No, not the French tri-colour version, but rather Paris, Ontario, an attractive town of 12,000 people,
a mere 1.5 hour drive from Niagara. Appropriately, it`s named for the nearby deposits of gypsum used to make plaster of Paris. Also, it is referred to as "the cobblestone capital of Canada" because of the large number of aged, cobblestone homes. Amalgamated in 1999 to the County of Brant, locals don't like to admit to it.
When I arrived a few weeks ago to do some Christmas shopping, I found a vibrant downtown tucked away inside a wide valley. It was sheltered from big-box retailing and I soon learned that the chronic 21st century hurry-up wasn't here either. The pace was slow and it reinforced in my mind, how nice the world can be. Parking is free along Grand River Street, the town`s main street, and there's lots of interesting stores to explore.
Always looking for a "sweet deal" I stumbled upon Chocolate Sensations. Like so many other shops in town, this delightful, aromatic place is family-owned by John and Sarah Chalmers. John said, "This business began as a humble home-based hobby in a family kitchen over 20 years ago. Today we do a thriving on-site business and a large volume of catalogue sales." Once inside chocolate enthusiasts will think they have died and went to chocolate heaven. I recommend before you leave, take home some Christmas, Candy Cane Bark. Yummy!
Next door, there`s a cheesy place called The Three Blind Mice Cheese Company owned by a smiling Lindsay Dawdy who said, "We only opened in June of this year and so far it's been a runaway success. So much so, we've opened another store in Elora." Believe it or not, this is a fun place. Step inside and see what I mean. Ask Lindsay to push the reset button on her 1951 Juke Box and you can hear one of your golden-oldies. Sticky Toffee and Wensleydale with Cranberry are the featured cheeses for the holidays.
Down the road is the John N. Hall House of Quality Linens. This is an old-fashioned dry goods store. Their heavy front doors are the same fixtures that customers have been pushing since the 1860's. If you're looking for a ladies embroidered white cotton nightgown or fleece or flannelette blankets you've arrived.
The Brown Dog Coffee Shoppe at 63 Grand River St. N. is popular with the locals. For starters, everything is made from scratch, and from what I observed, servers work at spoiling their customers. They roast their own coffee and specialize in nostalgic, hard-to-find sandwiches like the classic Monte Cristo. The Apple Waldorf Salad platter is a crowd pleaser. I loved their Deep Dish Corn Meal Crust Quiche and hand-crafted Hot Apple Fritters. The apples were prepared in front of me using an 1800's hand operated peeler. My chocolate milk was delivered to my table in an old-fashioned dairy bottle. In the warmer months you can eat on the second floor outdoor patio that overlooks the Grand River that flows through town.
Before you leave Paris, walk to the end of the town to the Williams Street Bridge, and take a photograph of the back of these historic buildings that house the shops. It will be a keeper.
As I headed home, I came across a group of people who were unloading Balsam Firs to be sold at their annual Christmas tree sale for St. James Anglican Church. It was a Norman Rockwell scene. One parishioner, Steve Howes, who has lived here for 45 years, told me, "This is a small town with a lot of heart. People still treat each other with respect. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else." That sums this town up nicely.
George Bailey contributes to Sun Media's 43 paid-circulation newspapers across Canada as well as numerous magazines. George has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, Canada AM, The Discovery Channel, and Live with Regis and Cathy Lee. He has published five books on Niagara Falls.