In this corner, from Grey Township... - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
While many young men who grew up in Grey Township in the 1880s opted to follow in their fathers’ footsteps and work the land, one of those lads chose a completely different path for his life. His name was Gideon Perrie and he became a world champion wrestler.
Gideon was born in Scotland and immigrated with his parents William and Jane (Brown) Perrie to Lot 10 Concession 12 of Grey, a little southeast of Brussels, on what is now Cranbrook Road. One hundred and fifty years later, this farm is still in the same family, now owned by David A. Perrie. When Gideon lived in Boston in 1897, he told an interviewer that he came from a “family of athletes, there being six brothers in all, three were farmers, one a school teacher, another a minister and that they were all good enough to give their more famous brother plenty of practice in games of strength”. Gideon stood 6’ 2” and weighed 210 pounds when in condition.
As Gideon grew up, he engaged in the muscle-building tasks common to farming in those days, such as cutting trees and removing stumps, handling cattle and horses and plowing the land. It became evident early on that Gideon possessed more strength than the average person and soon, if some heavy lifting was required in the Cranbrook area, he was called upon for help.
In that era, Scottish games that involved feats of strength and wrestling, as well as music and dancing, were very popular in this area of Ontario. At one such event in 1883, at the age of 21, Gideon was crowned the heavyweight champion of Huron-Bruce. In 1886 in the Paisley and Wingham Highland Games, Gideon was crowned champion in numerous events. Most competitors were from the local area, but one was Thomas Carroll of San Francisco, who would later face Gideon in other contests.
Not content with entering local contests of strength, by 1887, Gideon was living in Livermore, California where about 100 admirers of athletic sports gathered to witness the Greco-Roman contest between Gideon and Thomas Carroll, the Brooklyn Giant of Oakland, California. There had been a sharp rivalry between the two ever since Gideon arrived from Canada, for Carroll was the former champion in all games. The match was made for $100 a side.
By a newspaper account, Gideon seemed thin, in bad condition and greatly inferior in physique to Carroll. At first, both showed caution and then Gideon lifted Carroll and threw him to the mat, pinning one shoulder down. Carroll escaped, but Gideon got a neck-hold and forced the giant down, causing both shoulders to touch the canvas. However, two falls were required to win the match. The second bout was short and very tame. After five minutes of hand grabbing, Gideon suddenly secured a hip-hold and turned Carroll in an instant, winning the match.
Continuing on the circuit, in 1890, Gideon was competing in Hastings, British Columbia, where he swept the field in all contests. His seconder, or a supportive person in his corner of the ring, was George Calbrick of Brussels. Another Grey Township man named Walter Scott was also an excellent athlete, and often acted as Gideon’s seconder as well.
As a way of earning money, Gideon was in Winnipeg in November of 1890, offering $50 to anyone he could not throw within 15 minutes. No mention was made of the amount of money the takers were to give to Gideon upon defeat.
After four years on the road, Gideon returned to the Grey Township farm for the winter. In the April 1891 census, he was enumerated there as a “professional athlete”. Soon after, he resumed his quest for wrestling supremacy.
The ultimate crown for a wrestler was to win the World Championship. In 1894, Gideon earned the right to compete for that title in two years’ time. Then, in 1896, he sailed from New York to Scotland. Excerpts from the Scotsman of Sept. 7, tell the story. “…perfect weather and 8,000 spectators on hand to view the events. George Johnstone of Aberdeen and Gideon Perrie, American champion, met in the championship match. Perrie won three of the five events. In the 16-pound shot put, Perrie threw a distance of 44 feet, eight inches. [In 2022, the record throw was for 72.8 feet]. He also won the 22-pound shot put. Johnstone was victorious in the 22- and 16-pound hammer throws. The deciding event was the throwing of a 50-pound weight, one-handed. Perrie threw a distance of 28 feet, 11 inches, better than Johnstone’s by 10 and a half inches. In wrestling, Johnstone came out on top in the Cumberland style bout; however, in Greco-Roman style, Perrie ‘completely vanquished’ his opponent in each of three tries.”
From farm boy to World Champion wrestler was a long hard road, but Gideon went the distance.
By 1899, Gideon had been employed at Harvard University, training shot putters for a few years. He also trained athletes in New York.
Gideon’s life took on a new role in 1902, when aged 41, in Wentworth County, he married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Egan Kuntz. the widow of brewer, Henry Kuntz. At this point, he retired and lived in Hamilton, Ontario. Unfortunately, on Aug. 16, 1906, Lizzie passed away suddenly of a heart condition after three days’ illness in Hamilton.
In that same month, Gideon was admitted to a private hospital as he was “doing poorly”. Members of his family have learned that, at one time, Gideon, near the end of his career, had been hit by a brick at a wrestling match. This attack caused a decline in health for Gideon. The details of this event have been lost in the passage of time, but it is a fact that many people placed bets on the outcome of wrestling matches and when their favourite was defeated, tempers sometimes ran high.
The strong man from Grey Township died on Jan. 17, 1910, aged 46 years, at Homewood Sanitarium, Guelph, Wentworth County, where he had been a patient for three-and-a-half years. The cause of his death was “General Paresis” a condition of paralysis caused by nerve damage. Following a service at the home of his sister and brother-in-law, Maggie and James Grant, Gideon was buried in the Brussels Cemetery.
Gideon Perrie was not a man to follow an ordinary pattern in life and as a result, rose to heights few ever dream to achieve.