Leadership Change at the Paris Museum & Historical Society

Effective October 19th, the Board of Directors of the Paris Museum & Historical Society approved the installation of vice-chair Carol Goar as acting chair of PMHS.

This development was prompted by the resignation of Ursula O’Brien. Ursula served on the board for five years, the last two as chair. She guided the museum through the challenges of pandemic closures and lockdowns, organizing the first ever Paris Museum annual general meeting conducted online. She oversaw the continuing digitization of the museum, including remote access for researchers.

Also leaving the board after two plus years is Jim Graber. In his time on the board, Jim planned and completed a number of infrastructure projects including improved signage, a passed members memorial plaque, and the installation of the museum’s original Robert Whale portraits of Paris founders Hiram and Mary Capron. He also began the digitization of the museum’s massive collection of photographic negatives.

Everyone at the museum wishes Ursula and Jim well.

Members will have an opportunity to elect the board’s next chair at the museum’s annual general meeting in April 2022.

Questions can be sent to info@theparismuseum.com or carol.goar@theparismuseum.com

Ice Cream Wagon Brings Memories to Life

At the clip-clop of horse’s hooves, children grabbed their nickels and ran. The Ice Cream Man — also known as Frank McCombs — was coming. McCombs was one of the last ice-cream peddlers in Ontario. For 25 years, his horse-drawn ice cream wagon was a familiar sight on the streets of Paris. He worked from 10 am to 11:30 pm on summer days, serving as many as 1,000 cones a day.

Most Parisians overlooked McCombs’ crutches, which was just the way he liked it. “I’m a cripple, but I’m also a realist,” he told a reporter from the Brantford Expositor at the time. “There’s a lot of people sitting around in wheelchairs that shouldn’t be. It’s a matter of adjusting”.

He became a paraplegic at the age of 18. Refusing to be defined by his disability, he opened a small tobacco shop. Within 15 years, it had grown into a large variety store, but he had a bigger dream. He bought an old bread wagon, repainted it, attached a horse and a bell then filled it with tubs of ice cream and soft drinks, kept cold by large blocks of ice. And off he went.

He quickly developed a large, loyal clientele. Over the years he wore out three horses and three wagons. He liked it when grown-ups he had served as children came up and asked if he remembered them. “Mostly I did,” he recounted.

Frank worked until 1973. He died two years later at St. Joseph’s in Brantford. The family donated the ice cream wagon to the Paris Optimist Club.

“We used it on several occasions and it was a huge hit wherever we went,” longtime Optimist Marilyn McCulloch recalled. It was was hooked up to a tractor and featured in parades until it became unsafe to pull it. It was filled with coolers and lots of ice and taken to Canada Day celebrations at the Paris Fairgrounds. “It was a good fundraiser as well as being well received by the community,” McCulloch said.

Mount Pleasant bicentennial parade – 1999

Between appearances, the ice cream wagon was stored in a fenced-in area between the two Optimist buildings on Elm Street and covered with tarps in the winter months. Before donating to the Paris Museum, the Optimists sent it to Burtch Correctional Centre in Brantford (now demolished) for restoration.

For the past 15 years, the ice cream wagon has belonged to the Paris Museum & Historical Society. Initially it was stored in a county warehouse. Then former mayor Ron Eddy offered to keep it in his barn. Last July, the Eddy family asked PMHS to find a new home for it.

To store it safely, PMHS bought a large shipping container. The County of Brant offered the museum space at one of their storage facilities to keep the container. But the ice cream wagon made one memorable stop on the way to its new home. Mark Eddy and his son delivered it to the Paris Fairgrounds for this year’s Fall Fair. It was set up in the Curling Club Building, where a pair of volunteers swept it out and wiped it down.

the ice cream wagon on display at this year’s Paris Fair

Families lined up to see it. Parents and grandparents shared their stories of the ice cream wagon, clip-clopping down the streets of Paris with Frank McCombs scooping out tasty treats. It will make future appearances.

Look for the red and white ice cream wagon at next year’s Fall Fair, Springtime in Paris and the town’s 175th birthday celebration in 2025.

Carol Goar

The Children Who Never Came Home

The Paris Museum will be closed on Thursday, September 30th out of respect for the thousands of indigenous children who died or were abused in government-sponsored residential schools.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which became a statutory holiday this year, was originally known by aboriginal peoples as “Orange Shirt Day.”

For the past eight years, indigenous people have worn orange shirts on September 30th in honour of Phyllis Webstad, a Northern Secwpemc from the Stswecem’s Wgat’tem First Nation in British Columbia. The young girl arrived for her first day of school, proudly wearing a new orange shirt given to her by her grandmother. “They stripped me, took away my clothes including the orange shirt. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me,” she wrote years later in Phyllis’s Orange Shirt.

Between 1831 and 1998, there were 140 federal residential schools in Canada. An estimated 4,100 indigenous children died in these institutions. To date, 1,300 unmarked children’s graves have been found on the sites of sites of residential schools.

Given the scope of the tragedy, closing the museum for a day seemed insufficient to a handful of PMHS volunteers. So they brought in, bought or borrowed a handful items showcasing the voices, culture and craftsmanship of First Nations to create a temporary exhibit. The exhibit features a pair of
indigenous-made moccasins, an orange t-shirt, three books by indigenous writers, a signed poem by author and performer Pauline Johnson, as well as various maps and written material.

The exhibit will run from now until early October.

Each year, PMHS will revive the exhibit, making it more rich, more authentic and more informative.

– Carol Goar

Horse Sweep

Recently a small crew of museum volunteers had occasion to get up close and personal with a horse sweep. Variously termed “horse sweep”, “horse powered sweep”, “power sweep” or “sweep power”, this 19th-century agricultural tool was the portable generator of its time, changing the power of horses walking in a circle into the turning of a drive shaft. The drive shaft could then be used to power a variety of implements including threshers, balers and grinders. The horse sweep, despite its size and weight, was also relatively portable and could be moved to where the work needed to be done.

Figure 1: Brushing and vacuuming wood

The work required of the volunteers was to assess, clean and ensure that the materials of the sweep were stable for continued storage. It is made of untreated wood as well as cast iron that is both raw and painted. We needed to take the needs of the materials into account and clean accordingly, at the same time making as little negative impact on the parts as possible. Neither iron nor untreated wood should be subjected to water if it can be avoided (iron rusts and wood soaks it in and is more likely to develop mould). Therefore, most of our cleaning consisted of brushes of various stiffness and a shop vac (fig. 1).

Figure 2: Brushing and oiling cast iron

Occasionally a toothpick was used to dislodge stubborn bits of detritus. Following the brushing and vacuuming, the painted parts of the iron were wiped lightly with a damp cloth and the raw iron was treated with a light oil to discourage rust (fig. 2).

It was around that point in the operation that curiosity overcame us. We could see that all the pieces were in relatively good condition, but it was all in parts and not having the benefit of 19th-century agricultural experience, we wondered how it fit together and if it was complete. We pondered, and paced to view from a variety of perspectives. Then we had several “aha” moments and moved gears into place with satisfying ease (fig. 3).

Figure 3: The pinion gear sitting in place

We were quite excited when we discovered that a mysterious “wheel” served to hold the gear level and prevent binding of the teeth on the opposite side (fig. 4).

Figure 4: The wheel that serves to balance the gear

We could see that this horse power sweep could actually function again, with the addition of some wooden sweeps to fit into the cast iron bull gear. We were impressed by the elegant design of this heavy cast iron device that eased the labour of farmers.

Besides finding ourselves able to reassemble it, the other exciting thing about this horse sweep is that it was manufactured by a Paris company, Maxwell, on Willow Street, that was in business from 1857 until 1869, so it has real local agricultural and manufacturing significance.

We are not quite finished ensuring that the materials are stable for storage. The raw cast iron would benefit from some more attention to deal with rust on it and to stop more from forming. All in all, the horse sweep remains in good condition and the volunteer crew learned a lot. We are looking forward to temporarily placing the bull gear and seeing it all together.

Figure 5: A horse sweep demonstration

If you are interested in finding out more about horse sweeps, check here: http://mbagmuseum.ca/artifact/horse-power-sweep/ for a museum in Manitoba, or watch this video from Glengarry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RD89BSvH920

By Judy Moore, member of The Paris Museum

Digitizing the museum

The Walker Press building at 3 Yeo Street, Paris

The mural painted on the south wall of the Walker Press building on Willow Street symbolizes much of what has been going on at the Paris Museum, not just during the pandemic, but over the past few years.

The stated mission of the Paris Museum and Historical Society is “…to collect, preserve and make accessible the rich cultural heritage of Paris and surrounding area…” Many people may not realize that the Paris Museum is also an archive, housing a deep collection of documents and images going back over 100 years. Our research team has been working remotely through the pandemic fulfilling online research requests. This has been made possible through the museum’s continuing preservation projects.

Years ago, when it became apparent that many of the museum’s oldest paper documents were deteriorating, a microfilm/microfiche project was undertaken. As that technology approached obsolescence, a massive conversion project was carried out to digitize the microfilm/microfiche collection. The museum’s collection of artifacts is systematically catalogued in a searchable database. Photographs are scanned and stored on servers. A current project involves the high-definition computer scanning of over 10,000 photographic negatives. All of these digital files are further safeguarded using cloud backups.

Having the information in the museum’s collection digitized has made it possible to supply research results to people thousands of kilometres away — people who could never visit the museum in person. It has also made it possible for the museum to keep functioning and fulfilling its stated mission, even while the physical museum has been closed to visitors and researchers for much of the past year.

Rick O’Brien

Research is the Backbone of the Museum

The research team at the Paris Museum works so quietly and efficiently that its success caught many members by surprise during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

In just the first quarter of 2021, our researchers brought in $395.00 for PMHS. Last year, they earned a total of $392.50. What’s more, they’ve built a reputation in the community for producing high-quality work. One PMHS member was so pleased with the work done on her family by researcher Marlene Dayman that she sent the museum a $500 donation.

The team consists of Marg Deans, who specializes in genealogy; Steve Pinkett, an expert on land registry, maps and surveys; Marlene Dayman, who combines genealogy and land registry searches; Pat Hasler-Watts, who keeps track of every building in Paris; Wayne Wilkinson, who works independently on neighbourhoods and buildings; and Cathie Murch, who began as a donor of family records dating back to the 1840s and became a good researcher.

There are two researchers-in-training: Brad Bennett and Sharon Morton. Brad is hard at work reorganizing the museum’s voluminous Penmans files. Sharon has also taken on the onerous job of organizing the existing genealogy files.

“We are all equals,” Marg says. “We have different levels of experience, different interests and different ways of researching, but when combined we are great team.”

They work on ongoing projects and requests for information from the public. Some requests come by telephone, but most are sent through the museum’s website.

The four most common requests are:

  • individuals looking for relatives
  • homeowners seeking information about a house or property.
  • people asking about events in Paris
  • developers, lawyers and companies in search of information about a building site.

Occasionally the research team gets an unusual request. Marg remembers a museum in the United States sending PMHS a photo of a Penmans suit underwear and asking when it was manufactured.

As most members know, PMHS has always done research, usually for a nominal fee or no charge. That changed three years ago when the board of directors implemented clear guidelines and fees for the museum’s research.

Under the 2018 rules, a fee of $20 per visit was established for assisted research (an individual comes into the museum seeking to confirm or expand a piece of information), $20 an hour for research done solely by PMHS, $20 for a high-quality digital copy of a photo, map or document for personal or non-profit use and a negotiable fee for research undertaken for commercial purposes. These fees are needed to defray the cost of expensive software – Family Tree Maker and Ancestry.com – needed to answer genealogy requests.

Initially, the research team tended to undercharge clients. Then the COVID pandemic hit. Visitors could no longer come into the museum, forcing the research team to modify the guidelines to suit the times. As a rule of thumb, researchers charge $20 per hour, but the team takes into account both the amount of work involved and practical considerations. “Some requests would cost hundreds of dollars”, Marg explains.

In order to look as professional as possible, the research team puts its work in folders or 3-ring binders with the PMHS logo affixed. The package contains a cover letter saying the work was done by volunteers using the information available at the time and stipulating that PMHS cannot take responsibility for details that come to light later.

Marg estimates that 4 of 10 people who make requests are unwilling to pay even a minimal fee. “Sometimes it stems from the notion that we are part of the municipal government and this is our job.”

“However, in the past 6 months, requesters seem to understand that during COVID, we (museum volunteers) cannot fund raise or do our normal activities to keep our doors open.”

During shutdowns, our researchers work from their homes. Marg and Marlene have remote access to the computer system at the museum. The other members of the team are linked by email and Microsoft Teams. “It usually takes all of us working together to complete a single request.”

The way Marg sees it, the Paris Museum & Historical Society is like a powerful speed boat with dual engines. One is fuelled by volunteers who collect, preserve and display artifacts. The other is fuelled by volunteers who organize, share and create an understanding of what is in the museum’s archives. “Both engines need to be operating for the boat to move.”

Carol Goar

Lively and Informative Annual General Meeting

Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

When the third wave of COVID-19 hit Ontario in early March, hearts sank among the small group of volunteers planning the Paris Museum’s Annual General Meeting. They had been hoping to host an in-person AGM on April 18, 2021. After five-and-a-half months of lockdowns, the museum needed a boost. Their last hope expired on March 17 when Ontario Premier Doug Ford imposed an emergency stay-at-home order, extending till late May. That left two choices: postpone the AGM indefinitely or try to hold it online, which would pose possibly technical and practical challenges for PMHS, as this had never been done before.

Under the leadership of President Ursula O’Brien, the board of directors chose to hold the meeting online.

Ursula and then-secretary Carol Goar got to work preparing a package that contained all the documents PMHS members would need:

  • a cover letter explaining that health restrictions prevented PMHS from holding its AGM in person
  • an agenda
  • minutes of the 2020 annual meeting which had to be approved
  • a financial report for 2020 which likewise had to be approved
  • a draft budget for 2021 requiring members’ consent
  • a summary of the museum’s activities and achievements in 2020
  • a ballot to vote for the next board of directors and signal approval or disapproval for proposed changes with a stamped, pre-addressed envelope to make it easier for members to submit their vote ahead of the meeting

The members’ packages were mailed out or hand-delivered on April 15th and 16th. An email was sent before the meeting with instructions on how to use ZOOM, the video conferencing software that the museum was using to allow interactive communication among members.

As the date of the AGM approached, there were still doubts about the attendance and the number of ballots that would be sent in and still worries about technical glitches. But everything went remarkably well thanks to Stephanie Pile and her Zoom expertise. Eighteen members joined the ZOOM meeting and 21 ballots were mailed in.

Ursula welcomed everyone and officially opened the Paris Museum’s 49th Annual General on April 18 at 2:10. The business portion of the meeting was quickly dispatched, leaving plenty of time for the President’s Report, the election and a video presentation by the Curator.

Ursula summarized how the museum had survived — and adapted — during the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and assured members that its hard-working volunteers would press ahead through the third wave. She closed her report with a heartfelt tribute to three dedicated members — Dale Robb, Eric Gibson and Mary Cassar — who had passed away since the last AGM.

Then came the election, ably handled by Brant Councillor Steve Howes, who generously spent the better part of his afternoon at the AGM.

He acknowledged and thanked the two board members — Stephanie Pile and Andrea Nechita — who were stepping down. Stephanie Pile has been with the museum for a number of years serving mainly as Vice President. Stephanie will continue as a consultant for the museum board and continue working at Woodlands Cultural Centre. Andrea Nechita has also been with the museum for a long time and is now pursuing a part-time teaching career along with her position at Woodlands Cultural Centre.

Steve Howes sought and received the membership’s approval for the re-election of three board members — Ursula O’Brien, Carol Goar and Jim Graber — whose terms had expired. Then he introduced the four new members nominated to the board of directors: Tina Lyon, Patti Gladding, Judy Moore and Miranda Siklenka. By a vote of 39 to zero, they were all elected.

The highlight of the meeting was a virtual walking tour of the museum, including the storage area, which most members seldom see, led by Tina Lyon the museum’s curator. She focused on the changes that had been made while the museum was closed, the archives where artifacts are catalogued and stored, and the research room. Thanks to Tina’s effective narration and her team’s skilful filming, the members watched an enjoyable 15-minute video.

With a final thanks and farewell from Ursula, it was time to adjourn but most of the ZOOM participants weren’t ready to leave.

Councillor Howes offered to stay and take questions about local development issues. A lively discussion followed about the sale of the beautiful Penmarvian Estate on Grand River Street North, the redevelopment of the Walker Press Building on Yeo Street and the struggle to maintain Paris’s small-town charm as newcomers pour in and developers buy up large tracts of land for housing.

It was one of the most interesting and informative Annual General Meetings the museum has held in recent years, defying the skeptics and giving the newly-elected board a model of ingenuity and co-operation.

Carol Goar

Annual General Meeting

Sunday April 18th, 2 pm via Zoom

This year’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be different from all others. Due to pandemic restrictions, we will need to conduct the meeting via Zoom. All members will receive a Zoom link by email a few days before the meeting.

The meeting will feature the following:

  • Vote of Board Members
  • Change to the Constitution
  • Membership Updates
  • Virtual Exhibit Tour
  • Members we have lost

In order to be able to vote at the AGM you will need to be a museum member. During the current lockdown membership fees can be paid as follows:

  • Email Transfer – send an email money transfer to membership@theparismuseum.com. Be sure to use ‘parisont’ as the password and include your name, address and type of membership.
  • Regular Mail – send in a cheque for the membership to the museum and be sure to include your name, address and type of membership. Mail the cheque to The Paris Museum, 66 Grand River St. N., Paris ON, N3L 2M2

Membership fees are as follows:

  • Seniors and Students – $25.00
  • Adults – $35.00
  • Family – $45.00

Recent PMHS Activities

Despite complications caused by COVID-19 restrictions, our hard-working museum volunteers have been busy in the community.

In November, PMHS supplied some of the items for the Legion’s Remembrance Day display at Sobeys.

In December, volunteers braved the cold winds to set up an oldtime “Waiting for Santa” display for the very well-attended drive-through Christmas event organized by the Paris Agricultural Society at the fairgrounds.


My first full year as President of the Paris Museum has been interesting and very challenging. In the early part of the year the museum was hard at work making plans for events, fundraisers and our ever popular walking tours. Then COVID-19 changed everything.

To help fight the spread of the pandemic we had to close the museum. After about four months volunteers were allowed in with restrictions and in limited numbers. Finally in October we were able to have visitors to the museum, again with restrictions and limited numbers.

Gift Shop Closure

One of the restrictions from the Brant County Health Unit was that we not sell any items from our gift shop. The gift shop was also difficult to maintain and so it was decided that we would close and dismantle it. Our curator has some very exciting plans to make the former gift shop area into a chronological display of the history of Paris.

Exhibits & Events

It was wonderful to have visitors come and see our exhibits and the many changes that were made by our hardworking volunteers since they were allowed to go back in. Recently, in the month of December we were able to have our first fundraiser of the year, a raffle of the gingerbread replica of the Bawcutt Centre. It was very successful and we hope to be able to have another gingerbread raffle in 2021.

We were also invited to be part of the very popular drive through Christmas display at the Paris Fairgrounds. Thanks to all who made this happen on that cold and windy day!

From the Curator

Our curator reports that we have had 880 artifacts donated this year in 130 accessioned groups. The volunteers are almost completely caught up with cataloguing all the artifacts donated before this year. The Paris Star converted microfilm files are mostly renamed and so will be easier to use. Tina wishes to thank the volunteers for all their hard work during this difficult time.

Research Report

The research department had a slow start to the year but in the past few months numerous requests have come in from as far away as the U.K and United States. Our researchers will be working from home for the month of January and will do their best to keep up with the requests.

Museum Closure

Now again, we face a museum closure. We are more prepared this time. We have subscribed to Zoom so that we can have online meetings and our volunteers are able to access the museum computers from home. Research, accessioning and general administration can now be done remotely.

In 2021 we will continue to improve our online presence with potential virtual exhibits, YouTube videos and hopefully online sales of our maps and books. As we move towards the New Year the Paris Museum Board members wish you a safe and Happy Holiday and all the best in the New Year. Stay safe!

Ursula O’Brien
Chair, The Paris Museum & Historical Society