A renowned poet in our midst

Nelson Ball, 1942-2019 — Image credit: niagarathisweek.com

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

Lifetime of ground-breaking adventure began in Paris

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.

at Laurier Brantford

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.

https://theparismuseum.com/weblog/2017/11/20/bawcutt-centre-one-step-closer/
https://theparismuseum.com/weblog/2019/10/04/bawcutt-centre-another-step-closer/

Carol Goar

Rare Find

All babies love carriages and stuffed toys

A wicker pram found in the attic of 53 Elm Street during recent renovations has been donated to the museum.

The pram was found with the blanket and “Gund” teddy bear inside. There is a hidden storage space under the mattress, and the back reclines or elevates to let the infant sit up.

Come to the museum and see this pram!

– Tina Lyon, Curator, Paris Museum and Historical Society

A Passion for Discovery

Tina at work

That moment when she finds a buried fact that solves a historical mystery is magical for Tina Lyon, the new curator of the Paris Museum and Historical Society. Her eyes light up. Her face reflects her excitement.

“I love history,” she says. “If we don’t keep our history, we’ll lose all the lessons we’ve learned. The stories of the people behind the artifacts are as important as the items themselves. This is the only way we will know who these people were.”

Officially, Tina stepped into her new role on Dec. 8, 2019. Unofficially she’d been preparing for some time; watching her predecessor Bob Hasler as he catalogued and methodically stored artifacts, trying to absorb all the history he has accumulated about Paris in his 30 years with PMHS and heeding his encouragement to take on her own projects.

Tina knew Bob and his wife Pat from church. Thanks partly to their influence, she became a regular visitor to the museum, then a member, then a fully-engaged volunteer. She began her work at the museum doing data entry and other archival jobs. “It was (the late) Doug Hazlewood who trained me to catalogue,” Tina recalled.

After moving every few years for most of her life, Tina finally feels rooted. She grew up in a military family, relocating as her father’s assignments changed. By the end of elementary school, she’d lived all over Europe and Canada. The family settled in Paris, Ontario when her father retired and she entered Grade 10. But Tina was soon on the move again. After marrying she and her husband moved to the USA. The couple lived in a succession of cities and towns in the U.S. Midwest and along the Pacific Coast.

That chapter of her life ended abruptly when her husband died, leaving her with a six-year-old daughter and six-month-old son. She remained in the Los Angeles area for a year, trying to sort out her life as a single mother. Tina decided she wanted to raise her kids in small-town Canada, so at the turn of the millennium she moved back to what she considers her hometown buying the home in Paris where her kids would grow up. While raising her children, she volunteered for a variety of jobs at Paris Performers’ Theatre and North Ward School, picking up experience in marketing, troubleshooting and record-keeping.

Tina begins the New Year with high hopes and a ready project. In late December, she submitted a proposal on behalf of the Paris Museum and Historical Society to a province-wide competition to display Paris Museum artifacts at Queen’s Park, Toronto. To her surprise, PMHS won. The design committee – which consists of Tina, Chris Galloway, Marie Williamson, Sarah Faucher and Patti Gladding – is already organizing the transfer of an exhibit to the provincial legislature where it will be showcased from April until October.

Tina has two overarching priorities for the coming year. The first is to ensure that Bob Hasler can step back from his long-time role as guardian of the museum’s archives with respect and dignity to pursue his own research within PMHS. The second is to revamp the museum’s collections policy so more PMHS researchers and volunteers can get involved.

Tina’s New Year’s resolution is simple but challenging: Learn to delegate. She knows she has a tendency to do everything herself. She realizes a good curator promotes teamwork.

by Carol Goar

Reflections

In 1992 I joined the Paris Museum & Historical Society. I quickly became a board member assisting the curator Fred Bemrose.

In the 1990’s we negotiated with the Paris Library to take over their archives, located on the second floor of the library. Many people joined us then – people like Roger Sharpe, who volunteered many hours.

By 1998, Fred had retired and I was appointed curator in his place.

In October of 1998 we were asked by the Public Utilities Commission to re-locate as they needed their space in the basement where we were storing our collections.

At the beginning of November we moved into a rental warehouse space on Woodslee Ave. Moving day began as a clear day, but just after the last box was in the new warehouse, it started to snow and didn’t stop for at least another day. Three months later we were very glad that we had moved when the basement space we had been in with the Public Utilities Commission flooded to the ceiling! Our collections would have been lost!

Through 1999 on most Saturdays, Norma Maus and I, with a few others sporadically helping, started cataloging the vast number of artifacts in our collection. Cataloging then was primitive compared to what we do today.

Over the next several years not only did I do the curator’s job, but I also held positions on the Board. I was President three times, Secretary twice and various other positions.

At some point it was time to hire a curator as a full time position. It was then that Lana Jobe became our new curator.

Finances have always been a concern. As money from the bequest from the Cox family was running out, rental costs became a concern. It was decided to move to a county-owned facility to reduce our costs. Interest income did not match our expenses and we were growing in leaps and bounds.

Even after moving to the county-owned Syl Apps Arena, money became a serious issue. We could no longer support Lana’s salary and so Lana left the museum soon after. It was a difficult time for the museum, but we pulled together.

Mary Gladwin took over the helm and with her husband, Bob Groucock, they started getting The Paris Museum back on track. An appeal went out for volunteers, and many of us came back to pitch in once again. I became the Curator again with Bob Groucock’s support. One day after I was talking with him, he went home, went to bed and never woke up. That put a huge hole in our operations. It took quite a while for us to get back on our feet, but we did.

Since that time we have made great strides forward with our museum and archives. Through this time, I am proud to have been able to take the lead at our museum and archives collections. Since I first started as curator in 1998, I have made it my mission to make the archives “User Friendly”.

Approximately two years ago, I came to the realization that I needed to start looking for a replacement curator. With the Board’s help, a search was carried out. About eight months ago that person was found. I started training and nurturing them, telling them the stories I had learned, the history behind the collections and much more.

I was going to hand over the Curator’s position at the AGM, but recently I found this person was not going to be attending the AGM as they would be travelling.

So the day of the Volunteer Appreciation event seemed like a better day to pass the torch to Tina Lyon while surrounded by our volunteers. I have worked with and shared so many stories with them as a team of friends to enhance PMHS.

The “Assessment Register” book is a symbol of the Curator’s duties. It is the starting point where the curator assigns a donation its number, records the donor’s name and writes an overview of what has been donated. It is a fitting symbol to pass on.

I have had the pleasure of watching your new curator blossom over these last few months. She is thorough, inquisitive, investigative, has a good memory, is gifted with many talents and is easy to work with.

And so it gives me great pleasure to hand over this book as the symbol of the title, “Curator”, to Tina Lyon to carry on the work as our new curator for PMHS from this time forward.

Thank you all for your patience and dedication while working/volunteering with me.

Bob Hasler