I Love Paris…

Every second Friday my husband Peter and I escape from our house so that Lucy can come in and clean. What destination could be better than Paris? No, not That Paris – the other one. The one about an hour’s drive from Toronto.

In the fall, I enrolled in a University of Toronto architecture course that covered heritage buildings in small towns of southern Ontario. We studied different architectural styles and periods. Several of them are represented in Paris. We decided to go exploring.

As we drove there, Peter asked about the name. Were we going to see a copycat Eifel Tower? In fact the name comes from something far less sophisticated: one of the town’s natural resources – plaster of Paris! Tons of gypsum, which was originally found in France, is now mined along the banks of the two rivers, the Nith and the Grand, which converge in the centre of this small Ontario town. So no Eifel Tower, no Louvre, no Notre Dame cathedral. But lots of other interesting architecture to see.

Our first discovery walk was into Lower Town where several landmark cobblestone buildings are still standing. Levi Boughton, one of the early settlers, arrived from England in 1838, armed with first-hand knowledge of cobblestone construction. When he found the perfect stones along the banks of the two rivers, he was in heaven.

A close look at the construction of these places – a church and several private residences – shows that building them was labour-intensive for sure. Cobblestones, we learned, are about the size of a fist; bigger than pebbles and smaller than boulders. Each smooth round cobblestone was carried up from the riverbanks and painstakingly placed in neat rows of gypsum/plaster. They have withstood the ravages of Ontario weather for years.

Then we walked along the Grand River to Upper Town, the city centre. The original hotel, the Bradford built in the 1850’s, is still in use today, renamed the Arlington. Just up the street is the Romanesque-style Presbyterian Church built in 1893. The wheel window, ornate brickwork, round towers and terra cotta detail are hard to ignore. The town library, paid for by Andrew Carnegie in 1904, conforms to his specifications of a stately front entrance with an imposing staircase. Unfortunately this building was not accessible, so the original entrance has been blocked off, and the main entrance is now around the corner at street level.

As you would guess, the mansions are located in Upper Town too, along an aptly named street: Grand River St. These homes were originally built by the town’s wealthiest and most influential citizens. Norman Hamilton, who made his millions from a distillery and a pork-packing business, designed one of the earliest stately homes, a beautiful Regency “cottage,” Hamilton Place, in 1884. Even for such a large structure, he chose cobblestones.

Other large homes have been repurposed to suit the needs of modern Paris residents. Captain Peter Cox, a military man from England, built an ornate Italian Villa on Grand River Street. It’s now a funeral home. Hiram Capron, known as the town’s founder, built a huge mansion on the banks of the Grand in 1887. It was later purchased and extensively renovated by John Penman who also built a huge business out of men’s underwear. This imposing mansion is now a retirement residence. It looked pretty good to us!

In modern times this place is often referred to as “Ontario’s prettiest little town,” and we could see the potential on a warm summer day. The two rivers meet at a park in the centre of town where benches invite strollers to sit and enjoy the view. Small boutique shops line the streets. We were tempted to do some Christmas shopping there, but we were interlopers and didn’t want to scare the locals who might fear our potential Toronto Covid germs. So we ate our sandwiches in the car and then headed back down the highway to our clean house, happy to have had such an interesting glimpse of the past.


6 thoughts on “I Love Paris…

  1. That was fascinating, Sue. I hope you and Peter tour and that you write up more of these Ontario towns. When I was teaching dressage clinics all over the place I never had time to get to know these places. I very much enjoy Still Standing with Jonny Harris–have you watched some episodes?


  2. Thanks for the history lesson Sue. Interesting as always. You amaze me with what you snd Peter find!! Keep up the great blogs and stay safe. No Christmas lunch get together this year🎄🎄😂😂. It’s going to be very quiet and lonely on the 25th. Hope you can get to see Martin’s lights if up dropping off goodies to James. He has 7 houses involved this year. Donations going to Yellow Brick House snd Markham food bank this year. Take care. Mxx

    Sent from my iPhone



  3. Dear Sue,

    You know, I do enjoy all of your blogs. But this Paris one is especially grabbing. Maybe this is a small blog branch that you are setting out on today? Great idea to explore the architecture and history of that myriad of smaller Ontario towns that have so much of interest and beauty to offer. This reader will enjoy more!
    And just because your good friend Blair is a tad pedantic, it’s la tour Eiffel.
    Happy Christmas greetings.



  4. A walk down Memory Lane for me, Sueee. I taught English and Phys Ed there in 1964/65(!!) at PDHS. A wonderful experience, cut short by marriage and a move to London where Jim was in his last year at Western. I roomed in a large home owned by an elderly woman named Ede Carnie. My friend Ellie Gloster was related to her and had put us in touch. She was a character and knew everyone in town. She loved to gossip but mostly I didn’t know anyone she talked about. Her father was an architect and build, if I remember correctly, the Presbyterian Church, among others. I, too, loved Paris. It was about 32 yrs before I finally visited the other one. Evie

    On Tue, Dec 8, 2020 at 7:45 AM Seventy In the City wrote:

    > sueatseventy posted: ” Every second Friday my husband Peter and I escape > from our house so that Lucy can come in and clean. What destination could > be better than Paris? No, not That Paris – the other one. The one about an > hour’s drive from Toronto. In the fall, I enrolled i” >


  5. I don’t think we will pass this town by the next time we are in the area. It sounds like a historic gem. Great photos.


  6. Thank you of this informative post, Sue. COVID-19 has been a disaster, but it also has given us the opportunity to discover more and more what is around us.


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