LYON, GEORGE, army and militia officer, businessman, justice of the peace, office holder, and politician; b. 1790 in Inveraray, Scotland, son of George Lyon and Elizabeth Philips; m. 1812 Catherine Radenhurst, and they had at least six sons and four daughters; d. 26 March 1851 in Richmond, Carleton County, Upper Canada.
George Lyon was commissioned ensign in the 40th Foot on 4 Sept. 1806 and lieutenant two years later. In 1809 he transferred to the 100th Foot, which had come to Canada in 1805, and in November 1810 he joined the regiment there. Serving in the War of 1812, he was present on 3 June 1813 at the capture of the American gunboats Growler and Eagle at Île aux Noix, Lower Canada, and was put in charge of the American prisoners who were removed to Montreal. On the Niagara frontier, he commanded the regiment’s eighth company at the battle of Chippawa on 5 July 1814. During the British retreat on that occasion he was severely wounded but he recovered and continued to serve with the 100th (renumbered the 99th in 1816) until it was disbanded in 1818. He was placed on half pay on 25 November at the rate of 4s. 6d. per diem.
Former members of the 99th Foot were given the opportunity to take up land in Upper Canada at the government-sponsored military settlement of Richmond in the Rideau River area. Lyon was given an initial grant of 500 acres of land in Goulbourn and March townships and settled in the newly surveyed village of Richmond, where he was to spend the rest of his life. A member of the group of retired military officers which governed the settlement in its early years under the superintendence of George Thew Burke (a former captain in the 99th), Lyon played an active role in the village’s development. In 1820 he entered into an agreement with the deputy quartermaster general’s department to erect for the settlers a sawmill and a grist-mill at Richmond, for which he was to receive extra land in the village and in Goulbourn Township. He was later allowed to patent even more land to compensate for the property flooded by his mill-pond. Lyon’s total land holdings in the area have been estimated at 11,000 acres.
Lyon claimed the mills cost £1,500 to build. The sawmill was erected about 1821 and by April 1826 the grist-mill was fully operational. To the mill complex he added a distillery, which began production early in 1827, a fulling-mill, a forge, and a store at which he sold spirits and other goods, and he engaged in the potash trade. The principal markets outside the local area for his flour, lumber, and whisky were Montreal and the Point (Ottawa), the bustling construction headquarters for the Rideau Canal. The legal matters which arose regularly from his businesses and land activities (including land transactions and suits, the conveyance of financial notes, and the arrangement of securities on the debts of many settlers to Lyon) were handled after about 1825 in Perth by his brother-in-law, Thomas Mabon Radenhurst. Lyon’s young brother Robert, who immigrated in 1829 and apprenticed in Radenhurst’s law office, died tragically in 1833 in a duel with John Wilson*.
Given his background it was natural that Lyon would hold several positions of prominence, including a commission in the local militia. Appointed captain in the 1st Regiment of Carleton militia on 2 Aug. 1821, he was promoted major on 25 May 1843. He received his first commission of the peace for the Bathurst District on 18 April 1825, and later served as an agent for the Crown Lands Department and as postmaster of Richmond. Several times a tory candidate for the riding of Carleton in provincial elections, Lyon experienced mixed success. In a by-election marked by a bitter struggle between the rival tory factions of the Richmond area and March Township, he was defeated by Hamnet Kirks Pinhey in 1832 but, when Pinhey was unseated for election irregularities, Lyon was declared elected on 16 Jan. 1833. He sat in the House of Assembly, along with John Bower Lewis, Carleton’s other member, until 1834. Lyon introduced a bill that year which led to the incorporation of the Richmond Canal Company for making the Goodwood (Jock) River navigable. Defeated in the elections of 1836 and 1844, he became a member for Carleton a second time at a by-election on 23 June 1846 but lost his seat in the general election of 1847–48.
Lyon remained active in business almost until his death but he appears to have faced increasing financial strain. In 1841 he seriously considered renting out his mills and moving, and in 1849 he was forced to sell his half pay in order to discharge a property obligation. He was gazetted a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Rifles that year but immediately sold his commission to another officer.
Three of George Lyon’s sons achieved some degree of prominence. The oldest, George Byron Lyon Fellowes (his surname was changed in 1856 to permit him to acquire property from his wife’s family), was a lawyer and a member of the Legislative Assembly for Russell (1848–61). Robert, also a lawyer, was a Carleton County court judge and William Radenhurst Richmond was first reeve of Richmond (1850–54). A fourth son, Thomas, continued his father’s milling and distilling businesses.
AO, MU 2367; RG 1, A-I-6: 21184–87; RG 22, ser.155, will of George Lyon; ser.224, G. B. L. Fellowes; Catherine Lyon; W. R. R. Lyon. BLHU, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 13: 187. PAC, MG 30, D1, 19: 502–4; RG 1, L3, 289: L14/9, 11; 296: L21/55; 296a: L22/49; 421; RG 8, I (C ser.), 405: 125; 684: 56; 695: 109; 772: 133; 1011: 93; 1017: 52; RG 9, I, B5, 2, 6; RG 31, A1, 1851, Richmond Village; RG 68, 8: 457; 11: 454; 38: 470; 41: 483. PRO, WO 17/1515. Can., Prov. of, Statutes, 1856, c.33. U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1832–34, 1836; Statutes, 1834, c.31. Bathurst Courier, 4 April 1851. Bytown Gazette, and Ottawa and Rideau District Advertiser, 16 June 1836. Cobourg Star, 10 April 1833. Montreal Transcript, 5 March 1842. Ottawa Citizen, 12 Aug. 1854. Toronto Herald, 7 April 1842, 31 Aug. 1843. Armstrong, Handbook of Upper Canadian chronology, 71, 79. Canada directory, 1851: 345, 1857–58. Canadian biog. dict., 1: 748–49. G.B., WO, Army list, 1806–49. Illustrated historical atlas of the county of Carleton (including city of Ottawa), Ont. (Toronto, 1879; repr. Port Elgin, Ont., 1971), xxxiii. The service of British regiments in Canada and North America . . . , comp. C. H. Stewart (Ottawa, 1962). W. H. Smith, Canada: past, present and future, 2: 353–54; Smith’s Canadian gazetteer; comprising statistical and general information respecting all parts of the upper province, or Canada West . . . (Toronto, 1846; repr. 1970), 160, 263. Cornell, Alignment of political groups, 17, 19, 23, 31, 38, 48. J. M. Hitsman, The incredible War of 1812: a military history (Toronto, 1965), 136–37, 195–96. Edward Shortt, The memorable duel at Perth ([Perth, Ont.], 1970), 16, 64. M. S. Cross, “The age of gentility: the formation of an aristocracy in the Ottawa valley,” CHA Hist. papers, 1967: 105–17. “Death of Judge Lyon,” Free Press (Ottawa), 26 March 1888: 2. “Death of Mayor Fellowes,” Free Press, 15 March 1876: 2.