Lively Annual General Meeting

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, 24 members of the Paris Museum & Historical Society gathered at the Syl Apps Community Centre to renew their commitment and participate in the museum’s 48th Annual General Meeting. Attendance was 9 per cent higher than the previous year.

The highlight of the meeting was Bob Hasler’s storytelling session. Using projected images of his vintage postcards he shared funny, tragic, interesting and instructive tales about the development of Paris.

He took listeners back to an era when the Arlington Hotel was a grand establishment with balconies on every side. Travelling salesmen would stop there and display their goods in their rooms for local folks to browse and buy.

He asked how many people in the room remembered the White Horse Tavern, depicted on the screen at the front of the room. A few hands went up. Bob whisked the rest back to the time when it was a popular stop on Highway 2, mid-way between Toronto and London (or Toronto and Detroit) where travellers would relax over lunch. Jazz star Louis Armstrong once stopped there for a meal.

Bob showed a large barn-like building on Elm Street, which no one could identify. He happily explained that the long-gone structure was the Paris Roller Skating Rink, where young men would court their girlfriends, the couples dancing and spinning on the concrete floor.

His stories — ranging from the beautiful, but demolished, Congregationalist Church to Grand Valley Park, where families would await sailboats to take them down the Nith River to the picnic grounds — brought history to life.

At the end of Bob’s presentation there was enthusiastic applause and an appetite for more.

Ursula O’Brien, chair of the museum’s board, played a dual role at the AGM; providing the audio-visual accompaniment to Bob’s stories and presenting her own report outlining what PMHS achieved in 2019 and hopes it will accomplish in 2020.

It became clear how engaged members were when Ursula put forward two amendments to the museum’s by-laws; the first seeking to change the size of the board from 10 directors to “up to 10”; the second seeking to move the annual general meeting from February to April. She asked Councillor Steve Howes to hold a vote.

Howes began by asking if there were any questions or comments. There were plenty. One long-serving member complained that changing the date of the AGM would put the museum “out of step with the rest of the world.” Several participants expressed concerns that the budget would remain unapproved until the fourth month of the year. On the positive side, one participant pointed out that more snowbirds would be able to the attend the AGM. Councillor John MacAlpine, who chairs Brant’s heritage committee, said more municipal councillors would be able to attend if the museums in Paris, St. George and Burford spaced out their annual general meetings.

It was a spirited but civil democratic debate. Both amendments passed, with a significant dissenting vote.

from left to right: directors-at-large Jim Graber and Andrea Nechita, treasurer Marie Williamson, secretary Carol Goar, chair Ursula O’Brien, vice-chair Stephanie Pile

In the same spirit, Councillor Marc Laferriere conducted the election for the 2020 board of directors. His call to renew Marie Williamson’s term as treasurer of the board produced unanimous consent. His three calls for nominations from the floor to the board were less successful, so he affirmed the six current directors: Ursula O’Brien, chair of the board; Stephanie Pile, vice-chair; Marie Williamson, treasurer; Carol Goar, secretary; Jim Graber, director-at-large and Andrea Nechita, director-at-large.

To conclude the meeting, Councillor Howes, the museum’s liaison to municipal council, offered museum members a preview of Brant’s soon-to-come digital walking tours. Small medallions, attached to historic sites, would allow smartphone users to tap into a brief history of the building, monument or structure in question. The commentary would direct those who want to know more to the Paris Museum & Historical Society.

PMHS was gratified that 5 local politicians — Brant Councillors Steve Howes, Marc Laferriere and John MacAlpine, former Brant mayor Ron Eddy and Brantford Councillor Joshua Wall — took the time to attend its 2020 annual general meeting.

The meeting moved at brisk pace. Afterward many participants stayed to sample the refreshments, ask Bob questions and socialize.

As the board heads into a new season, it is still looking for new members. If you know anyone who might be interested in a greater role in the community, please pass on their name to any of our friendly volunteers or send a message to

Carol Goar

The Last Mayor of Paris

Jack Bawcutt (centre) with the 1998 Town of Paris council

A war-time friendship between an English pilot training in Dauphin, Manitoba and a Canadian railway agent living in nearby Sifton, helped shape the face of modern Paris. The Royal Air Force trainee was Jack Bawcutt, who would go on to become the mayor of Paris, Ontario.

The entrepreneurial railway agent – owner of a woollens shop on the side — was Willard McPhedrain, who later launched Mary Maxim, a mail-order needlework company with worldwide sales. He chose Paris as its home.

Jack and Joyce Bawcutt

“Willard would come to the base and invite airmen to spend the weekend in Sifton,” Bawcutt recalled in an interview. By the time the war ended, the young Londoner had made up his mind to return to live in Canada.

In 1956, he did. He settled in Paris and sent for his family. His wife Joyce, “needed some persuading that it was the right thing to do.” A few months later, she arrived with the children. Eight-year-old Linda – who went on to become co-founder of the Degrassi television series – has fond memories of that time. She felt free. The kids in the neighbourhood played till darkness fell.

Jack Bawcutt at work

Bawcutt worked hard as office and sales manager at Mary Maxim (then operating out of Old Town Hall on Burwell Street). In 1965, he won a seat on Paris Town Council.

“I left to work for Penmans as merchandising manager,” he recounted. “After a year, they wanted me to move to Montreal.” He and Joyce were dead-set against that so they set up The Millhouse, a textile company on Spruce Street in Paris. The Millhouse sold pillows, cushions, horse blankets, janitorial clean-up bags, drapes for trailers and boat and gazebo covers, employing local seamstresses.

As Bawcutt’s business grew, so did his reputation as a municipal politician. In 1974, he served as Paris’s representative on the Grand Valley Flood Relief Committee. A year later, he became mayor of Paris, a position he held until 1994 with a four-year interruption to seek federal office. As mayor he steered the town through two recessions, keeping morale up during the slowdowns. “Too rapid economic and commercial growth can strain municipal services,” he told Parisians.

Using federal and provincial infrastructure funds, he spearheaded improvements to the library, police department, fire station, arena (which became the Syl Apps Community Centre) and aging water mains.

In many ways Bawcutt was ahead of his time. He initiated recycling. He was an early advocate of cloth shopping bags. He understood the need to balance growth with the desire of residents to preserve the town’s rural charm.

He fended off repeated attempts by the province to amalgamate Paris and its neighbours. “I see Paris continuing its role as a town rather than a city and continuing to maintain its position as the jewel of Brant County,” he declared in 1990.

But by 1998, the tide could no longer be held back. Paris was subsumed by Brant County, making Bawcutt the last mayor of Paris. His successor, Ron Eddy, became the first mayor of the County of Brant.

Today Jack and Joyce Bawcutt, both 96, live at Telfer Place. To ensure they are never forgotten, their daughter Linda Schuyler and son-in-law Stephen Stohn have donated $1 million to the restoration of Paris Old Town Hall, now called the Bawcutt Centre.

Jack Bawcutt (seated) at the ceremony designating the Bawcutt Centre as a Heritage Property

by Carol Goar

A renowned poet in our midst

Nelson Ball, 1942-2019 — Image credit:

The Paris Museum & Historical Society recently received a treasure trove of Canadian literature from the estate of Nelson Ball; a poet, publisher, bookseller and 34-year resident of Paris. The books were donated by his executors, Catherine Stevenson and Suzan Yates on Jan. 30, 2020.

Ball was born in Clinton, Ontario. He moved to Seaforth, Waterloo, then Kitchener for the first 20 years of his life. In 1965 he married Barbara Caruso, a visual artist from Kincardine, and founded Weed Flower Press to publish his poetry and the work of other Canadian poets.

The couple enjoyed their bohemian existence, but it didn’t produce enough income to pay their bills so they moved to Toronto in 1967, where Ball found steady work as a library assistant at the University of Toronto and made extra money as a cataloguer at the Village Book Store. That allowed him to launch William Nelson Books, with a shop and extensive mail-order catalogue. As his business grew, he needed ever-larger quarters. By the mid ’80s, he was priced out of the Toronto real estate market.

He and Caruso searched from Owen Sound to St. Catharines for the right property. One afternoon, driving through Paris, they spotted an ad in a real estate broker’s window for a three-storey structure built in 1928. The office/laboratory, owned by Domtar, had been deserted since 1984; an industrial relic in a residential neighbourhood.

31 Willow Street

For the couple, it was a perfect “home”. It had plenty of room for Ball’s vast collection of books plus a large studio – with a view of the Grand River – where Caruso could paint and store her completed art. A convoy of two tractor-trailers and a special fine-art van was needed to transport their possessions to their new home at 31 Willow Street.

They thrived in their new setting, enjoying the pace of small-town life. Each sparked the creativity of the other. Ball returned to writing after a 20-year hiatus, producing his “Paris” poems. Tragically, the partnership ended on Dec. 30, 2009 when Caruso died of cancer.

Ball, a self-described loner, didn’t go out much after Caruso’s death. He spent most of his time making sure Caruso’s paintings were sent to as many galleries as possible. One afternoon, seeking nature’s solace, he took a walk in the gardens of the Adelaide Hunter Hoodless Homestead in St. George, with Catherine Stevenson, a documentary maker and her friend Suzan Yates.

The two women became Ball’s companions, his advocates as his health declined and ultimately the co-executors of his estate.

It took them many months to find homes for his 30,000 books. They saved the “Paris” poems (plus one earlier volume) and donated a complete set – plus two dozen spares – to PMHS.

The museum kept the set as part of the town’s cultural heritage. It put the duplicates in its gift shop. Members of the public are welcome to them for $10 a book. (Commercially, the same titles sell for $17 to $50, if they can be found.)

In Ball’s lifetime, few Parisians knew that a renowned poet lived in their midst. Today, they can meet him through his poetry, drive past his unusual home or purchase a piece of his legacy at the Paris Museum.

by Carol Goar