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.
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.
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.
A well-meaning guidance counsellor at Paris District High School told Linda Schuyler she could look forward to a great future as a teacher or a nurse. “Firefighter, lawyer, television producer — those weren’t even on the radar screen” she told an audience of students, faculty and members of the public on the Brantford campus of Wilfrid Laurier University.
She said little to her guidance counsellor, but vowed to break the 1960s stereotypes for bright, ambitious young women.
A few months later, Schuyler (Linda Bawcutt at the time) was off to Waterloo University on a mathematics scholarship. She didn’t particularly like math and didn’t like the course her life was taking. “It was an unhappy time.” At Christmas, she quit. Early the next year, she strapped a knapsack on her back and set out for a round-the-world tour. She didn’t get very far. On her first stop — England, the country of her birth — she and 2 friends were in a horrific car crash. Both young men were killed. She was injured badly and sent back home.
By the time she recovered, it was too late to get into university. She applied to teacher’s college and married her high school boyfriend, Brian Schuyler. Her life seemed to unfolding exactly as the guidance counsellor had predicted.
After a brief teaching stint in London, Ontario, Schuyler moved on to Earl Grey Junior High in Toronto. It was an inner-city school with kids from South East Asia, Mexico, Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe. It stretched her understanding of diversity. “In Paris, the idea of diversity, at the time, was a white Catholic girl dating a white Protestant boy,” she recalled. “Here I was in a classroom with kids of all different types of background and ethnicities.”
Schuyler drew on her early experiences as a newcomer to Paris Central Elementary School. “I remembered back to feeling like an outsider in Grade 3,” recounted. Her classmates called her a slimy limey. They mocked her accent. “What were these kids (Earl Grey students) going through, living in the old world at home and at the new world at school?” She asked them and they told her poignant, funny, heartbreaking stories.
Hoping to one day tell their stories, she started taking filmmaking and broadcasting courses at night. In the summers, she experimented with an 8-millimetre camera, making short films about young people coping with suddenly-active hormones, alcohol, drugs, racism, pregnancy, body image struggles, abortion and suicidal urges. She needed money to go further. By lucky circumstance, the Prime Minister of the day, Pierre Trudeau, had just announced multiculturalism as official government policy. Ottawa offered small grants to groups providing recognition to contributions of diverse ethnic groups. Schuyler applied and got one.
She used it to produce her first professional film. It was picked up by every school board in the country. “I was getting a name for myself. Who wouldn’t want to make more?” That was the genesis of The Kids of Degrassi Street, followed by Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High and Degrassi: The Next Generation. Schuyler produced more than 500 episodes, showing kids they were not alone and stimulating discussion of once-taboo subjects. She won an armload of Emmys and Canadian Screen Awards, as well as an honorary doctorate from Laurier Brantford.
In 1995, Schulyer married her co-producer Stephen Stohn. They live in Northumberland County on the north shore of Lake Ontario. She remains close to her parents, Jack and Joyce Bawcutt of Paris and remembers her early days, playing in the Mary Maxim factory where her father worked.
In 2015 Schulyer and Stohn donated $1 million to help purchase and restore Paris Old Town Hall, now known as the Bawcutt Centre.