Beekeeping is an ancient art, full of tradition and wisdom passed down and down and down. For thousands of years, humans have worked with bees to earn a claim to the sweet honey the bees produce. But despite all the advancements in scientific research, we still don’t know much of anything about the bees. To keep them requires an ability to simultaneously take charge and let go, to research everything and admit to knowing nothing, to humbly accept that there is little you can do but much you must do to help the bees work their magic. Mostly, it’s both an art and a science, that requires a combination of information and intuition, hard work and humility. I barely know the first thing about bees, and it’s my fourth year in. But one thing I did know, was that when my sweet dad died, I had to tell the bees.
“It fell to me to tell the bees, though I had wanted another duty”
(Telling the Bees, by Deborah Digges)
Tradition holds that you should tell the bees everything. I talk to my bees all the time, although I daresay it’s as much for my own benefit as it is for theirs. I can vouch that the bees know me, know my mood and are impacted by my energy on any given day. Like any animal, they are sensitive and reactionary and they KNOW. Our sweet dumb dog Murphy knows that Russ is almost home, a solid three minutes before his car pulls into the parking lot at any time of day or night. Perhaps he’s not so dumb after all. Animals know more than we ever give them credit for. And bees are extra special and extra sensitive. So, in medieval times, it was common to tell the bees of any important news in the family. Most importantly, bees were to be informed when someone died. It was thought that they would leave if their keeper died, and all the hives would be lost. So it was a family member’s job to go tell the bees, to share the sad news, in hopes that the bees, in their grief, would remain. It was a solemn obligation, a sacred duty – to tell the bees. And then the family would choose another person to carry on the keeper’s tasks and life would continue to have the sweetness afforded to it by the honeybees. One old English tune soothed the mourning bees with the lyrics "The master's dead, but don't you go; Your mistress will be a good mistress to you." And so I, as their mistress, told the bees that the master was gone. I told all of them, in their various bee yards, and they seem to have agreed to stay. And now we move into a new season, together.
It’s been a strange spring for us. In the midst of our sorrow, we’ve found tremendous comfort and joy in the company of those who have surrounded us and sustained us. We are blessed in so many ways. And I am grateful that we lost our Dad just as winter came to an end. I’m told that those who grieve do much better when they suffer their loss in the springtime, as opposed to the autumn. It would have been a long, cold, dark winter ahead for us, had Dad succumbed in the fall. Instead, each day is brighter and with spring comes light and life and newness and beauty and fresh starts and all things optimistic. Things are so good at Bishop Family Bees right now and I am eager to let you know how things are moving forward.
First of all, the bees survived. This was the first year that our bees survived the winter. Twenty out of twenty hives survived and Dad was thrilled. He didn’t get to see another honey season, but he did get to celebrate our success before he left. Their survival was the fruit of our autumn and winter efforts to keep those bees safe and warm and well-fed through the winter. The bees not only survived – they thrived. My mentor tells me that they will all need to be split to prevent swarming. Swarming is the natural way that the hives reproduce. If the hive is large and strong, the queen will leave the hive, along with at least half of her colony, to take up residence somewhere else. And the remaining bees will make themselves a new queen with the eggs her majesty has left behind. And so the cycle continues. It’s natural, but it’s not good news for a beekeeper when a hive swarms. It’s a setback in terms of honey production and it’s not great for public relations when townsfolk encounter swarms. So, we will plan to split our hives (an artificial swarm of sorts), but will then have more bees than we know what to do with. Luckily for me, and not so luckily for him, my mentor suffered terrible losses this winter and is in the market for as many bees as he can get. So, he will purchase my excess bees and that will cover the costs of equipment I need to bring our twenty hives to a nice even thirty. And so a season of loss also becomes a season of growth.
Many of you know that we started with one hive, then two hives, on our second-floor porch here in Paris. It seemed logical at the time, but it was really just a hassle to deal with a lot of bees in that small space. The commute to the hives was short, and we enjoyed peering out at our “bee-rometer” to see what the bees were up to in any given weather. But it was a tricky scenario, particularly since they weren’t exactly legally situated. I have spent at least a year thinking about how I was going to get those bees down off the porch before I got busted for having bees up on the porch. Who was going to help me make this happen? A bucket truck? A firefighter? Some sort of pulley system or ramp from the roof to the ground? It has confounded me for far too long.
Well, my baby brother Jamie came to visit from BC on Easter weekend. He needed to come home and be sad with us. I needed to put him to work. It was win-win. And then there’s my dad’s best friend Tom. He is just as sad as the rest of us, having lost his best friend and his Saturday fishing buddy. You may remember that Tom came and worked with the bees last summer and fall, when Dad was weak and his friend was willing. Tom has a beautiful energy and a level head and is an ideal beekeeper. Dad may be gone, but I still have Tom and I won’t let him go easily! So, Jamie and Tom and I made it happen. We moved the porch bees late in the evening on Good Friday. We had to wait for them to all come home and settle in the hive (some missed the bus, so to speak, and were hovering sadly around the porch the next day). I sealed them up tight, we lashed them together, and the guys hauled them off the porch, through our bedroom, along the hall, down the stairs and out the front door to the truck below. Two hives, each with 30,000 or so bees and weighing at least one hundred pounds, were safely carried through the house and driven to their new home in the country. In all my planning, I had never imagined it going so smoothly. In my head, those hives tumbled and bees filled our home. I lost a lot of sleep imagining that scenario! But, it went perfectly and I am so grateful for those two guys who don’t know a lot about bees but have a whole lot of common sense and courage. They just got the job done. Wow.
And while we are missing our lovely porch hives, I am happy to report that the bees are settling into their new surroundings, perched atop a cliff overlooking the Grand River. Some lovely folks had contacted me earlier this spring, asking if I’d be willing to put some bees on their property. They were looking for a project and I was looking for some help and it’s a match made in heaven. Paul and Sandy have cleared and leveled some land along the river and we plan to add some hives from another site, as well as new splits, to bring this new bee yard to ten hives. Sandy has already spent an afternoon out with the bees and me, and she is a natural! She's got a good eye and a steady hand, and most importantly - she doesn't freak out!
And so we are doing okay here without Bob. Of course, being busy helps. There are so many plans to be made and so much work to be done, that there is little time for feeling sorry for myself. I feel overwhelmed a good deal of the time, but it will all get sorted out. So many people in the community have offered help, and many have suggested that they would like to come and work with the bees from time to time. I’ve ordered several new bee suits and bee jackets, in all sizes, so that folks can come and learn from the bees. Let me know when you want to come and spend an afternoon with the bees! I love the idea of having community involvement in this endeavour. It makes it all the more sweet for me. The bees, having agreed to stay, will learn to love some new people. And life goes on for all of us.
“Place a beehive on my grave
And let the honey soak through.
When I'm dead and gone,
That's what I want from you.
The streets of heaven are gold and sunny,
But I'll stick with my plot and a pot of honey.
Place a beehive on my grave
And let the honey soak through.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees
We said goodbye to my sweet dad this past week. I thought I'd post the obituary and tribute here, although I've already posted them elsewhere. This blog has told his story all along, so it's fitting that I should share these final bits about my Dad in this little corner of the web where I sum up the stories that make up my life. This marks the beginning of a new normal for us all.
Robert William Raymer (August 26, 1945 – March 9, 2017)
It’s with sadness and relief that we share news of Bob’s passing at the age of 71. He lost his fight with cancer but triumphed in the end. After months of suffering, he died peacefully at home in Elmira. We held his hands and sang him home. He was surrounded by love and was ready to go, with no regrets.
Bob was predeceased by his parents, Rev ID and Ada Raymer. He leaves behind his beloved wife, Marilyn, and his children: Kari and Russell (Bishop), Jeffrey and Christine, and Jamie and Lynda. He will be lovingly remembered by his eight grandchildren: Rachel, Isobel, Evangelina, Emma, Ridge, Oakley, Kesler, and Henry. He is also survived by his siblings: Don, Bonnie (Sawler), David and John.
Bob lived a life of adventure and service. Although born in Truro, Nova Scotia, he headed out into the world at a young age. Teaching was, for him, a calling. He spent 41 years investing in young people - in Canada’s North, Waterloo Region, Kenya, Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong. With his calm demeanor and love for mathematics, he impacted students all around the world. But he and Marilyn considered Elmira home and raised their kids there. After his second retirement, he worked at Floradale Feed Mill where he found tremendous satisfaction in his role as health and safety officer.
Bob loved to work. He never stopped working, thinking, learning or helping others. He loved fishing with his buddies, playing cards with his friends, traveling with his sweetie, joking with his grandchildren and dreaming with his kids. Bob played a mean accordion, navigated the stock market brilliantly, took up beekeeping and was still playing tennis, and winning, at 71.
Bob’s faith was, above all, the driving force in his life. He loved and served God, and lived an abundant life as a result. Bob was loved and respected by so many people. He chose to die as he lived – with grace and humour and integrity, and with the absolute certainty that all was in God’s hands.
Bob received wonderful care during his illness. The professionals at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre were as kind as they were brilliant. The doctors and nurses of the local palliative care team made it possible for him to live in comfort and die in peace, at home where he belonged. And at every step of the way, his wife Marilyn was his very own compassionate caregiver – qualified, competent and so very steadfast in her care of him right until the end.
So, we celebrated my sweet Dad's life on Sunday afternoon, and it was a really good funeral. My face is sore from all the smiling and talking, but it was so good to hear so many stories about my dad and the good he had done with his time on earth. My dear friend Ken had warned me that I would feel unexpectedly elated by the visitation and funeral, and appropriately devastated in the days and weeks to come. I think he was very right.
I jumped at the chance to say a few (a lot of) words about Dad. I thought I'd share them here, for those who couldn't be at the funeral, or those who are curious about this man that I have been sharing about over the past few months. I called it "Ten Things You Should Know About Our Dad". My brother and my mom both spoke eloquently and earnestly about Dad before I did, and mentioned several things that I had planned to share. In fact, there was a beautiful consistency to all the tributes shared about Dad - a testament to the truth of our stories and summations of him. Anyways, here are a few things you should know about Bob.
He was a Musician
Dad grew up in a household that valued music and he had a gift. He had a beautiful voice and could harmonize with anyone. He could sit down and play any tune by ear on the piano. He could comfortably accompany someone on the organ. I even remember him playing the guitar at one point. And he could play a mean accordion. We called him Silent Bob long before he lost his ability to speak. He was never one to waste words. But he would use music to express himself, most often to my mom. He would play “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill” on the piano to serenade her in the mornings. Maybe some of you saw the video I posted a few weeks ago, of dad playing “Have I told you lately that I love you” on the accordion for my mom. It was heartbreakingly beautiful. He’s been playing that song for her for 48 years. And in these past few months, the other song that he has played over and over again has been “Til the Storm Passes By”. He played it to encourage others and he played it to remind himself. He played it because when you have song in your soul, you keep on singing – even if you have lost your voice.
He was an Investor
Dad loved the thrill of playing the stock market and he was really good at it. For those who were willing to listen, he was always eager to share his strategies and tips for making sensible moves and solid returns on the stock market. But nothing thrilled him more than investing in people in general and his kids in particular. He was the brains, and often the money, behind all of our endeavours. He would get so excited. It didn’t matter what kind of outlandish plan we proposed to dad, he would always say the same two things: “Go for it” and “How much do you need?” He has been ridiculously generous to us and many, many other people who needed a little bit of help along the way. It wasn’t charity or handouts to Dad; it was always investment. He and mom have several sponsor children and Dad followed their progress with delight. He wrote them letters of encouragement and support, because he believed that it was important to invest in them beyond just the financial contributions to their wellbeing. He bragged about their accomplishments as if they were his own children. He was a very wise investor.
He was a Peacemaker
Dad is pretty new to the Anabaptist scene. Pacifism isn’t something we grew up talking about but it is something Dad lived out in many ways. He wasn’t passive, but he was someone who could pacify the angry and build bridges where there was division. He was a peacemaker who made peace simply by being his quiet self. His calm, cool and collected demeanour brought peace into tricky situations. Many teenagers found peace and safety in his classroom when their lives were so chaotic elsewhere. He also provided a safe space for many kids who stayed at our house over the years, for short and long periods of time. Our home was always open and available for those who needed sanctuary. He served as Staff President at the high school, where he advocated for his colleagues and diffused difficult situations. His was always the cooler head that prevailed in any negotiations. Now, for the record, I would like to point out that for a long time he was taking medications for his blood pressure that prevented him from getting worked about much of anything. We called them his “happy pills” and it was very clear when he had forgotten to take them. I used to joke that it wasn’t so much the Fruit of the Spirit as it was beta-blockers that made Bob such a cool cucumber. But the truth is, Dad was a peacemaker all his life. He brought peace to all kinds of situations.
He was a Seinfeld Fan
I was always surprised that Dad loved Seinfeld as much as he did. He was so very different from those despicable characters. I think maybe he just found them so interesting, and funny, because they were the very worst version of themselves and he never allowed himself to be. Maybe he saw the potential we all have to be like them, and found it amusing to watch it all play out. Anyways, he loved Seinfeld and often quoted the show, hoping that someone, anyone, would notice and play along with him. He would often randomly shove me across the room, saying “Get out” just like Elaine on the show because he thought it was so hilarious. And then there was the car rental. I kid you not – he and I were renting a car in an airport, somewhere, and after the agent had gone over all the extra costs for insuring the rental vehicle, dad leaned across the counter, and said so very earnestly, in his best Jerry Seinfeld voice – “Just so you know, I’m going to beat the hell out of this rental car”. I was flabbergasted. It was the first time I had ever heard him swear, if that even counts as swearing. He was so shocked at himself, he immediately ducked down behind the counter, laughing uncontrollably, and he was too embarrassed to get back up. The guy at the desk was not impressed. He said he was sick of that stupid joke. But dad, he thought it was hilarious because he loved Seinfeld.
He was a Fast Walker and an Early Leaver
It’s silly how fast Dad walked. When I was in high school, I used to walk to school with my dad; it was our time together. Really not cool to walk to school with your dad, but I did. Well, it wasn’t really walking. I ran alongside dad as he walked to school. He is one fast walker. My poor mom has been jogging behind him for decades. I filmed him one day last summer, ten paces ahead of me, bolting down Bloor Street after getting off the subway in Toronto. I thought mom might appreciate that very familiar view in the years to come – the back of Dad’s head, always decked out in his Floradale Feedmill ballcap, his back pack strapped on and his legs just a-pumping. During his years of teaching at EDSS, he always walked home for lunch. It was 2 km each way. So on his lunch hour, he managed to walk 4 km, have lunch, watch The Price Is Right (he was an expert on all those prices, and knew all those ladies by name) AND have a nap. Every day. Fast walker. He was also an early leaver, from everything. He’d put his hat on and mom would start reluctantly saying her goodbyes. Seriously, I remember as a child, leaving Blue Jays games at the 7th inning stretch SO WE COULD BEAT THE TRAFFIC. We had to listen to the rest of the game on the radio, including what would invariably be exciting overtime innings. He always left early so he could get home sooner than expected. If he went somewhere for two weeks, he’d be home in ten days. When he went fishing for a long weekend, he’d be home by Sunday evening. He always left everything early. Dad left us way too soon, but honestly – not nearly as early as I expected him to. He was always homeward bound, and I am grateful that he lingered as long as he did.
He was an Advisor
My dad had the gift of wisdom. He always knew what to do. It was always the smart thing and the good thing and the right thing to do. My dirty little secret is that I am not actually smart. I am just a girl who listened to her dad and always did what he told her to do. Dad told me to go to University of Guelph, so I did. Dad told me to be a teacher, so I did. Dad told me to buy rental properties, so I did. I have always just asked Dad what to do and found success in life by doing so. You wouldn’t believe how many times this past week I’ve thought “why are we discussing this – just ask Dad’. The other day, Jamie called me because he didn’t know who else to call to ask about buying a new trailer. Funny thing is that I need to buy a new trailer too, and I was also at a loss. Dad loved to tell the story about the time I was living away at university in Guelph and I called him in the middle of the night because my house was on fire and I didn’t know what to do. He was just my go-to guy when I needed answers! We have relied on our wise Dad to advise us in everything for a really long time. And we are all a little bit lost right now. And I know we aren’t alone, because there has been a steady stream of visitors to the door over the past couple of months – people who wanted to let Dad know how much he meant to them and how much they valued the advice he had shared with them over the years. He was so very wise and we all benefited from his advice. Hopefully we learned enough from him too, so that we can keep moving forward, stumbling forward, without him, together.
He was a Server
Serving was Dad’s love language. He didn’t say much, but he DID a lot. He loved to help people and solve their problems. Dad was happiest when he was working on a project of some sort. He and I would never in a million years have met to get together for coffee and just chat. We spent time together working on things. He helped me renovate two old houses in the summers when they were home from Hong Kong. A good day together always included a trip to the dump with piles of junk from my place, and we’d always come home with more junk we rescued from the dump because someone might be able to use something and he would have it when they needed it. Most recently, he helped me set up my beekeeping enterprise. It was a beautiful project that we could work on together and that was what he loved most about it. Even when he was sick, he was still thinking about the bees, ordering supplies, planning for the next harvest that he wasn’t going to see. He was always a hard worker and eager to help everyone. You had to be careful about saying too much around him. My colleagues used to joke about that. “You couldn’t mention that your furnace was broken, for example, because Bob would show up the next day with a furnace in the back of his truck and instructions to meet him at your house later so you could install it together”. I said on the phone “Dad, so do you think I should sell honey dippers with my honey” and ten minutes later, there was an email from Amazon saying that my CASE of honey dippers was on its way. Mom couldn’t think out loud and say, maybe we should hang a shelf over there, because she’d come back from the store and find one installed. Dad loved to help people solve things, fix things, move things, build things, find things, sell things, burn things – whatever. He was happiest when he was helping people and working hard.
He was an Adventurer
For a calm, level-headed math teacher, Dad was pretty adventurous. He felt secure in God’s will for his life, and then felt free to live out his dreams. My mom was the perfect partner for him, eager to join him on the adventures that would punctuate their life together. From the Arctic to Africa, and from Papua New Guinea to Hong Kong – he lived a life of exciting opportunities – a life less ordinary. And this was our childhood – he gave us this gift of travel, of adventure, of cultures and of wonder – a magical childhood. We used to burn stuff for fun, and swing from ropes Dad hung in the trees. We swam amazing reefs, climbed volcanoes, went on safaris and saw the world. He was always up for another trip and another adventure. But you had to keep up, you had to carry what you packed, and you had to know that we would probably head home early.
He was a Teacher
Dad was a teacher. It was a calling for him. He believed that God had called him to be a teacher and that it wasn’t for him to desert that calling, even when other lucrative offers came his way. So he kept on teaching. His father before him had retired from full-time ministry to go and work in full-time ministry overseas, and dad did the same thing. He retired from full-time teaching here in Canada, only to go and work as a full-time teacher in Hong Kong. And when he retired from there, he went to work at the Floradale Feed Mill, where he continued to teach about health and safety. I always knew he was about to teach me something when he started with “Now Kari….” and I listened carefully. He taught us about integrity, about honour, about service and truth. He’d also push me to learn new things. He said “any idiot can get a Math OAC” so I did, and I had to take an extra course just to make sure the math mark didn’t count towards my university admission average. He said “any idiot can change a headlight” and I figured it out eventually. He said “any idiot can install a dishwasher” and I made it happen, with just a little bit of help. And I think maybe the biggest thing he taught me was that people can change – when even my immovable Dad began to think about things differently as he aged and considered other viewpoints. He was learning, even as he was teaching. Dad had a pretty good idea of what was most important in life and he wanted to share it. Even though he was really quite introverted, Dad could speak to a group like this with no difficulty. He could preach the truth like any good missionary, but that’s not how he shared his faith. He lived his life in a way that provided evidence of God’s goodness and demonstrated what it meant to live in the light. He wanted to use his experiences to teach others. When he got sick, he told me to write about it. He wanted me to share the stories, the good and the bad parts, so that people could learn from our journey. That was the educator in him. A good teacher always makes the most of those teaching moments and Dad was a really good teacher.
He was an Example
From what I hear, Dad’s been making other guys look bad his whole life. He’s always been a really good example of a really good man. He lived with integrity and grace, wisdom and conviction, humour and courage. And he died the same way. He had never really suffered in his life before this year. He had never learned to suffer, and he had to learn quickly. He had lived well and he wanted to die well and he wanted others to see that it was possible. Dad had watched his friend Wally die and said that if he could do it half as well as Wally had, he would be pleased with himself. I think most will agree that Dad died well. The day before he died, he was up and sitting in the living room visiting with a friend. When we left that afternoon, Henry said “Bye Baba” from the front doorway and Dad surprised us all by shouting “Bye Henry” from the living room. Those were the last words we heard him say. The next morning, Mom called to say that he was really struggling to breathe and that she had called the doctor. He went downhill very quickly. I rushed in from the bee yard, picked up Henry early from daycare and sped from Paris to Elmira. Dad was blue when I got there, and so much smaller than he had been the day before. He was gasping for air, heavily sedated and ready to go. I know that he waited for me. He squeezed my hand and I told mom we should sing because he had asked me to sing for him every time I had climbed onto his bed in the past few weeks. So, we held his hands and we sang him home – with It Is Well With My Soul. And by the end of the song, he was gone. It was a good death and he deserved it and we were so glad that his suffering was over. Dad was an example right until the end – an example of light and love and a life less ordinary. Exemplary. That was our Dad.
I am a pretty private person. For all my sharing on my blog and social media, I am not likely to cry on anyone’s shoulder. When it comes to sorrow, I am just not that expressive. Sad movies don’t make me cry. I won’t quiver while telling a particularly heartbreaking story or weep about things that truly break my heart, like the suffering of families in Aleppo. But if you want to reduce me to a sobbing mess, here’s the secret: do something kind. I can’t handle it. Kindness will set off the ugly crying in seconds. And every time I think about that kindness, that moment where someone chooses goodness and sacrifice, I will cry again. And if I try to tell others the story, I will be a trembling pool of tears. Loving kindness is my kryptonite.
My beloved dad is dying. And I cry all the time. And it’s not because of the weight of it all. It’s not because I am already mourning the loss of my sweet dad. I’m not crying for myself or my mom or my little boy who really didn’t get enough time with his Baba. I cry all the time because people are being ridiculously kind to us and I can’t handle it.
I don’t have enough words to share all the ways that people have loved on us over the past six weeks. But I can tell you that folks just keep showing up in the best ways. Casseroles arrive, perfectly timed. They never pile up. They are just miraculously there when they are needed. And when mom doesn’t have a house full of family or friends here to say good-bye, there are single-serving casseroles – tiny little meals created for my mom who won’t cook a meal just for herself. There are the people who have dropped off incredibly generous gift cards for local restaurants so mom can host guests outside of the home. Some come to visit dad for a bit and then stay to play cards with mom, filling the otherwise silent house with laughter and companionship. There are those who shovel snow or help move furniture. Others show up just to sit with dad while mom goes to church or to get groceries. People have sent beautiful flowers for mom, and for me – I have never been so spoiled. Dad’s friends are asking more and more questions about beekeeping, intent on helping me as needed this season. Over and over again I hear from people, friends and neighbours, who would like to help out with the bees in any way they can this summer. And then friends here in town have blessed me in all sorts of way, without even knowing my dad, because they know things are hard for me right now. Some have provided childcare so I can help my parents without Henry on board. A book club friend brought over some fun, light reading after I said I couldn't handle any heavy, sad books right now. One friend even showed up to install the dishwasher that dad gave me as a gift but couldn’t install for me (I cried a lot later that night). The kind words and messages of love and support keep coming and I am reduced to tears over and over again. I do not think I have been kind enough in my life, come to think of it. I am being taught important lessons by all these wonderfully thoughtful people in my life.
While I hate seeing my dad suffer, I am glad that he didn’t die of the heart attack we always thought would take him from us. This way, he gets to hear all the stuff that is usually only said at the funeral. We've had a steady stream of visitors coming to the door, just to tell him what he has meant to them and how he has touched their lives. A good, good man like my dad deserves to hear those things after years of serving and loving on all who crossed his path. It has been so beautiful to listen to those stories, and to read the cards and emails that have arrived. What a wonderful reward for a life well lived.
When it seems like the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, I would like to remind you all that good people are still doing good things. Credit card customer service representatives are making me cry with their surprising compassion. Colleagues I haven’t worked with in years are making me cry with their kind notes of support. Customers are making me cry with their heartfelt best wishes for my dad when they stop by to purchase honey at my front door. At a time when people talk about the ills of social media, the outpouring of love we’ve received via facebook, from friends around the world, is making me cry. And those people who keep showing up in person to love on my folks - those people are turning me into a blubbering fool. If I’m crying, it means there is still much goodness and love to be found in this world. That’s a wonderful thing, right?
When I was a little girl, my dad took me snorkeling in the South Pacific. This was the kind of childhood I had. And I loved it. A life less ordinary. Anyways, dad took me snorkeling on one of the world’s most beautiful reefs and it was amazing and it was terrifying. I was so overwhelmed that I just froze in the water, afraid to move amidst all the teeming, colourful life under water. Dad, sensing my fear, held out his finger to me, and I grabbed onto it. And I was safe. To me, to hold my dad’s finger was a lifeline, a touchstone, a safe place. I will never forget that feeling.
Twenty years later, Dad and I found ourselves bored after Christmas, during one of these school breaks where you end up with lots of time after the important days. Everyone else had gone back to work, but we were still off and itching for something to do. So we spontaneously went to the Bahamas for a few days, just the two of us. And we went snorkeling. And as a joke, Dad held out his finger to me, and I grabbed onto it. And I was safe and happy and nine years old again. We laughed about it, but it also still meant something to me, even as a grownup, to have my dad as my lifeline, touchstone, safe place.
So, over the years, it’s kind of been our thing. When I am clearly overwhelmed or panicky, my dad holds out his finger. For instance, when the bees are crazy and I freeze, and I don’t know what to do, my dad holds up his finger and I pause, breathe, and continue working in the hive as the bees buzz all around me.
The other day, after spending some time canceling his credit cards and dealing with other banking questions while sitting with Dad on his bed, I said my usual goodbye. You take your goodbyes very seriously when someone you love is dying. We should always take our goodbyes seriously, I guess, but nowadays they hold extra meaning for us. So I hugged and kissed my dad, told him I loved him and headed for his bedroom door. I turned to say goodbye one more time and he put his finger up. And I paused and savoured the moment. I got a little teary-eyed, thinking about my wonderful Dad and the memories we had made together. I wanted to hold this image in my mind, because no one else was ever going to do that for me and Dad wasn’t going to do it much longer. I am losing my lifeline, my touchstone, my safe place. I smiled, thanked him for the gesture, and he did it again, with more urgency, looking me straight in the eye and pointing that finger heavenward. Again, I sighed and smiled and took it all in. And then I realized it. This wasn’t the meaningful moment I thought it was. He just wanted me to turn off the overhead light. Sheesh!
I told him that story the next day and we laughed so hard the bed shook. Now he keeps holding up his finger just to mock me. And sometimes he lets me hold his finger while he snoozes and I read on the bed beside him. I shared the story with my dear friend Tanya, and she both cried and laughed with me about it. And she told me that she had dropped off a fingerprint kit at my Mom’s so that, if we wanted, we could take a mold of his fingerprint. Our artist friend Heather, at Sway Silver, creates jewelry with fingerprints of loved ones and Tanya thought I might like a necklace with my dad’s fingerprint. So wonderful. So, soon enough, I will have my pendant with my dad’s fingerprint so that I will still have some sort of lifeline, touchstone, safe place in those moments when life is overwhelming. I am so grateful for such a lovely, thoughtful gift.
For now, I still have my dad to hang on to, even as he slowly fades away. This journey is hard, but also beautiful. We’re doing okay.
This guy, right here. This guy is the best dad a girl could ever ask for. We have had so many ridiculous adventures together, both here in Canada and abroad. I am who I am because he is my dad. He has been my father, my colleague, my adviser, my protector, my guide, my friend and most recently, my beekeeping partner. He is the best. And I know that a lot of you have followed our story this year as he received a cancer diagnosis, under went some intense surgeries and then weeks of radiation.... and as he kept on showing up for the bees throughout it all. Even this week, in the midst of some pretty awful pain, he was telling me that we need to get out and check on the bees while it's mild. He is the brains behind Bishop Family Bees and our partnership in this wild endeavour has been an absolute delight for both of us. Many of you, when you stop by to pick up some honey, have asked how he is doing. We love that you care enough to ask, and we are grateful for your kind concern.
The very sad truth is that this week we learned that dad's cancer has returned with a vengeance and that it is terminal. He had a lot of pain over the holidays and the diagnosis did not really come as a surprise. There is unlikely to be any treatment and he does not foresee being here for another honey harvest. He has been sharing this news with family and friends over the past couple of days and gave me the go-ahead to share it with you too, because so many of you - complete strangers- have followed his story and cheered him on and sent your blessings during this battle. And we do feel blessed, in spite of the sadness. Ridiculously blessed.
In Dad's own words:
When looking back over the events of this year, gratitude is the first word that comes to mind as we have much to be grateful for:
I'm sure I'll have lots to say about this guy, and this new chapter, in the weeks and months ahead. But right now I am short on words. I am only just beginning to process what it will mean to live in a world without this guy, my dad.
I’ve been thinking about water a lot lately. It’s something we so take for granted here in Canada, even though I am well-aware that for many communities in our country it remains a struggle to have access to clean, safe drinking water. When you have water, you assume you will always have it and when your water is safe, you assume that it will always be safe. And so most of you probably give very little thought to the water you drink.
I’ve lived in places where water is always on your mind. As a child in Papua New Guinea, I remember helping my dad tap tap tap the water tank at the side of the house with a stone to determine just how much water we had left to get through the dry season. In Haiti, we received municipal water through the pipe into our cistern for just one hour each Sunday morning, and then we had to hope it would last the week. We recycled water to use in the toilets. And if a good rain fell, we ran for our shampoo and headed outside for a good long shower under the downspout. If the water in the cistern ran out, we did without until Sunday, or we paid for a “camion de l’eau” to bring us a truckload of water to fill up our cistern. In Kenya, I boiled and filtered all water for drinking or use in cooking. Actually, in all those places I lived, it was never safe to drink the water without boiling it. But boiling typically did the trick and dangerous water became safe to drink. It was just part of our routine, to have to question the safety of our water all the time. I guess you get used to worrying about water when you live in developing countries.
Weird thing is, the most dangerous water I’ve consumed has been here in Canada.
When I was a teenager in Elmira, we were suddenly informed that some pretty toxic chemicals had ended up in our groundwater thanks to the local chemical company. Suddenly, we no longer had access to safe drinking water. Concerned citizens groups had been trying to raise the alarm and most people ignored them or dismissed them as raging radicals. Even the company and the government admitted that they were shocked at the levels of toxins that had found their way into our water but could not deny the evidence once proper testing was done. No one had believed that the threat was real until the ‘highly unlikely’ occurred. It was front page, national news and everyone suddenly cared. The news cameras would pan across our sweet little downtown, always managing to include a horse and buggy or two. Reporters would ask us how we felt about our poisoned water. Many experts weighed in and tried to figure out what to do about the problem. How could this happen here? Why weren’t they stopped? What was the solution now that the water was contaminated?
For them, it was a political issue. For us, it was very personal. And it was very immediate and there was no undoing what had been done. We had been consuming the toxins for a while and now, suddenly, it was unthinkable to drink that water. We had to go to the fire station to pick up water that had been trucked in for our use. There were water coolers set up in the halls of the local schools. We were even concerned about showering and skin exposure to the toxins. Eventually, a pipeline was built to Waterloo because our local water could not be reclaimed. They say it will still be another few DECADES before Elmira's groundwater is safe for human consumption. In Geography class, we still show the ‘Nature of Things’ episode about Elmira's water as part of the curriculum. It's a cautionary tale. But here’s the scariest part: we are always waiting and wondering about the long-term effects of our exposure to those chemicals. We are waiting to find out just how many of us end up with those rare cancers that really aren’t so rare when everyone in the neighbourhood knows someone who is suffering from the same illness. That chemical company still operates in Elmira (under a different name), still provides employment in Elmira, still pollutes and harms the people of Elmira, and still makes profits in Elmira. And decades later, the people of Elmira still cannot drink the local water because the groundwater remains contaminated with toxins. This is where I am coming from when I say I am thinking about water.
Right now in Paris, we are fighting to keep this from happening to our town's water source. We have one last chance to save our water from being polluted by dangerous toxins, and so we (a group of freaked-out moms called the Rabblerousers) are trying to mobilize our neighbours to show up and show the tribunal chair that this is not okay. The Ministry of Environment has granted a permit to take water to a local gravel company, despite the recommendations of experts who say that there is a very real threat that the chemicals gathered from the gravel and concentrated in the washing pond will find their way into our aquifer, just one metre below the pond. Concerned citizens have been fighting tirelessly to ask for more testing and for limits on the operation. And it has come down to this appeal of the Ministry’s decision. A tribunal chair will decide if the company can go ahead with plans to endanger our water source in exchange for the extra profit earned from washing the gravel on site. We are asking that more testing be done to ensure that it is safe before the water is put at risk. Our children should not be lab rats, used to determine safe levels of toxic chemicals in our drinking water. I find that a lot of my friends and neighbours are hesitant to get involved, or to even comment on the issue. I guess, for them, it’s still a political issue and they just aren't into that sort of thing. And what I want to tell them is that it is insanely personal. Miscarriage after miscarriage is personal. Having a chronically ill child is personal. Cancer in the family is personal. Coming to grips with the fact that industry and government do not actually have your safety at the top of their list of priorities is personal. And waiting until after the damage has been done to find your voice is just tragic.
A book has been written about what happened in my hometown. Called ‘No Guardians at the Gate: The Elmira Water Crisis’, it explains the saga in this way: “The Elmira story sometimes has been cluttered with legal manoeuvering, appeals, and science that isn't easy to understand or explain. But, at its heart, the story is about a company that knew a lot about making chemicals, not much about protecting the environment; a provincial government that didn't have the teeth, manpower or political will to enforce its laws; and residents who were prepared to do whatever it took to protect their community.” That’s sounds a lot like what is happening here. I never want to relive that story, and I hope we don’t have to here in Paris. But I do hope, at the very least, that we are remembered as residents who were prepared to do whatever it took to protect their community. Decisions are made by those who show up. Changes are made by those who show up. History is made by those who show up.
My hope is that if you are reading this, and you are close enough to do so, that you will show up. We are asking people to bring their friends and family to Council Chambers here in Paris on January 11th at 7pm. The tribunal chair has set aside that time to hear from community members and it’s important that we show her that enough of us care. An empty room sends a very clear message to her that this community doesn’t care about the threat to their water source, so why should she? So, please, if you can, find a way to show up and be seen as someone who wants to see our water protected. Be the faces of the community that she looks upon as she makes her decision about the future of our water source. It is an easy yet personal way to show you care, and to model for your kids what it means to show up and to stand up for what’s right.
Find out more information about showing up at the tribunal here.
Read more about Elmira’s water story here.
Check out my funky little prezi about Paris’ water story here.
Join our group of Rabblerousers here.
I wrote this piece almost three years ago, after a particularly stressful year. As I was shutting down my old blog, I thought it was worth saving. Given how crazy things seem to get this time of year, I think this message bears reminding. So I am tossing it out to you again so you can remember to give yourself and your people a bit of a break this Christmas.
I used to teach Psychology to highschool students. I had never actually studied Psychology in university, having balked at the idea of being just like every other Psych/Soc girl who had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. So, years later, I found myself teaching Psychology/Sociology/Anthropology to Gr 11 students who also had no idea what they wanted to do with their life. I stayed one chapter ahead of the crowd, and soon realized that I would have loved to have taken those courses in university. Nowadays, I read about cognitive development, neuroplasticity, archetypes, gender roles or groupthink JUST FOR FUN. I am actually very pleased that the course is offered, because it provides students with an introduction to subject areas that are completely new to them. And the content is incredibly valuable for anyone who might be interested in being alive and well when they grow up.
Our mental health unit included a section about stress – that ubiquitous topic that seems to make the cover of every magazine in the grocery line. We defined stress as the difference between expectation and reality. If your expectation for anything is way up here (imagine me gesturing dramatically) and reality turns out to be way down here (again with the gesturing), the space between is inhabited by stress. The greater the distance between expectation and reality, the greater the stress. This concept was a new one for me, and it comes back to me from time to time when the stress becomes just too much to handle.
We’ve come through a very stressful year. It started with the stress of fertility treatments which actually didn’t take as long as we thought but were still painful and awful. And so pregnancy was celebrated, but even that didn’t last as long as we anticipated. Baby Henry arrived suddenly at 25 weeks, a full 3 1/2 months early, and our stress hit new heights. Five tumultuous months in the hospital took their toll, but we were careful to manage our stress. The support of family and friends, the prayers of people from near and far, the hospitality offered by Ronald McDonald House and a strict sleep schedule allowed us to survive the ordeal without any breakdowns or illness on our part. And then we brought a cranky, screamy preemie home from the hospital and discovered that really, the challenges had just begun. As Christmas drew near, I thought the stress was going to take me down. And then I remembered the definition.
It turns out that the Buddhists have it right. If you lose the desires, you no longer suffer. In other words, if you lower your expectations, reality is perfectly satisfactory. I am a woman of great expectations. I am known to regularly shout “I have standards” to my husband who, more often than not, does not. And most of the pressure is put on myself. I know that I am not alone here. It is a common ailment among women. For most of the women I know, Christmas sounds like this: do we have the right coloured ribbon to go with that wrapping paper…. when am I going to get the baking done…. do we give gifts to the French and Art teachers too…. can we give the same gift to both of our dads…. is the freezer full of enough food in case people drop by…. live wreath or fake one…. is it too late to redo our Christmas card family picture…. where can I find white Poinsettia…. is this the right mulled wine recipe…. and so on and so on. And we do it to ourselves, because no man has ever gotten worked up about Christmas, EVER. And so, I decided to learn from my own lesson and change my expectations.
I let go of Christmas this year. Not entirely, but enough. People still got gifts, some even on time. I am still handing out our Christmas cards and it’s the end of January. I bought baked goods when needed and pulled out old Jamaican patties from the freezer when people dropped by. I let the clutter pile up and food supplies dwindle. I put out just the basics in terms of decorations, and only because I had a burst of energy one day in November that coincided with a rare nap on Henry’s part. I didn’t over-schedule us. In fact I didn’t make plans at all and just let them happen. I couldn’t plan much anyways, with a child who was only predictable in his unpredictability. And letting go was beautiful. There was no space between my expectations and reality, nowhere for stress to creep in and take over. No standards meant no stress. And that was when I realised it.
This is what it is like to be a man.
In the words of that brilliant philosopher, Phil Dunphy – Welcome to a place I call Relaxistan.
I have been silent on this blog for a couple months and I am sorry for that. It’s been a season of honey harvesting and processing, of family illness and drama, of side-hustles and ambitious projects, and of challenges on every front. That said, there have also been wonderful times of warm autumn days, get-togethers that feed the soul, good books, meaningful work and the exhausting but inspiring antics of a three-year-old who only operates at one speed – one very fast speed. A dear friend asked why I wasn’t writing and I said I just couldn’t find the words right now, and so I just worked earnestly with the bees and the honey instead and figured I’d write again when the words returned.
And then a monster was elected as President of the United States and many of us, not even Americans, were left reeling as we faced the new reality. I still don’t have the words to process that one, other than to say that the Church, Christ’s Body, had better find a way to show the world God’s love again, because 81% of white Evangelicals in the USA just sent a threatening message of hatred and intolerance to those who most need to be embraced by the love of Jesus. I can’t even fathom it. My heart breaks to see that the evil that lurks beneath has now been legitimized and empowered and given free rein – from the Oval Office right down to the sidewalks of that nation. We watch stunned from the sidelines, painfully aware that our neighbour’s suffering is our own. I know, in my heart of hearts, that love wins. But it does not feel like it right now.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about today. On this Thursday in November, I wanted to escape all of that, to unplug and disconnect from the heavy reality on our screens and to recharge. So, like Thoreau, we went to the woods.
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.
(Henry David Thoreau)
Now, I’m not certain that Thoreau would have had the same profound experience had he gone to the woods with a few kids in tow, but I'm pretty sure he would have had more fun if he had.
Here in Paris, we are blessed with many scenic options for hiking or strolling. It really is a beautiful town, with two rivers and plenty of wilderness still left for wandering. Barker’s Bush is the most cherished piece of land in town, and under threat as developers make their plans to clearcut it in favour of houses. While I lament the loss of this beautiful land, I can understand why people would want to live there along the Nith River. I also want to live along the Nith River, where the stones conspire with the flowing water to make the most wonderful babbling and gurgling. It is a wild area, where generations of children have spent summers wandering and exploring and frolicking in the woods and across the fields and along the river. You will always find others there, sitting on the rocks by the river, throwing balls for their dogs or just walking the trails, soaking up the woods-i-ness of it all. It is a glorious place.
So today we went to the woods. I am sure that you already know this truth, although it bears reminding: there is not much in life that can’t be soothed by a walk in the woods. As my dear friend said, a walk in the woods today was a balm for her weary soul. Our kids have all be miserable this week – perhaps due in part to the anxiety and sorrow of their parents watching the election play out, and in part to the time change, Halloween hangover and darkness at dinnertime. Whatever the cause, life with little ones has been hard this week, but something magical happened when those kids were set free in the woods. Just like us, they found solace and fresh inspiration there. They ran wild and free, rolled like puppies in the long grass, skipped stones in the river and turned their faces to the sun. Henry spent more time in the water than on land, at first gingerly tiptoeing in the shallows and then just wholeheartedly jumping into the deeps. That water was so very cold, but those kids cared not. Henry climbed big rocks and threw little rocks. He and his friend Jonah pretended to be pirates, conquering a large rock in the river and searching for treasure in the ripples below. They found a very fuzzy caterpillar which required some very close and intense investigation. Meanwhile, Tanya and I started a fire in the conveniently located fire pit at the edge of the river. I had come prepared with marshmallows and we were on a mission to relax and let ourselves and our kids just BE. It was the perfect antidote to the crankiness that had been plaguing us all. A midday campfire, complete with marshmallows and juice boxes, was the escape that we needed. What a beautiful day to be in the woods. We’ve had a lot of these days lately, and I think we’ve done a good job of savouring them. Each time, I declare that this is the last good day and that we mustn’t waste it by staying indoors. So we have had some good long walks in the autumn sunshine recently, but today was the best. I can hardly believe that we are well into November with such sunshine and warm breezes. It won’t last long, but I envision some pretty great hikes into the woods on wintery days as well. We will need some of that healing balm to get us through the winter.
Go to the woods - today or tomorrow or this weekend. I promise that you won’t regret it. You will remember what it means to find your peace and yourself, in the woods.
In the woods, we return to reason and faith.
There I feel that nothing can befall me in life,
-- no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eyes),
which nature cannot repair.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson)
One of my beautiful bees stung me in the forehead the other day and I tried not to be indignant even as I was yelling “SON-OF-A-NUTCRACKER!!!!" Russ just shook his head and laughed, having just been stung himself, through his socks. We were checking on our hives and it was a stinking hot day. It was so hot that my sunglasses had fogged up and I could no longer see what I was doing, so I trudged all the way down into the adjoining pasture and carefully unzipped my beekeeper’s hood. In the time that it took me to whip up the net, and grab my sunglasses off my sweaty face, a guard bee zoomed in and stung me on my forehead. She had diligently followed me down the path to make sure that I knew how she felt about my activities in the beeyard that day. Now here’s the thing about me. I do not generally overreact in life. I am pretty calm and rational. But when it comes to beestings, I am an over-reactor of the highest order. I am not technically allergic to beestings, but wow does my body ever respond dramatically to bee venom!
By evening, the eye closest to the sting was beginning to look puffy. I joked that it was ‘heinous’ but really, I thought I was getting off easy this time. But by the next morning, my eye was swollen shut and so began several days of facial deformity, agonizing itchinesss and partial blindness. While I am in no way comparing my experience to those with genuine disease and disability, I have to tell you that I learned a lot through this recent happening. I certainly learned to laugh at myself, to give ridiculous-sounding remedies a try and to appreciate the value of a good bag of frozen corn. But above all, I came to have a new appreciation for perspective.
I could no longer see out of my right eye. My visual field was fifty percent smaller without that eye and that meant that my world was shrinking. And that’s what got me thinking about perspective. When we have two functioning eyes, they each gather information from each side of the picture, so to speak, and then put the two views together to create an accurate view of the world. With only one eye, I no longer had a balanced view of the world and it handicapped my ability to make judgements and decisions. It also made me vulnerable to sneak attacks by my toddler, but that’s another story. Mostly, I felt impaired. And that’s when I started to think about the value of different perspectives when it comes to our lives and our world.
We live in a time when it is very easy to narrow our field of vision when it comes to perspectives on the world. In the realm of social media, we follow and like those who are most like us, and in doing so, shrink our world. When people possess ideas that run counter to our own, it’s possible to delete them, unfollow them, or post angry online diatribes about them and those just like them. We’ve just come through a pretty rough election year in Canada and are now, along with the rest of the world, following the disturbingly divisive election to the South of us with the same sort of morbid curiosity and horror that I am sure possessed the onlookers during the toddler/gorilla saga earlier this year. There seems to be a huge divide between perspectives these days, whether it’s political parties, denominational differences or parenting styles. Somewhere along the way, ideas have become identity for many people and to counter those ideas or express different ones, constitutes an attack on the person. To concede points to ‘the other side’ is to undermine one’s own identity and entire perspective on life. So we choose one side, ignore the other view of the world, and deliberately limit our field of vision by doing so. Gone is the balanced perspective that comes from taking both sides into account. Gone is the reasonable middle ground, the area where the best aspects of both views meet to form a pretty accurate view of the world. And this is frightening to me.
I was so pleased to regain my sight as the swelling decreased over the next few days, even though it really just migrated to my cheeks. At first it was work to keep that swollen eye open. It difficult but it was worth it, knowing that I could have a more complete view of the world around me if I was willing to make the effort to open that eye, even partially. Turning a blind eye was the easy way out but it came at a high cost, particularly when I was trying to drive. I could only trust my own judgements and make safe, right, rational decisions, when I knew that I had all the information I needed, from both sides. Even when I couldn’t see clearly out that right eye, it was still better than darkness. It still contributed to a better understanding of the world around me. So I am trying to learn from this experience and going forward, I am choosing to see both sides of issues as they come my way, recognizing that a fuller, more accurate view of the world can be its own reward as well as the means to a much better end in any scenario. Eyes wide open!
There’s an old building in Paris that has gripped my imagination since the first time I saw it. I tried my darnedest to book it for our wedding, but it was impossible. Then when it went up for sale in 2009, I spent many sleepless nights trying to figure out how I could purchase the building and make it into something lovely and useful again. If I had sold everything I owned, I still couldn’t have done it, but I enjoyed the dream anyways. And now, as a citizen and taxpayer of Brant County, I can celebrate the fact that I own that gorgeous old building because a generous private donation made possible the purchase of the property by the County. Known to many as the Paris Old Town Hall, the building has had many reincarnations over the years and is soon to play, once again, a beautiful role as the centre of our community.
I get so excited when I start talking about the Paris Old Town Hall. Part of it is because the historian in me relishes the historic significance of this building. Experts will attest to the exceptionality of this particular piece of architecture. Its unique design has national and international significance because it is the earliest example of a Gothic style civic building in North America. At the time that architect John Maxwell designed this town hall in Paris, it was a brand new idea to create civic buildings in the Gothic style that was traditionally used only for churches. Our Houses of Parliament in Ottawa were built in a similar style five years later. Think about that. Our little Paris was actually cutting edge and our town hall was the first example of civic Gothic architecture in Canada. It was a time of great growth and ambition for little Paris, which sat at the junction of two main rivers and along the Governor’s Road that marched straight through Southern Ontario. The building embodied the spirit of enterprise and democracy, and a devotion to all things English. It was modeled on the old medieval guild halls of England, where markets and offices shared a building and formed the heart of a community. The basement featured market stalls for local vendors to hawk their wares, and a few prison cells which still bear messages carved into the walls by the unfortunate inmates who occupied them over the years. The police and fire departments also operated out of the basement while the main floor held the government offices for the town, including the Magistrate’s and Treasurer’s offices and the Council Chambers. This was the seat of local government, and local government was a new thing at the time in what was yet to become Canada. The idea of local decision-making was fresh and exciting and people saw this building as a symbol of the power of democracy and community in Paris.
And then there was the second floor, with its magnificent open timber roof. It was the Assembly Hall – used for concerts and meetings and weddings and lectures and all manner of get-togethers for the community. It was acoustically perfect (no small feat) and even functioned as an opera hall from time to time. The early citizens of Paris envisioned this building, erected this building, used this building and cherished this building. It was the heart of the community and worth every cent of the approximately $12,000 it cost to build it in 1853/54. Before Canada was even a country, the Paris Town Hall was the hub and heart of this community.
The centre of town eventually moved from the hill to down by the rivers when the mills were built and downtown surpassed uptown in terms of power and population. St James Anglican Church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church and the Paris Old Town Hall were relics of an earlier time, and people were lured down the hill by all the new factories, homes and businesses that were being constructed there. Folks continued to set their watches by the bell in the town hall’s distinctive tower, and its chimes also sounded the alarm for fire or announced a death in the community. But most of the town’s activities shifted to the commercial area downtown and by the turn of the century, even the local government offices moved down the hill and the extraordinary building was left to take on new roles in the town’s story. Over the years, the building served as a munitions factory, part of the textile industry (needleworks), offices for the famous Mary Maxim enterprise, and most recently, an antique auction house. Much of the building is in disrepair and you have to look past a lot of dust and debris to glimpse its former glory. But I guess that’s the part that draws me to this glorious old building. It has so much history, but also so much wonderful potential.
While the history of the Paris Old Town Hall is fascinating and I honour the architectural significance of this grand old building, it is its future that excites me the most. Our community needs a centre again, so it’s the future, the Bawcutt Centre, which really makes me dizzy with ideas. Linda Schuyler (of Degrassi fame) and her family knew exactly what they were doing when they made the extraordinary gift of one million dollars to allow the County of Brant to purchase this building and restore it to its rightful place as the heart of the community. She cherishes democracy and community, as well as arts and culture. Her speech in which she talked about her family and the importance of this building can be seen here. It inspired me to get involved in the project to help bring this dream to fruition. This community desperately needs a place where people can gather, for community events and for concerts, for weddings and recitals, for dances and exhibitions, for shindigs and good old-fashioned town hall meetings. Imagine your favourite indie band choosing to play such a funky and acoustically fabulous venue, or a film festival running in our own hometown! My Airbnb guests regularly note that Paris has amazing restaurants and absolutely nothing else to do in the evenings. In fact, we often have guests who stay with us because they are going to yet another fantastic concert in Waterford. Well, we deserve to have our own fantastic concerts in our own fantastic venue, not for the tourists but for us – the people of Brant County. And it will only happen if we work together to make it happen.
So here is my plea: make it happen. This is our community and our project. Your council members need to know that you value this project and that you want to see the Paris Old Town Hall, now known as The Bawcutt Centre, returned to its former glory and rightful place in this community. Please contact your elected officials and let them know that this is important for the people of the County of Brant. Ask them how you can be involved because we need many people with various talents to participate in this project. You have a part to play. Read more about the history and the project – here, here and here. Join the facebook group here and sign up for the newsletter here. Watch David Powell and Holly O talk about The Bawcutt Centre on this recent interview with Global TV. Talk to your neighbours about The Bawcutt Centre. Take your own amazing photos of #bawcuttcentre and filter them like crazy and post them to instagram. Share your ideas and input, online and in person. Make yourselves heard. The citizens of Paris in 1850 knew what they wanted and they made it happen. They dreamed big and created something of international significance and extraordinary beauty, here in Paris. We have an opportunity to do the same, and to enrich our own lives and our own community in the process.
Full disclosure: I was able to tour the Old Town Hall one morning in June because I am one of the citizens appointed to sit on the mayor's Advisory Committee for The Bawcutt Centre. I was so intrigued when I saw the call for applicants but figured no one as new as I am to this small town would ever be appointed to such a committee. Then I forced myself to apply, simply because it didn’t seem fair to make that judgement without actually giving them the opportunity to turn me down because I wasn’t born and raised in Paris. So imagine my surprise when I learned that I was appointed to the committee! I think I had the perfect, freakish constellation of qualifications (from my career as a history teacher to my ownership of historic properties in Kitchener to my previous work as an event planner and my charity undertakings) and I somehow earned a seat at the table. So while I am new to this community, I am thrilled to play a part in this project that really will change Brant County for the better. I’d love to talk to you about any ideas or suggestions you might have for us as we work together to bring The Bawcutt Centre to Brant County.