Did you know that a Paris resident living here in the 1890’s could buy a season ticket to a local park?
That’s only one small tidbit of information that has come to light about life in Paris, as a result of a wonderful donation recently gifted to PMHS by Aleda O’Connor of Hamilton and her husband. Ms. O’Connor is a descendant of George Low Scott, a chemist who along with his family made Paris his home in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The thousands of items that make up the donation have much to teach us, not just about the Scott family, but also about life in our little town as it was in the 1800’s.
We now know that Scott was a member of a handful of local organizations like the Paris Hockey Club and the Paris Bicycle Club. No doubt, he also paid seasonal fees so that he and his family could enjoy a Sunday afternoon promenade in Riverview Park (long gone now but once located on Grand River Street North). We know these things because the recent donation from O’Connor contains some never seen before, hand signed membership cards issued to Scott. They are in near perfect condition and will be a wonderful component to a future exhibit of the Scott family collection planned for the museum.
George Scott operated a business here from 1851 to 1892. At one point in time, Scott’s chemist shop was located downtown where Café Europa now sits. Thanks to a previous donation by the Scott family, PMHS already had the original mortar and pestle shaped metal sign that hung outside the shop, as well as the original invoice for said sign. The sign, thankfully, survived the great Paris fire of September 12th, 1900. For a time, after his father died, George’s son Paul took over the business. Eventually, however he gave up the family business and left Paris for the big city (Toronto) to train as a doctor. Some memorabilia from his life also graces our collection thanks to the foresight and generosity of his descendants.
So this latest donation by the Scott family adds immeasurably to the existing family collection already housed here at PMHS. It is very rewarding to us when we are able to expand our knowledge of the pioneers of Paris by adding to specific existing collections. It allows us to understand more deeply the lives of the people who make up the fabric of our history.
This recent windfall is providing a mountain of work for PMHS Life Member Bob Hasler, who has undertaken the momentous task of cataloguing all of the items in the 13-box donation. “This is the ultimate collection that I’ve worked on”, said Bob. And the biggest one he’s ever done. But he’s undaunted by its size and says that he was thrilled to take on the job. Bob is now happily working away photographing and organizing box after box of artefacts. He’s already spent hundreds of hours combing through everything and estimates that it will take about six to eight months to completely process the whole donation. He’s also keeping in touch with Aleda as he works, so that she can add context to what Bob is discovering as he sifts through her history.
The recent donation consists of dinnerware, documents, photographs and family letters from as far back as 1799. Four or five of the boxes contain linens, articles of clothing and other textiles. There are also some other rare pieces of local history like invoices relating to Scott’s business and some early telegraph messages. Things like company bills, business agreements and other paperwork can provide us with valuable information about what life was like for a business owner in early Paris.
As Bob works through the boxes item by item, he’s also stitching together the history of the Scott family. Their story begins in Scotland. “I know for certain that he (George) left November 11th, 1847, from Liverpool, England because we have letters from an agent stating terms of travel”, Bob says. George sailed on a packet ship called “Sheridan” and we know that by December 25th of that same year he had arrived at his destination, New York City, because he wrote to his mother to say that he had landed safely. The Scotsman’s journey next took him to Quebec City, then to Dundas, Ontario and finally to Paris.
George’s letter home is one of over 2,000 missives saved by the family over decades. The letters are helping Bob define George’s large network of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Many of the communications are letters between George and his intended Jessie. From 1859 to 1860 alone they wrote about 100 letters to each other.
How lucky we are at PMHS that families like the Scotts and their descendants take pains to save and preserve such valuable memorabilia. And we are so grateful that they have entrusted us with their precious family heirlooms so that we can bring their past into the present for our community.
– Cate Breaugh