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.
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.
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
Paris resident and museum member Warren Letson has created a gingerbread replica of the historic Bawcutt Centre in Paris. Warren has generously decided to raffle off this replica and donate the proceeds to the Paris Museum.
Raffle tickets will be sold at Wincey Mills on the following days:
Thursday November 26th until Saturday November 28th – 10am to 4pm
Thursday December 4th until Saturday December 6th – 10am to 4pm
Come to Wincey Mills and get your chance to win this beautiful gingerbread replica of the Bawcutt Centre.
Visitors to the newly reopened Paris Museum will be struck by how much has changed since COVID-19 forced us to close the museum last March.
The first two signs that life is different at PMHS are the bottle of hand sanitizer and the row of masks waiting right inside the door. Without a mask, no visitor or volunteer can be permitted in the museum.
next give-away is the large plexiglass shield at the front desk. It
is a large L-shaped wraparound, protecting the receptionist. There is
room to slide documents underneath, but only the receptionist is
allowed behind the shield.
be intimidated; all our receptionists are friendly and eager to help
Look a little further and you’ll see markings on the floors, ensuring a one-way flow of traffic. During a contagious pandemic, we can’t have visitors going every which way or clustering around one exhibit.
further notice, we are asking visitors to make an appointment before
they come. This helps us control the number of people in the museum.
The Brant County Health Unit has set a limit of ten individuals –
volunteers and visitors – at any given time. Without an
appointment, drop-ins will have to wait outside the museum until
someone leaves if there are already ten people in the museum.
archives will be closed to visitors during the pandemic, but
researchers will respond to email requests
and phone requests (519-442-9295)
new hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 1 pm to 4 pm. The museum
will not open on Saturdays.
of these adjustments were required by the Brant County Health Unit as
a condition of reopening. The bigger and more deliberate changes were
orchestrated by our curator, Tina Lyon. During the lockdown, she
envisaged a complete reorganization of the public areas of the museum
to highlight our cobblestone models, create more space and freshen
began by circulating three possible floor plans to the board,
volunteers and frequent users. All three complied with the Ontario
Building Code and fire safety regulations. Participants quickly
agreed on one of the plans. In late July the museum was
professionally cleaned and disinfected and the county permitted four
volunteers inside at any given time. That was when Tina got to work
moving wall display cases and shifting everything to a new location.
result: the focal point of the museum is now our collection of
cobblestone models. They are in pristine shape, each building’s
name address and a brief history on a brass plaque attached to the
casing. The large diorama (a three-dimensional map of historic Paris)
which had long occupied the centre of the museum, has been
repositioned. It will shortly undergo repairs.
wall displays contain fresh artifacts. The gift shop is gone and will
soon display a wrap-around history of Paris.
the museum feels brighter, more spacious and more orderly.
has not changed – and will never change – is the warm welcome we
offer our visitors and our willingness to find and make available the
information people want.
Please make an appointment, put on a mask and come see the improvements our team has made.
Local museums are reopening across Ontario. The Brant Museum came out of lockdown on June 30th, the Waterloo Region Museum opened its doors on July 2nd, the Woodstock Museum has been open since July 7th and the Guelph Civic Museum reopened on July 24th. Most have shortened their hours and put COVID-19 restrictions in place, but visitors can view their exhibits and use their archives.
Yet the Paris Museum, in one of the safest communities in the province, remains closed.
What makes us so different?
The principal factor is that the Paris Museum is located in the Syl Apps Community Centre, which has an indoor arena and recreation facilities. This type of facility has remained closed in Brant County.
But don’t let the locked doors deceive you. The life of the museum goes on. Every month, the board of directors meets by phone and videoconference. The museum has been inspected regularly by Steve Pinkett and our archives and documents have likewise been checked by our curator, Tina Lyon. Digital cataloging and bookkeeping are being done by our volunteers from home.
In mid-July, the museum was professionally cleaned and disinfected. Since July 22nd, masked and gloved volunteers – a maximum of four at any given time – have been allowed to enter the museum.
Our researchers have resumed work, our filers and cataloguers are busy, our technology is being updated, our front desk handles administrative matters and inquiries and our chair, Ursula O’Brien, answers members’ questions by email, Facebook and the museum’s website.
Although we have not been able to hold fundraisers or renew memberships, our budget remains intact. We received a grant from The County of Brant to help us survive the pandemic and fortunately our expenditures – heating, air conditioning, bank fees – have been minimal.
There have been losses. We were not able to mourn the deaths of two of our long-serving members — Dale Robb on March 18th and Eric Gibson on June 4th. We very much miss our museum friends.
Our volunteers come in five days a week and we are closed on Saturday. We are looking forward to having visitors back when possible and hope that everyone stays well and healthy in the meantime.
We remain heartened by the will of our volunteers to ride out this crisis and emerge vibrant and strong.
Those who knew Eric Gibson — one of the most dedicated researchers and finest storytellers at the Paris Museum and Historical Society — were saddened to hear of his death on Thursday, June 4th.
Eric was in his mid-80s. He had gone to the hospital for gall bladder surgery and his heart stopped. Unfortunately the medical team could not revive him.
All of us at the museum send our condolences to Linda Charlton and extend our sympathy to Eric’s family and friends.
There will be no funeral because of the coronavirus pandemic. But tributes and memories are pouring in from fellow volunteers, co-workers and his friends.
“Eric was a Wednesday afternoon regular, such a hard worker” recalled Marlene Dayman. “I will miss his afternoon greetings with his wonderful Welsh lilt.”
“I will remember Eric quietly and diligently beavering away at the desk, preserving our wonderful pictures of Paris past” said former PMHS president Cate Breaugh. “He was very self-effacing, but had a sharp sense of humour that I looked forward to. I enjoyed our little chats now and then.”
Marg Deans remembers Eric’s fun side. “Eric was my co-conspirator in breaking the ‘no food in the archives’ rule. It was a bit of naughtiness we all enjoyed. Welsh cakes are a pan-fried cookie fragrant with cinnamon and nutmeg. Sometimes Eric would make them and sometimes I would. The Wednesday team would gather around mugs of tea and just enjoy our friendship.”
“His calm and serene nature helped me through a few times when I was trying to go too many ways at once,” said curator Tina Lyon.
“Rest in peace, Eric,” said Sharon and Sean Murphy. “We will truly miss you.” They described him as a “real gentleman” with a sunny disposition who was willing to help wherever he could.
“A very humble and gracious man” said Bob Hasler simply.
Eric, an aeronautical engineer, was born in South Wales. He moved to England to work as a designer of aircraft engines. In 1964 he was recruited by Canadian aerospace manufacturer Pratt and Whitney.
One of his great regrets was that he emigrated 11 years too late to be part of the crack team of designers and engineers that conceived and built the Avro Arrow, the fastest, most advanced supersonic jet of its time.
But he studied the legendary aircraft, pored over drawings and technical specifications and learned how history, politics and cost overruns conspired to kill the Avro Arrow in 1959. His lecture on the storied interceptor jet at the Paris Museum in 2018 was one of our best attended and most appreciated.
When he retired in Mississauga, Eric turned to quieter pursuits: philately, local history, reading and freelance writing. He published two books: Mississauga Moments, a collection of stories of the history of Mississauga and More Mississauga Moments in the same vein.
How did he end up in Paris? Eric answered that question with one word in a conversation with this writer: “Love”.
He came to town on a visit, met Linda Charlton and was smitten. After a few more visits, he pulled up stakes and moved to Paris. Shortly afterward, he became a member of PMHS, then a regular Wednesday afternoon volunteer and an expert in scanning military photos and taking meticulous pictures of newly-accessioned donations.
Sometimes as he sat at the scanner, intent on work, people thought Eric was too busy for chatter or socializing. But when he broke for tea he shared tales of his travels and droll observations about life.
Eric made his mark in many fields and disciplines. The Paris Museum is lucky that our research room was one of them.
Tributes and condolences are pouring into the Paris Museum and Historical Society as members and friends learn of the death of beloved researcher Dale Robb.
She passed away in her home on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 at the age of 80. To her fellow volunteers at PMHS, Dale was much too young-spirited to be called an octogenarian. She laughed frequently, dressed stylishly and dismissed her misfortunes – broken bones, sprains, lacerations and bruises – with a breezy wave of her hand.
It wasn’t that she underestimated the seriousness of these injuries. As a public health nurse she understood the cumulative damage falls and abrasions did. But she refused to let them define or limit her life.
To the small group of co-workers who joined her at the museum on Thursday afternoons, asking Dale was a more reliable way of getting the truth about Paris’ past than books or records. “If Dale said something was so, then it was,” said Norma Maus, a member of the Thursday crew. “I learned from experience, after looking something up, that she was right and I wasn’t – always took her word as gospel after that.”
“Our Thursday group will really miss her,” added Chris Galloway. “She was such a bright light and so kind-hearted,” added Patti Gladding.
Born Janet Dale Robb in the part of Paris now known as Upper Town, she grew up in the shadow of the old Town Hall located on Burwell Street. Her parents, the late William and Lydia Robb, who ran a nearby hotel, rose early to ring the town bell (now located on Broadway Street) that summoned workers to the mills.
Nothing delighted Dale more than recounting stories of Paris before many of her younger PMHS colleagues were born. One of her favourites featured the “penny candy” of yesteryear: black balls, jawbreakers, licorice pipes, marshmallow “peanuts” and chocolate-covered molasses. “That was before Paris had fluoridated water,” she wrote for the Paris Library in 1945. “Many of us have lots of fillings and lost teeth, probably due to these penny candy indulgences.”
Dale joined the Paris Museum and Historical Society in 2004. During her time with PMHS, she served as a Director for four years, gave historical presentations, edited the newsletter and provided walking tours with her long-time friend Marie Williamson. She contributed articles to the Paris Star.
It was her kindness that touched this writer. A couple of years ago, I fractured my pelvis in a bad fall. One of my first visitors, after I was released from hospital, was Dale. She offered empathy – knowing how a broken pelvis feels – and practical advice, staying to chat for at least an hour. I followed every tip she provided. I’m convinced my recovery was hastened by Dale’s guidance.
Her death was sudden and unexpected. When she met Marie for coffee on Sunday morning, she seemed fine. On Wednesday she was gone. Marie is “finding it hard to comprehend that she won’t be around anymore”. As are we all.
Former PMHS board chair Cate Breaugh offered this tribute: “A little piece of Paris history goes with her.”
A private graveside service will take place at Paris Cemetery. A celebration of Dale’s life will take place at a later date.
Medically, scientifically and technologically we are light-years ahead of the Canadians who were caught in the nation’s first global pandemic. But the advice from today’s health authorities is strikingly similar to the guidance offered when the Spanish flu struck in 1918: Avoid large gatherings, don’t get close to anyone showing symptoms, drink lots of water, get plenty of outdoor exercise, help your neighbours and don’t overreact to newspaper reports.
That is not the only similarity. In both eras, public officials initially downplayed the crisis. In 1918 they assured Canadians that the influenza spreading across the land was less dangerous than measles or scarlet fever and urged them to go on with ordinary life. In 2020 the Prime Minister and provincial premiers initially insisted there was nothing to fear. Canada’s health system – tested by the SARS pandemic in 2003 – was robust and well-prepared. As hundreds fell ill, the tone of the Prime Minister and provincial premiers changed.
In both outbreaks, front-line doctors spoke out, urging political leaders to provide the resources they needed to cope. Quarantines and masks were tried with limited success. Schools, public institutions and places of entertainment were ordered to close.
Both epidemics set off panic buying: quinine and cough syrup a century ago; hand sanitizer and toilet paper today. Profiteers popped up, buying essentials in bulk then peddling them at double or triple the price.
There are significant differences, of course.
When the Spanish flu hit, Canada was struggling to get back on its feet after World War One, which had left 60,000 dead and 173,000 wounded. (Keep in mind that the country’s total population at the time was just 8 million). The economy was in a slump, fuel was scarce and people were weary of years of wartime shortages, rations and bad news from Europe. Today’s backdrop is more benign. When COVID-19 arrived, the economy, if not bullish, was growing. Shortages seldom occurred. People took for granted that Canada’s universal health-care system would be there when they needed it.
In 1918, people got their information from newspapers or by word-of-mouth. The flu was not front-page news. That was reserved for the fallout from the Great War. Today COVID-19 has obliterated all other news. Anxious Canadians can get an up-to-the-minute tally of the number infected and the economic and social impact at any time of the day or night on the Internet.
Testing wasn’t a priority during the Spanish Flu outbreak. People got sick so rapidly and became so miserable that they didn’t need a diagnosis. There was no talk of border controls in 1918. With soldiers, sailors, nurses and medics pouring back into Canada from the battle front, families wouldn’t have tolerated any obstruction. The source of the infection didn’t matter much to our forebears. Their priority was surviving.
Finally, the influenza virus of 1918 behaved quite differently from the corona virus of today. It took its greatest toll on Canadians 20 to 40 years of age. People over 65 appear to be most vulnerable to COVID-19.
It is too early to compare numbers. The Spanish flu took approximately 50,000 lives in Canada. In Paris alone, 41 people died in the pandemic. We don’t know what the toll of COVID-19 will be. As the pathogen spreads our best hope is that enhanced hygiene, self-isolation and social distancing will minimize the casualties.
What can we learn from Canada’s first global pandemic? Seven lessons stand out:
Frequent, credible communication from public health authorities is essential. When there is a vacuum, rumours and false information will multiply.
Governments must coordinate their messages and actions. We cannot afford to repeat the uncoordinated scramble of 1918.
Mass hospitalization of people with a rapidly-spreading virus is not useful. It heightens the risk of infection for doctors and nurses and crowds out those who truly need medical intervention.
A pandemic is the wrong time to constrain government spending. The government of 1918 was so tight-fisted when the Spanish flu pandemic struck that Prime Minister Robert Borden was shamed into setting up the Department of Health to share federal resources with the provinces.
Hoarding increases the economic hardship and social tensions triggered by a pandemic.
Don’t relax too soon. The Spanish flu left victims so severely weakened that many contracted pneumonia and died.
Citizens are often ahead of their governments. Without prompting, people unaffected by the 1918 flu virus filled in for exhausted nurses and orderlies. Townsfolk delivered food to quarantined neighbours.
We can see many of these lessons reflected in the policies announced by our governments amid the evolving COVID-19 crisis.
Times change. Technology advances. Science unlocks new possibilities. But the surest guide to handling a pandemic lies in our history.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.