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.
“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.
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.
by Carol Goar