County of Brant Public Library Digital Collections
Interview with Donald A. and Isobel Smith
Media Type
An interview conducted in the late 1970s or early 1980s with Donald A. and Isobel Smith by a volunteer from the Paris Public Library regarding their lives and living in Paris. The interview was contributed by the Paris Museum and Historical Society. Scroll down to the Full Text section below to read the interview.
This unverified article originally appeared on the County of Brant wiki at It was contributed by a member of the community. It has been included in this collection for ease of research.
Date of Publication
Personal Name(s)
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.2 Longitude: -80.38333
Paris Museum and Historical Society
Copyright Statement
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to Canadian law. No restrictions on use.
Paris Museum and Historical Society
Agency street/mail address:

Paris Museum and Historical Society

51 William Street, Paris, ON

N3L 1N4

(519) 442-9295

Full Text

Mr. Smith: All that I know about Mr. Kirkpatrick was that before he became librarian he was

a liquor inspector. He went around to the various taverns or bars in town and saw that they were paying their regulations. How the man ever became librarian without any background to become librarian, I don't know. It must have been a sort of political appointment, but in those days they didn't get very much money for a job like that, it was very low paying. His wages would be in the books, of course. Well, I liked Mr. Kirkpatrick. When I came to town as a teacher in 1939 he was very helpful in a lot of ways and I'd go down there and want certain books and he would get them for me. But there were an awful lot of people who did not like him because he was very, very aggressive and very sharp and he was rude too, and he could be extremely rude to some people and some people wouldn't go into the library because he was there. Some people had no use for Mr. Kirkpatrick at all. At that time, I don't know exactly where that cage ran but it was a sort of counter or barrier that ran across the library just, I think, a little bit west of the fireplace across from the modern desk is and in the middle of that there v/as a cage and he used to sit in there. I don't know why they had that, it must have been for protection or something. He sat there in the cage on a stool and when you went in he glowered at you. He even glowered at me although he got along very well with me. He would get books for people he liked but if he didn't like you he wouldn't get books for you. He wasn't very helpful to a lot of people and as I say a lot of people stayed away from the library. The circulation wasn't very high but there were not very many books in the library. I don't think that he chose the books at the time. I think that the book committee, of which I was a member at that time, I think that we chose most of the books. He may have chosen the occasional one. He was extremely irascible if anybody made noise, or if anybody started whispering when the kids came in and started looking at things. There were some tables out there where there are shelves now, towards the east end of the library. There were about eight tables, I'd say, and I forget what was on those things or any the kids would sit at them but if any kids came in and made the slightest noise, he'd roar at the top of his voice, "SILENCE". He scared the wits out of them. He was a rough old bird. I remember going to board meetings, I was on the Board, and we'd be talking about something and he would be telling us something and then somebody would come in to the library, this would be about four o'clock in the afternoon, and he would go out and serve them, you see they didn't hold the meetings at night in those days, and when he came back in, no matter what the members of the Board were talking about, he would sit down and he started exactly where he left off, no matter who was talking. He was an extremely rude old man in a lot of ways. He was extremely rude to people who kept books over time. He'd charge you for them and he'd have a lot of rude things to say about you. In general, there were a lot of people who wouldn't go into the library because of Kirkpatrick. Although, like I say, there were a lot of people who liked him. I remember that finally the Board members decided that there were a lot of books in there that were never being used and that there was no point in having them there so we decided that we would take out a lot of these books and ship them off to Alberta and Saskatchewan because at that time the Depression was on and people were short on reading material out there. He was furious that we decided to take any books off his shelves. "They have been there for thirty years," he said, "and why should anybody want to throw them out?" However, they were shipped out. Oh, Kirkpatrick wasn't cut out to b« a librarian. He was the last person to be a librarian. I don't know what he ought to have been - He ought to have been a policeman or something. But, that’s the way things were in- a lot of towns those days. It would have been a lot better to have a woman in there who would have been a little more agreeable. Well as far as Mr. Haire is concerned, the library was his whole life after about 1950. It became almost an obsession with him to improve that library. Mr. Haire was an extremely determined man. When he made up his mind to do anything he did it. It didn't matter how much opposition there was, it made no dif-f thence to him. He just plugged straight ahead and he just wore people down and so I would say that Mr. Haire had more to do than anybody in town with the forming of the library as it is now. The rest sort of followed in his trail because we didn't have the enthusiasm or the drive that he did. He also, I might say, had a lot of good books in the library at that time. In fact, I think that some of the books they had then are better then the books they have to¬day. He was an extremely well-read man and he had gone to university and he knew alot about various aspects of intellectual life. He ordered a lot of books that were really good. I was teaching at the time and I found an awful lot of them very helpful, whereas now I go down and find that the books are not as good. But considering those days , I think he did a remarkable job in choosing the books. When Mr. Kirkpatrick finally became too old and too cranky, they decided to get somebody else. I can't recall the exact sequence of events. It seems to me that Fred Granton wanted the job very badly but Mr. Haire and Mr. Butcher, the principal of the high school, both thought that they should have a qualified librarian. The time had come for that with all the changes, so they hired Miss McConkey. She was a very nice girl and made the place much more pleasant. She was far more helpful than Kirkpatrick had been and some of the older men in town who hadn't been taking out books for years were attracted to Miss McConkey and started to get books out again. One old guy-used to go down there quite regular¬ly because he liked Miss McConkey. She improved the running of the library although as I recall it, she didn't have any more books than Mr. Kirkpatrick had. Something that I was going to tell you about Mr. Kirkpatrick, oh yes! There was a man here in town, a respected citizen, who had some sort of queer sexual hangups. He used to go down there and he would go through the books until he found one that had some salacious material in it and he would take that home and he would read it and then he would underline all the sex words or words with any sexual connotation with red pencil and anything to do with obscenity or anything like that he would underline with blue. Then he would bring these back and complain to Kirkpatrick. One time he appeared before the Board and accused Mr. Kirkpatrick of everything that was possible for having these books on the shelves. One habit that Kirkpatrick had was if he thought a book would be complained about he used to keep it under his shelf and it would only go out to certain people. However, one day this man came in with a book and Kirkpatrick said, "You damned old hypocrite, you don't mark those books because you give two damns about them being dirty. All your'e interested in is to find an excuse to read them yourself. Get the hell out of my library and don't come back until the Board says you can come back." That guy didn't come back. So Mr. Kirkpatrick did a good deed there. Well now Miss McConkey was there I don't know how many years, it wasn't very long. The library was improved but what she did I can't say. I was on the Board then but I can't say. You'll have to find out from the minutes. She took down all the 'Quiet' signs and made the children feel much easier about coming into the library. It was an entirely different library when she was there compared to what it was when she came to it. The cage and the barrier also disappeared when Miss McConkey was at the library. All the books used to be behind a barrier . There were no books on the shelves at that time. She completely remodelled things and children were welcome. I suppose they had more children's books then too. She made people feel at home. Well then, she finally left and I don't know exactly why they chose Mrs. Muir as a librarian because she had had no experience as librarian and the only qualifications that I can see she had was that she read alot and was very pleasant and was a friend of Herbie Haire's. I think that had a lot to do with it. She came in and just about at that time Mr. Haire got a grant from the town to completely remodel the library, according to modern ideas. Mrs. Muir was flexible enough, intelligent enough, to take some courses in Toronto. Togeth¬er the two of them managed to build up the library as we know it today. She did excellent work there and for the first time they had helpers. Before that there was only the one librarian. Herbie managed to get people to help, assistants you know, and thet got the children's section which they didn't have before. Mrs. Muir was very helpful and knew a lot about books. Generally, I found her a very nice person to deal with and she was interested in local history and did a great deal to preserve anything that had something to do with local history. I don't know how many years she was there but in general I think that she was a good librarian and was well liked.

Interviewer: Mrs. Smith, did you find any changes in the library when you became the first chairwoman. I read in Mr. Smith's 'History of the Library' that you were the first woman to be elected.

Mrs. Smith: Going on with Mrs. Muir, she was in so complete control of the library when I took over as chairman that she had everything organized. She had the meetings planned, she had the topics planned and this was fine with me because I wasn't used to being chairman and the fact that she had the agenda all planned and all the things that had come up during the month she had itemized, it was very, very simple just to go through her agenda and discuss the things that were problems and that was it. I didn't make any real decisions, the Board made the decisions. She brought up the subjects and I presented them and the Board made the decisions.

Mr. Smith: And during that time, it was the beginning of the librarian buying the books and the Book Committee discussed only the books that the librarian and the salesman were in doubt about.

Mrs. Smith: When the salesman came Mrs. Muir went through the list with him and marked the books that we didn't have and that she thought we should have and they went ahead and bought them. I had very little to do with that. If there was a controversial book the Book Committee would discuss it with the rest of the Board and we would decide yes or no.

Mr. Smith: But the general ordering was on the part of Mrs. Muir.

Mrs. Smith: Mrs. Muir and the book salesman did all the ordering of books really Mr. Haire was in the background all the time. Mr. Haire was really the head king-pirn of the library Board. Mrs. Muir and Mr. Haire and then the chairman of the Board came after¬wards. I was just the person who did what Mrs. Muir and Mr. Haire had discussed.

Mr. Smith: Mr. Haire used to take a number of magazines that would discuss the books and he would go and order them. He ordered an awful lot of books. But, in general, he left the average children's books and the average adult books for Mrs. Muir to order. I think that was the beginning of the end of the Book Committee. What does the Book Committee do now?

Interviewer: Now there is no Book Committee. The librarian and the staff order the books.

Mrs. Smith: Mr. Haire was responsible for having a library where you could pick up books on almost any aspects politics, religion, anything that was going on in the world. Mr. Haire was very broad minded. He read everything. He ordered good magazines where you'd learn every side of the problem and good books where you'd learn everything you wanted to find out. He was really a marvellous person for that library.

Interviewer: Can you tell me anything about censorship. I understand that was quite a controversial topic in the earlier days of the library.

Mr. Smith: Oh yes! Well, I remember one argument back about 1944-45-46, somewhere along there. They got a book about the C.I.O., that was the Industrial Organization or the Labour Union Book. This book was brought to the library and there were two members of ,the Board who were violently opposed to any books that had anything favourable to say about unions. There was quite a bitter argument that went on about that, that went on for about an hour. Finally there was a vote taken and we decided to keep it and Mr. Butcher, the principal of the high school, was in many way a very strict and proper and conventional man. But, he wasn't in favour on censorship of that kind and of course I wasn't and there were a couple of others who weren't. But, the e were two or three on the Board who were violently opposed to keeping this book on the C.I.O. and there were books that came out on certain subjects that were thrown out, but not very often. The ones that were really sexy, that Mr. Kirkpatrick knew would bring fire on everybody's head, he just kept under the counter. And if somebody went and said, "May I see one of those books you have under the counter?". He would roar, "What books have I got under the counter? I've got no books under the counter!" But if he knew you he'd say, "All right, all right!", and he'd bring them out from under the counter. He’d say, "This is a good one, this is a dandy!". He wasn't himself a Puritan, although he was a strong church man, but he really had no objection to this type of book or anybody reading them. It's just that he knew that there would be an outcry from people coming in and complaining because there was a lot of complaining in those days. I don't know if there is now or not, but there was alot then about books that had sex and things in them. But, in general, I don't think there was much political censorship. I have only the one recollection and that was only the C.I.O.

Interviewer: I read that in 1939 you were on the Board with Mr. Haire and that you were asked to collect some articles dealing with the early history of Paris. I was wondering if that was the beginning of your interest in local history?

Mr. Smith: Yes, I was the secretary of the Board at that time and they asked me to write the history of the library. I didn't know where to begin, I knew nothing about it. I had never done anything like that before. However, I started and that was when I got my first interest in Paris. I knew nothing about the town before that at all but I wrote that and then I went on further with "At the Forks of the Grand",

Interviewer: Mrs. Smith, I understand that when the library celebrated it's fiftieth

anniversary as a free library in 1954, you prepared a collection of old photos of Paris.

Mrs. Smith: I organized them. They were collected all over town and people brought them in. We tried to get the names and where they were taken and the occasion. Some of them were returned but as far as I know the library still has the rest of them. For a town this size, we have the best written history and the best collection of pictures of any town of this size Ontario. Lots of towns have no written history at all and all the pioneer descendants have no real recollection of really happened and they are left pretty well in ignorance of it. But Paris is very well done.

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Interview with Donald A. and Isobel Smith

An interview conducted in the late 1970s or early 1980s with Donald A. and Isobel Smith by a volunteer from the Paris Public Library regarding their lives and living in Paris. The interview was contributed by the Paris Museum and Historical Society. Scroll down to the Full Text section below to read the interview.