sunday, August 29, 1926, thieves broke into the garage of Harold Archer and stole a number of tires and some gasoline. The car used in the robbery was seen by a number of residents. Encouraged by the success of their first haul, the thieves decided to return the following Tuesday. Their vehicle was recognized as they approached the garage. Harold Archer and his friend, Art Knight jumped onto the running boards of the car. It sped away and the villains shot Mr. Archer in the thigh as he attempted to hang on.
But with the closing of the 1920’s, the crime spree did not let up.
In 1930 the local gas station was robbed of $500 and Harold Archer was back in the news again. This time, four Toronto men were caught raiding Peel’s Poultry Farm. They knocked out Ronald Peel and escaped in a car. The thieves were chased by Mr. Peel, Chief Nesbitt and Harold Archer to Myrtle where the car left the road injuring one. The other three were placed under arrest.
The Port Perry Bank of Commerce at 165 Queen Street was subjected to three major robberies.
The first occurred in June, 1934 when, at closing time two robbers entered and tied up the manager and a clerk at gunpoint and drove away with $200. They were later apprehended after they had stopped at the Superior store to get gas. In a 1945 robbery, the manager, Ernie Hayes was left locked in the vault after thieves absconded with a large amount of cash. Mr. Hayes managed to escape by opening the vault from the inside with a screwdriver. In August that same year it was robbed again. This time three employees were locked in the vault. This robbery was conducted by the infamous Boyd gang. One of the three employees was Margaret Day. Margaret reported that the Boyd gang members were very polite, but the employees were scared.
In December, 1951, Mr. Helm, the bank manager, his wife, his son Robert and the caretaker, Mr T. Asher were all bound and gagged in the apartment above the bank while the robbers attempted to blow up the safe. Fortunately, the telephone rang and the would-be robbers fled.
The Helms at that time lived above the bank. In all three cases of robbery, the robbers were eventually apprehended and sentenced.
By the 1960s, things had begun to settle down The Star ran these stories:
Registration at Port Perry Public School is at an all time high with 460 children registered, an increase of 25 from last year. and Richard “Chick” Carnegie will trying out for Junior A hockey when he reports to training camp in St. Catherines.
Things returned to normal for the resident of Port Perry.