|Mel Sharpe, mayor|
Q. What is your family "background and how did you become interested in council work?
A. I was born in the town of Paris in 1915. I was never too interested in politics until after the war. We had bantered around the sewer situation in Paris end the people had voted against it end all kinds of things were going wrong, I, along with several other people just got fed up with this and we didn't like the idea of being the largest town in Ontario without sewers. So I think why I decided to go into Council was for this reason. Sewers was something that we had to face and get done. I guess that is why I ran. I was first elected councillor and then I was deputy-reeve for a couple of years. I was councillor and deputy-reeve for five years before I became mayor in 1964. It wasn't too spectacular or anything because we went ahead and got the job done and got the sewers in. I do not know, you folks are kind of a little bit young to remember the horrible shape that the Paris Streets were in. Before sewers council said we are not going to rebuild them because eventually we will put sewers in and then rebuild the streets. All our streets were kind of patched potholes and year after year they were patching the patches. It was a terrible mess really- the town and the streets. Of course, after we got the sewers started we gradually rebuilt the streets and sidewalks. As I said, it was really quite uneventful, just getting the job done. Most of the people on the Council with me felt more or less the same way, at that time. I've always felt that Council work was simply taking the time to represent the rest of the citizens. The half dozen people an the Council are simply acting for us, the citizens. I felt that I was doing my share for a few years. You finally get fed up with all the nonsense that goes on. After 9 years as mayor I felt I had had enough.
Q. Now what were the years you spent as mayor?
A. 1964 to 1972- Nine years. Five years previous on council. Thirteen years altogether.
Q. Was the sewer problem your biggest concern in those years?
A. Yes. Oh, there were alot of things wrong. Grand River Street had a very baa subway end in wintertime there were real problems. It was very narrow. There were water problems. We had a lot of springs running at the surface. When we put the sewers In we rebuilt the streets and drained them. In conjunction with the railroad built a new subway at Grand River St. It made a big difference to the town, I remember we were trying to bring industry into to the town and in. the early years it wasn't too good to drive from downtown out to the industrial sight and apologize for the roads all the way out. We were, I guess, quite pleased with the accomplishments over the years of getting it underway. The Council since* of course, have carried on and done a pretty good job. They just keep on doing the same thing. I don't know when they will ever get the sewers-completed in Paris. At one time, we had e firm contract to finish the whole town -for just slightly over a million dollars. Today, it would take about 2 million to even finish the town. This is no more sewers then we were going to build then. In the meantime I don't know how many millions we have spent. Costs just keep going up and up. It's too bad the municipal board wouldn't have allowed us to do the job because we could have swung the thing and it would have been much easier to pay for it under the scheme we had then than it is now.
Q. what did your position as deputy-reeve involve?
A. Oh, the reeve is really just a councillor in Paris but you are also on the Brant County Council. This is good for a councillor because he gets working with everybody in the surrounding community- townships and Burford. Over the years you get to know a lot of pretty good people. I know the years I spent on council I made a lot of good friends that are real good solid friends today. People I know pretty well that worked with me, I was on the Grand River Valley Authority and the Grand R. Valley Commission when there were two separate bodies. I was on the committee that formed the body that is running the Valley now as far as the water is concerned. And I was on the original commission. They take the blame for everything that goes on, everytime there is a flood or everytime there is any rain. The valley is not in as good a shape now as when we built the first two dams because then we didn't have anywhere near the run off. What's happened now is that everytime you build a new building or a new street end you are running water to the river quicker. It is field after field that a few years would have drained- the water would have gone away naturally into the ground, but now it has been paved, especially in Kitchener, Guelph and Gait areas, There has been so much expansion that this water runs into the river within minutes of falling. And the river Valley I don't think they are as near well off now as they were 15-20 years ago. We're further behind because there is no control, we have of course have had a couple of bad floods in the last couple of years, nothing to what we can have , Really, under the right conditions, with the heavy run-off and heavy rain I think the flood level is right up to the second step of the library if you look at the downtown you stand on the second step of the Library and realize that that is where the flood could be that would put all the flats under water and Tough's store would be flooded right out from the top level-the first floor ceiling and it would be up to the ceiling of the Bank of Commerce and that wi!3L happen. Unfortunately, this is a real problem that I'm sure nobody has taken too seriously. Well, there are all kinds of people serious about it but they can't do anything about it because the money isn't available. It costs so much money to correct it.
Q. Do you think that these new gabians that they ere building right now are going to be elective?"
A. Oh yes, because anything they do like that with gabians along the river -any protection is going to help you in probably 9 floods out of 10. But it is that 10th one or maybe the 16th or ?0th one that goes 6 or 8 feet over the top of it. But in the mean time they have protected you from the majority of the floods. So they are a big help as long as they don't use up the volume of the river like when they put the gabians in here they had to clean out the river. They have to bulldoze it all out to make room for the river. I think they are doing a pretty good job.
Q. What were some of the other major events or problems that you had to handle during your years as mayor?
A. Quite a few things happened. We were short of water. The P.U.C. developed more water so the town is well off for water.
There wasn't anything else major. The rebuilding of the streets. The Planning Boards got under way back in my time. I was always fairly strong in my thinking that Paris is too small to allow certain markets to be built on our fringes and kill the area as we know as the present shopping areas in downtown Paris. My thinking has not changed on that. I've travelled all over the world and I've seen the changes in shopping. I think that the Planning Board should make the decision of where the shopping is going to be in Paris. The present downtown I don't think should even be where it is. I think it should be moved up onto higher ground. This could have been worked out right downtown in maybe 2 or 3 levels of stores. The street that the library is on has always seemed like a good place: buy up all the houses and put parking underneath, and the regular stores, offices on the 2nd floor and maybe 6 or 10 floors for apartment units.
I think it is wonderful to have senior citizen apartment units but I think it is pitiful to have them so far away from where the action is. You are better to have them, than not to have them, but where they are they have to take a taxi to get to church and they have to get a taxi to get to anywhere. If they had been put in units downtown they would have been where everything is going on. You could have created another 600 or 700 people downtown easily, which our shopping area needs.
People always say that I'm trying to protect the downtown merchants and I'm not. We have a second grocery store now and we need another one badly. The IGA is a fine store, but they need competition right downtown.
During my time we stopped 4 fairly large commercial outfits that wanted to come in and wanted to build supermarket-type places on the fringes of Paris. The reason that these pieces are built is, greed on the part of Councils. You just look at Brantford or Simcoe. Poor old Simcoe is worse off then Brantford really. People don't realize it but there has been so many malls built on the outside of the Town that 1/5 of the stores are closed and almost 1/3 of every mall is closed. They've just over looked to such an extent end yet they are building more. The same thing is happening in Brantford. People say to me what a pitiful thing it is everytime a building burns in Brantford but I think Brantford is lucky losing those old buildings.
Eventually somebody is going to build something really smart although everyone is laughing at Brantford but in a very few years, they will have the smartest downtown in this area, I'm talking about the area around not Paris itself. Paris will have a downtown like Guelph. Guelph has done wonders with a lot of junk in their downtown.
Here, I've been on alot of committees that have looked at the downtown and they say-I guess the last scheme was going to cost 13 or 14 million dollars and they say "Who is going to spend that kind of money in Paris?" There are all kinds of developers that are willing to spend that kind of money-all they need is an O.K. to go ahead. If they can get a return on their money- that is all they are interested in.
Q. what would you like to see where the present downtown is now?
A. Just wide open space- parks and alot would be taken up in parking for the building that would run from West River Street over to the SW corner of Broadway and William Streets. A fairly large building there could accommodate all of the downtown merchants with a good grocery store in both ends. The only thing I'd leave downtown would be the Library, the Baptist Church and the Bell Office. The rest I'd let go- the sooner the better.
Q. Are you presently on and involved in any committees or citizens' groups?
A. Yes. The Historical Society and the P.U..C.-since I was elected mayor.
Q. Any aspirations for the office of Mayor? A. None whatsoever.
Q. You mentioned earlier that you were born in Paris. Was your family originally from Paris?
A. No. My father and mother were both from England. They came from the Midlands-Notingham and Ilkiston. My mother is still living- she is 86 years old. They lived in Paris after they came to Canada in 1912.
Q. Is your wife a Parisian?
A. No. She is from Hamilton. Her maiden name was Jean Reekie.
Q. How many children do you have?
A. I have a son, Paul. He was educated at the University of Waterloo and he works with me at Quikmark Transfers, Ltd. (Churchill Dr.) We make transfers for marking textiles. The big fad now is T-shirts so we make transfers for them. Paul is not married. I have a daughter Donna, who is married and has a little boy 2. 1/2 yrs. old and a daughter 6 months old. They live in Toronto.
Q. What have been your occupations here in Paris?
A. I worked with the Walker Press before WWII. After I returned from the war I started my own firm- Quikmark.