A panoramic view of remarkable beauty welcomes as you enter Paris on #2 highway by the High Level Bridge over the Grand River. The twin steeples of Sacred Heart Church and St. James Anglican reaching heavenward through the foliage are an inspiring sight. Blazing autumn colours and fresh spring greenery provide a perfect frame for these greeting card versions of small town churches.
Built in 1839, St. James Church is a wonderful example of the many beautiful cobblestone buildings in Paris.
My personal connection is to this church. Here I was christened as a baby, confirmed and had my first communion as a teenager.
Sunday school memories have a special place in my heart. I can recall many of the teachers’ names as well as their faces. Our well scrubbed ears listened intently to the familiar Bible stories so lovingly told in words appropriate to our age groups. Patiently they answered our impatient questions.
“Teacher, teacher! What did Jonah eat when he was in the whale’s tummy? Did the animals fight with each other when they were on Noah’s ark?”
Over and over again these dedicated volunteers had us practice our parts for annual Christmas concert which never failed to delight our proud relatives.
The magnificent Crystal Cathedral and Mormon Tabernacle Church are superb examples of religious architecture. Still, it is the quiet reverence, the unassuming beauty of small churches that give us cause for reflection.
Again if you enter Paris on Willow Street, Just before the stop sign, look straight ahead. There beyond the river and the railway overpass a fairytale castle barely visible amidst the trees.
This is the well known Penmarvian acquired by John Penman, of woollen factory fame as his personal residence. It is my vision of a castle.
Now a fine nursing home, it was a home for retired ministers and their wives when I was a youngster.
My grandmother had worked there briefly when I was young and for a short time so did my mother.
Now I’m not sure if it was a local legend or Mom’s imagination trying to tease us children. Mother said there was a ghost living in the upper most storey of the building.
With the sceptical mind of a doubting child, I remember telling Mom,“ You know you can’t see ghosts. You only sense them when you get a cold shiver up your spine.”
What made me an authority on ghosts I don’t recall. I have never heard the ghost story since so no doubt he or she has moved on or indeed never existed.
Surrounding Penmarvian on both sides of Grand River Street are many stately old homes. In my high school days, wearily trudging up the steep hill, I would admire these fine houses. At the time I knew the names of many of the families that lived in them. Compared to our humble abodes in the Upper town, to me they were really magnificent. As a kid of course I gave no thought to the cost of upkeep or the housekeeping chores entailed in such lovely big homes.
These days my walk often takes me on Fairview Drive in Brantford a few blocks from my house. Passing by an older home, I am struck by how familiar it seems to me. The house and its residents are unknown but there is an aura about it that reminds me of a home in my childhood.
A little friend and I used to run to his Granny’s house to get cookies. I clearly see in my mind’s eye the house with the big barn in behind where the bread man would bed his horse for the night.
I’m told this house is no longer in Paris so there is no way I could compare the two. Are not houses from our youth like memories of dear relatives and friends from the past? While our memories may not be exact in detail, it is the essence of all that made such memories precious that we remember.
Houses like dear folk are gone but not forgotten.
Pedalling The Hills of Paris
Free -wheeling my bike down the Main Street hill in my youth was pure bliss. On a good day you could cruise right through the Ball'Street intersection and coast clear down to Grand River South. Of course, the traffic was sparse some 40 years ago so safety wasn’t a big factor. Heaven help you though, if you tried it no hands. Some well meaning neighbour was sure to spot you and tell your parents. Even in those days we could still be grounded. Paris is nestled in a valley surrounded by hills. Driving in from any direction affords a spectacular view of emerald green hills in summer bursting into flaming orange and red in Autumn. The upper town was home to the memorable hills of my childhood. Queen, Catherine and Washington Street were just a few of the hills we whizzed down and trudged up pushing our bikes. No super 10 speeds in those days. Our bikes were propelled by good sturdy muscle power. Those mountainous hills have now miraculously now eroded into mere slopes. Not so the cherished bike of my childhood. It seemed forever I had been longing for a bike of my own. In my dreams, I envisioned pedalling along on a baby-blue balloon-tired Schwinn bicycle with a white wicker basket in front to hold my books. Unfortunately that bike was as unattainable as my Dad owning a Cadillac convertible. Truthfully, I did have a two wheeled scooter. A poor substitute in my eyes for a bike. In vain, I tried to keep up with friends as they raced slick C.C.M. bikes. Scooting along until it seemed my skinny little legs would drop off. 'But a childhood miracle was about to happen.'
During the war years we had taken our nickels and dimes to school to buy war saving stamps. I was really too young to grasp the significance of this. More fascinating to me was the milkweed pods we gathered to make silk for parachutes. At least that’s what we kids believed. Anyway, I had the grand sum of $30 saved, my Dad knew of a girl’s second hand bike for sale. Proudly I wheeled the bike home. Didn’t matter it wasn’t the balloon tired fantasy. It wasn’t new but it was mine. The bike was the key that made me part of the crowd. I could now ride the gruelling distance to Queen’s Ward school. I could join friends in the much longer bur more pleasurable ride to swim at Rest Acres. With my bike I ran errands for Mom and Dad. “Hop on your bike and whistle over to the store on Amelia Street and pick up three loaves of potato bread.” Let me tell you, as a kid I thought we ate potato bread because we were poor. Now I am older, perhaps wiser, I realize it is really quite delicious. A special Sunday errand was my Dad bidding me to hop on my bike and ride up to the Paris Creamery for a pint of whipping cream. Mmm, delicious. Our bikes had only coaster brakes. If your chain came off, watch out, you were brakeless. This frightening experience happened as I was zipping down Quality Hill on my way home from high school. My chain off, no brakes, I gripped the handle bars in panicked frenzy as I sped by the Arlington Hotel, through the William Street intersection finally coasting to a stop. Frightened but unhurt, I had a new respect for bikes, brakes and hills. Forget about leisure time on Saturdays. Often an entire day would be spent patching a leak in an inner tube.
Find the leak, apply a rubber patch, borrow the neighbour’s tire pump, test in water. Oh, oh, bubbles! Leak not sealed. Start all over again. Today special bike stores stock mountain bikes, racing bikes in every size with every option you can imagine. Many cost more than my father’s first car. None could possibly give more pleasure than my dear old second hand bike. Just as nothing could compare with the privilege of calling Paris, one of the prettiest towns in Ontario, my hometown, my bike riding Utopia.