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John Anderson
First name John
Last name Anderson
Community Paris


Story

This interview has been contributed by the Paris Museum and Historical Society. It was taken in the late 1970s or the 1980s by volunteers from the Paris Public Library.

Interview

Interviewer: Mr. Anderson, have you always lived in Paris?

Mr. Anderson: Yes, I am a native son.

Bobby West

Interviewer: Could you tell me some stories about Bobby West? You told me earlier that you remember him.

Mr. Anderson: When I was a child Bobby West was an elderly man and being young he sort of intrigued me. He had a shack on what we called the 'Back Road' which is now called the Ayr Road and he was building a tower and he would hire us children for a cent a pail to bring dirt over to make a ramp leading up to his tower. Cut out in the CNR bank, and it's still there today, is the place where we gathered the sand. He built quite a tower there but the thing was so rickety that the Town finally thought it was unsafe and demanded he destroy the tower, which he did.

Interviewer: What would that tower be for?

Mr. Anderson: I don't know what his purpose was. He was kind of an eccentric and I don't think anybody really knew what it was for. According to history, he'd saved a lot of people's lives. The Nith River was quite a spot in the summer time for boating and swimming and he had won quite a few medals for saving people? from drowning in the river. When I knew him, like I say, he was quite an old man and he used to wear a bowler hat, aviator's goggles and he always wore a black suit. In the winter time he stuffed it with paper to keep himself warm. He was quite an interesting man to talk to. A lot of people used to shun him. He got along well with children and always used to talk to them. He used to stay in the shack year round and one time a couple of young fellows got in there and beat him up because they thought he had money and were trying to get money out of him • After that they made him come downtown and he slept in the fire hall but he returned each day to his shack. Apparently in history if there was a parade in town he would be out there with his bicycle that had a wind-up Victrola on the back and he would play music.

Interviewer: I understand that he was similar to his father.

Mr. Anderson: I think so, yes. They used to call him the 'Bard of the Nith'. He used to write poetry and if you get the book "The Forks of the Grand' it tells you about it in there. This is Bobby West I'm referring to. They used to call him Dusty.

Interviewer: What about his boats? I understand he used to have boats that he would take people across the Nith in.

Mr. Anderson: Yes, he had a river boat one time with a cabin on it. By the time I came upon the scene the boats were pretty well rotted away. They were just laying on the bank and you could see the outline of the hulls and the bottom laying there and they were getting pretty rotten looking. There was nothing left of the boats by that time.

The Depression

Interviewer: What about your memories from youth? You were telling me about the Depression.

Mr. Anderson: The Depression was on just about the time when motorization was starting to come into its own and there was still quite a few horses around. In the winter time they didn’t clean the streets off like they do now and the snow was left on the streets and there was still quite a few cutters and the grocery stores had little delivery wagons and sleighs. We used to jump on the back and ride for a couple of blocks and we'd hang around and wait for one going the other way and get a ride back.

Interviewer: And they didn't mind that?

Mr. Anderson: No, they didn't seem to mind at all. We sat still and didn't cause arts' trouble.

Interviewer: What about the Welfare Rooms downtown?

Mr. Anderson: Oh yes. That's quite a spot in my history. The Depression was on and things were pretty bad and you couldn't get jobs. They had a Welfare Room, downtown above the fire hall and you'd go in there and they'd have used clothing, much like the Salvation Army Store downtown but you didn't pay for it there. It was donations by people who did have money in town. My mother used to go down there and in the winter time we'd get fitted for the winter. My mother was a little proud and she 'said, "'.Veil, this time we're not going to wear that old stuff. If they put old shoes on your feet, they hurt and it they put old underwear on you, they're itchy, and if they put old clothes on you, they don't fit. She would coach us at home before we went down and we became pretty good actors and we normally came away with new clothes.

Blacksmith

Interviewer: You also told me that you remember the Blacksmith's Shop downtown.

Mr. Anderson: Yes, the Blacksmith's Shop was quite a spot for children. It was interesting with the big horses - the big Clydesdales. Mr. Hicks wasn't a very big man, about five feet tall I think, and he'd handle those big horses like there was nothing to it. He was very good with the horses and I think that the horses understood him and he had very little trouble with them. We used to visit there and play around there and watch him shoe horses and make spokes for wheels. And in those days they didn't say, "Kid, get out of herei", AS as you didn't get in the way or talk too much or interfere with the horses, they'd let ,stay. I think in those days children were a little better disciplined and they knew enough to do these sort of things. I'll always remember that as a child I had warts on my hands and he said if I put my hand in the water where they put the hot shoes in that it would make the warts go away. So I did that and the warts left my hands. I think that it must have been a chemical reaction from the water.

Paris Junction

Interviewer: You must have been amazed as a child! I understand that you used to live at the north end of town once. Was that correct?

Mr. Anderson: Yes, I lived at the north end of town at the height of the Depression. That was quite a romantic part of town with the coal chutes there and steam engines were coming and going all the time. Every twenty minutes there was a train going one way or another. Those days there were a lot of people out of work, young men and they'd come through on the trains and when they'd stop at the coal chutes, they would get off. They had what they called the 'Hobo Jungle1 there and they'd take their tea and have a bite to eat and they'd wander around the neighborhood scrounging a sandwich here and something there. My mother would never turn anyone away. She said that she would never turn anyone away hungry so they must have had our place marked one way or another. So they usually came to our place and my mother would always give them a sandwich or if it happened to be dinner time she would make them up a plate of dinner. Strange part is no one ever came back. I thought that maybe some time along the way someone would come back and say thank you. No one ever came back and I thought that was kind of strange.

Interviewer: I understand there used to be a lot of hotels up there. Do you remember the hotels?

Mr. Anderson: Well, I remember the buildings, They weren't used as hotels when I was a child. The Junction was a focal part of town as it was the junction of the Grand Trunk Western and the CNR railroad, and at that time it was quite a busy part of town there with the hotels but by the time I'd grown up the Grand Trunk Railroad had gone out of use, and the hotels were used for other purposes.

Shops

Interviewer: Could you tell me about any changes you remember in the downtown area?

Mr. Anderson: I think that the attitudes of the store owners is about the same. They try to cater to their customers and it's not like a big city where you go in and they sneer at you. In Paris they try to accomodate their customers, especially the older stores like Jack Bradley or Wise or Halls. They still maintain a good relationship with their custo¬mers. There were several grocery stores in Paris at one time and you'd go in there and they were the old-type stores with cookie bins and barrels of flour and sugar and they would scoop it out and weigh it on the scales.

Interviewer: So nothing was pre-packaged like it is now?

Mr. Anderson: No, nothing was pre-packaged. Everything came in loose in a barrel and they would scoop it up for you and weigh it. In those days, a fellow would get married and he would go to one of these little stores and he'd start paying his bill every week and then children would come along and he'd kind of lag or he'd be out of work in the winter time, when there were no jobs and the store would always carry him over. You ran up your bill and then when you got a job in the spring you'd pay it off. It was the same thing with a big family. You'd run up your bill and then when your oldest child got old enough to go out and work, away he'd go and with a little more money coming in you'd start paying the grocery man once again. Now if you don't have the money you go without or you have to go and beg for welfare or unemployment insurance or something.

School

Interviewer: You must have gone to school in Paris?

Mr. Anderson: Yes, all my schooling was done in Paris. I started out in Central School and then I went to the old Queen's Ward School, which in the winter time was so cold you'd have to put a coat on to keep warm and sit in class with your coat on. We used to take turns ringing the bell, there was a bell in the tower there, and sometimes the bigger boys would get a little over exuberant and ring a little too hard and the bell would stick up at the top, and the old caretaker would get quite angry and have to go up and loosen the bell. This school was used for grades 5,6 and 7 and then you'd go to Central for grade eight. I didn't go to high school because I was the eldest in my family and I had to go to work.

Interviewer: Did you start working in Paris?

Mr. Anderson: Yes, at the old Wheeler Needle Works, where the Mary Maxim building is now. I used to put the tape around the needles and that was a boring job. I stayed there one year and that was enough for me. I couldn't stand that type of work - the same thing day in and day out.

Interviewer: What about social life in Paris when you were a young man? Was there much to do?

Mr. Anderson: Well, of course they had Teen Town at the High School and I used to go to Brantford a lot to the show. There was a show in Paris - the old Paris Theatre. We used to go there for ten cents on a Saturday afternoon I used to do a lot of roller skating in Brantford where the old Alfred Street arena was. We used to catch the Lake Erie Northern back from Brantford at twelve o’clock and there used to be quite a number of young people from Kitchener and Galt. We used to have quite a time coming back from Brantford singing songs and acting silly like the young people do on the trolley. We didn't seem to have the alcohlic problem like they have now. We could have a good time without it. There was no drugs in those days so we didn't have a drug problem. There was the odd young fellow in town who would probably tip the bottle too much. We didn't have the destruction ih those that we have today. The odd time we'd have a gang fight between the Junction and the Town but it was nothing too serious. Paris itself, Randall's had a dance hall at the corner of Hwy. 2 & 5. It used to be quite a thing to go out to Randall's on a Friday night for the dance. Within Paris itself, there wasn't too much. You pretty well had to go out of town.

Final thoughts

Interviewer: Well Mr. Anderson, you have answered all my questions, and very well at that. Is there anything else that you would like to tell me that interests you about Paris?

Mr. Anderson: Well, today we have quite an extensive minor sports system in Paris. There was nothing like that when I was younger. We'd get out of school in June and we'd pretty well have to make our own program. We'd have some older fellows, I remember Bob Porter was one, he would organize a baseball league and we'd have a team in the Upper Town and a team from West River Street and a team in the Junction and we'd play on what we called Walker's Green, where the Senior Citizen's Home is now and we'd play in King's Ward Park and in the Flats. There was no organized sports like there is today, we'd organize our own. We'd rent the arena and I think that in those days it was 25° a piece we'd pay and we'd get in there and play hockey. We had our school league Saturday mornings for hockey. But there was nothing like there is today. The children today are sort of pampered.

Interviewer: Do you think that by organizing these activities you were more responsible as a child and when you got older?

Mr. Anderson: I think so. I think it had a lot to do with improving our abilities to do things on our own. Children don't get a chance to organize too many things on their own now. Everything is organized for them. I've always enjoyed living in Paris. Any time I've t I've always come back. It's where I want to stay and it's a great place to raise children. We've had our family problems but certainly nothing too serious. I've had three children go to High School so far and I have one still going there and we don't seem to be having any problems with drugs in our family. My children are intelligent enough to stay away from them. My wife and I don't smoke and I take the odd beer but nothing more than that. So our children aren't exposed to it at home. We try to tell them the pitfalls they could run into . I've never been that strict with my children other, than asking them to be in at 9«30 on a school night in order that they can get up in the morning with a fresh mind. I think it pays off as they get pretty good marks in school. On Fridays, tf they are away with their boyfriends and come in a bit later I don't mind as long as I know where they are.

Interviewer: It sounds to me, from talking to your mother - Mrs. Clara Farr - that you had a good upbringing.

Mr. Anderson: Years ago my mother was a strict church woman. She's gotten away from it now but as a child I always went to church. I always had to be in early during the week except when there was a hockey game. Other than that I had to be in at a certain time.

Interviewer: Your mother seems to be very happy now and told me how good her children were to her.

Mr. Anderson: We've never given her too much trouble. She had a tough life when she was younger and she probably told you my father died when I was young, very young. She tried to raise us on her own and in those days it was pretty impossible.

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