If you’re breezing by on a leisurely country drive, you might miss the Paris Plains Stone Church, the 6th of 160 Unusual Sites in Ontario I visited. However, the curious who stop to visit this quaint cobblestone church in Brant County are in for a treat. A unique style of architecture and a piece of Ontario’s history greets them if they are willing to stop and explore.
Brant County, Ontario
Found in Southwestern Ontario, Brant County is named after the respected political diplomat and Six Nations Mohawk leader, Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant). In true aptronymic form, Thayendanegea means “bind together to strengthen”. As a translator, spokesperson for the Six Nations, and liaison between the British government and the Mohawks he more than manifested his name’s meaning. To get a closer look into his illustrious past, you can visit a replica of his former home in Burlington which is now a museum.
Packed with history, Brant County is an historian’s dream. It is where the world’s first long-distance telephone call occured, where Canada’s first licenced female doctor grew up, the final resting place for United Empire Loyalists, and the site of the unusual Paris Plains Cobblestone Church.
Paris Plains North Agriculture
Most of the soil here is gravel and either owned by or controlled in part by gravel companies. These gravel pits have been quite controversial in the past for Paris residents. To read more, click here. The companies have mineral rights, which means that they do not own the property. However, they can extract resources and must take care of the land they use.
Much of Paris’ landscape is agricultural. Farmers mostly grow corn, wheat, soy, and edible beans. One change maker in the farming community is Bruce Cruikshank. As a young teenager, he began growing edible beans when learning about them working for another family. Later he established his own farm and continued to grow them. Today he is in his 60s and still farming beans, with other local farmers having followed suit. In addition to these crops, there is a large dairy farm in the area with a new barn that doubles as a teaching centre.
The Man whose Architecture Changed a Small Ontario Town
Thanks to a stonemason from New York State, this small Ontario community has 13 unique cobblestone buildings. Levi Boughton was born in the United States in 1805, where he grew up and became a tradesman. In 1835 Boughton and his wife, Sida Mann, moved to Brantford, Ontario, Canada. Three years later they settled in nearby Paris Plains. Boughton was a busy Baptist, businessman, and father of 16 children. According to historical records, he did quite well for himself professionally. In addition to his success as a sought-after builder, he owned 4 houses. Over two decades in the mid- to late 1800s he decorated Paris’ streets with a unique building style not seen elsewhere in Ontario. These cobblestone buildings still stand in Paris today.
History of the Paris Plains Stone Church
The 6th unusual site I visited in Ontario was the Paris Plains Stone Church, one of 13 distinct buildings in the area. Built in 1845, with the free labour of local farmers and churchgoers, the Paris Plains Stone Church sits between a school and cemetery of the same name. Each of these three were originally known as Maus in recognition of one of the area’s founding individuals who donated the land. Up until 1921 the church held regular services. A few decades later in both the 1940s and 1960s, the congregation rallied together to fund and complete restorations.
While the construction is unique for Ontario, the cobblestone technique is quite ancient. It originates thousands of years back when the Romans built in England. For two decades Brant County embraced this style of building. Then, with access to cheaper brick-made homes at the end of the century, it disappeared.
There was a time when sourcing local materials was popular, not because it was trendy, but because of practicality. In Paris, cobblestones were easiest to transport and most affordable to purchase – or get for “free” and a “little” sweat. Using the remnants of long-gone glaciers for construction, such as dolomite and limestone fieldstones, was the way to go. To build the Paris Plains Stone Church, farmers collected thousands of stones from their land. For the farmers, the removal of the pesky stones was a welcome task since they would have less to deal with in their own line of work. While some buildings are still made in this style today, it is rare to see and only chosen for its aesthetics.
How were the buildings constructed?
In order to ensure uniformity, labourers measured fieldstones for shape and size by passing them through a ring. Next, farmers assembled their stones onto level “courses” to form the walls of the structure. If you look closely enough when visiting, you’ll notice that the stones are at different angles. Every 2-3 rows indicates a new farmer and the rocks they laid, thus the difference in angle.
Paris Plains Church Today
This 175 year old church has seen multiple restorations funded and completed by the local community. The most recent was in the 1960s. Oil lamps originally lit the interior, and if you carefully peek inside you’ll see the hanging lights. Even today there is still no electricity in the church. When in use, the tiny gathering space could not comfortably accomodate the growing congregation. The August heat would often drive services outside. Unfortunately, no one is allowed inside anymore. Due to its unique architectural and historical significance, it would be irreplaceable if lost in a fire and so the committee closed it. At the time of writing, (2020) the last event, which was a wedding, was over a year ago.
Lucky for me, another local congregation had gathered (socially-distanced) outdoors the day I arrived. I hadn’t even considered I might run into anyone that day, let alone a community gathering, both due to COVID-19 and assuming it was closed. So, I sat in my car until it finished. As people were leaving, I wandered around the school property and waited for the crowd to disperse. It felt a little awkward showing up with a camera and I didn’t want to disturb anyone. I tried to remain unobtrusive and respectful, as well as healthily distanced from the white-haired crowd, when a friendly gentleman introduced himself. Alan Kelley turned out to be one of the adjacent graveyard’s caretakers and a local historical expert.
Paris Plains Cemetery
The church isn’t the only interesting thing to visit along the Paris Plains Road. The cemetery is also a fascinating place. It’s not only the next-door neighbour to the famed cobblestone church, it is the final resting place for many families with deep ties to the region, as well as veterans from the War of 1812. I was thrilled to have Alan guide me through the cemetery. He happily shared stories of the friends, family, and neighbours buried there. I eagerly listened, aware of how lucky my timing was to meet him that day.
The Prominent Maus Family
If your detective eye is extra keen, scout out the fading stone (not shown below) of Henry V S Maus. His family story is absolutely fascinating. Henry’s father was Tankard Maus, who was orphaned by the Fort Seybert Massacre, taken by the Indigenous, and traded for a silver tankard (hence the name) at a trading post run by Henry Van Schaak who took him in. Paris Plains’ Henry V.S. Maus was named after his grandfather, the trading post owner.
Maus grew up in New York State, married, and had children. In 1817 he and his family immigrated to (Upper) Canada, eventually settling in the Township of South Dumfries in Brant County (which borders Waterloo County’s Township of North Dumfries). His siblings joined and also settled in the area. As a leader in the community, Maus would host bible study and community gatherings in his home. Later, he donated the land where today we find Maus (Paris Plains) School, Church, and Cemetery.
More Founding Families
Other early settlers were the LaPierres. On the grounds, there’s a large LaPierre monument with several family members’ names listed on it. The LaPierres were well-connected with the Maus folk. In fact, most of the people in the cemetery and community can be traced back to these two central families. There is a book, The Stones, that delves into the Maus family tree. If anyone knows where to find it, I’d love to know!
The “Huttys” as Alan amicably called them, or the Hutchinsons, are also part of the original families.
Other notable families who settled in the area around the same time are Anderson, Birley, Latshaw, Markle, McPherson, Nellis, Smith, and Kelley, among others. Alan Kelley, with whom I spoke, is a direct descendent of the Kelley settlers (but not the “Kelly”s because they were the horse thieves!). Talk about a wonderful coincidence (or not) of paths crossing! Alan’s parents and grandparents, John and Mary, are laid to rest in the cemetery, along with other relatives.
War of 1812 Veterans
Canadian history buffs will love visiting the Paris Plains Cemetery because there are a few veterans from the War of 1812 buried there. Each veteran’s gravestone is accompanied by a granite memorial plaque to help identify them. The war veterans who can be found at this location are Solomon Markle (pictured below), Abraham Markle, and Christian Muma.
Other Headstones of Note
There’s a neat marker in the far corner of the cemetery with an etching of an old railroad bridge’s pillars. During the war the unused bridge was dismantled, except the pillars, for its steel. The family with this stone has property facing the river with a view of the pillars, hence the image.
Another story Alan shared with me is of a woman who passed away when she was around 100 years old. She had moved out west to be closer to her children and upon her passing, her children brought her ashes back to Paris Plains. It’s a tall headstone that looks somewhat like a chess piece.
There are a couple of Freemasons in the cemetery, one by the name of Weatherston.
Perhaps my favourite story was of a gentleman who would visit the plot of his late wife, Joan. After she passed away, he’d come to feed peanuts to the squirrels and chat with her. One day during a family get together (and after a few pops) he meandered off to visit his wife’s resting place. Time passed, he didn’t return home, and his children became worried. Their fears peaked when they found him lying by her gravestone. Thankfully, and to their relieved surprise, he had only fallen asleep. He didn’t join her until later, in 2015.
Paris Plains Cemetery Today
The Maus Cemetery is a designated heritage property under the Ontario Heritage Act. It is one of roughly 120 cemeteries in the province recognized for their historical or architectural significance. Today, anybody can purchase a plot in the cemetery, though it’s mostly locals who reside in this peaceful location. In keeping with the strong values and tradition of historic preservation, local volunteers have also been restoring headstones with new concrete and metal rod supports.
Fun Fact: If you walk to the farthest end of the cemetery from the church, you will notice a narrow rural laneway (right side arrow). On the left of this map you’ll see Pinehurst Road. Alan remembers his grandmother saying it was a stagecoach road built alongside the trail the Indigenous travelled along. In contrast, the right side arrow indicates a disappearing laneway which borders the cemetery. This particular rural “road” appears on the original area map thanks to some very distant decision makers. Across the pond in England, sometime in the 1800s, someone would have drawn the road on the map, perhaps without ever touching foot on the land. For this reason, some laneways are wider than others and do not line up with each other.
There are a decent amount of visitors to the cemetery today, whether it is those researching the area, past wars, or curious driversby. Unfortunately there has been some vandalism, though for the most part it is a serene, well-kept, and intriguing place to visit. When walking through the cemetery, don’t forget to notice the footstones, which have sunk deeper into the ground and are sometimes overgrown with grass. To help navigate the different plots, make use of the cornerstones which can also be found laid into the ground.
Maus School, now Paris Plains School, was a one room schoolhouse that first opened in 1829 on land donated by Henry. It was in use until the late 1960s when Ontario closed one-room schools. Then, in 1967 the local community restored the building and turned it into a museum. They volunteered each Sunday to welcome visitors, but eventually the museum also closed.
My guide’s parents met at this school. Alan’s mother came to the area as a teacher and lived down the road at the time, while Alan’s father was a local. When Alan started school in the early 1960s, Maus school was still running but not for much longer. I asked him if there were other schools in the area and what schools are open these days for local students. Originally there were 3 schools – Maus (former museum, now closed), White (now a house), and Keg Lane (now an empty Ukranian Catholic Church). Later these 3 schools blended into West Dumfries School. Today students attend Glen Morris Public School, located near Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. In doing some online research I found a really neat interview from 1978 with Mrs. E. H. Buck who used to attend Keg Lane.
In 1929 the school celebrated its centenary and with the installation of a cairn (defintion: landmark, monument, or tombstone). If you have driven on Ontario’s rural roads you may notice these cairns scattered throughout the countryside. Lately I’ve made a habit of stopping each time I see one. It’s been really enjoyable learning more about our local history sprinkled around the province.
The Paris Plains Stone Church sits along the dusty laidback Paris Plains Road. In front of the cemetery is a grassy area which functions as the parking lot. There is also a small parking lot / drive through area between the church and the school.
The property does not have bathrooms, food, or drink options. Be sure to come prepared if you’re going to spend a while exploring the grounds. There is also very little shade, especially in the cemetery. Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen, and water bottle when visiting in the summer.
Fun Fact: To sound like a local, identify the location of the Maus trifecta as Paris Plains North. To cross into neighbouring Paris Plains, head for a bite to eat at the corner of Highways 2 and 5 where you’ll find a Tim Hortons, Eggsmart breakfast restaurant, and Staci’s food truck.
TMc’s Tip: If you’re hot from being out in the sun after visiting this super neat church, visit Pinehurst Variety for huge ice cream scoops and check out their video rentals (!!!) while you’re at it. There is also a strawberry picking farm and roadside fruit and veggie stand across the street. Last but not least, you could also add in a trip to the Pinehurst Conservation Area for a quick dip in the lake.
How to Get There
- Highway 403 W
- Take exit 33 for Paris Road W towards Paris
- Continue on Brant County Hwy 2
- Turn left onto Dundas Street E / Brant County Hwy 2
- Turn right onto Willow Street / County Road 51
- Turn left onto William Street / County Road 40
- Turn right onto Grand River Street N / Hwy 24A
- Turn left onto Paris Plains Church Road
Ontario’s 160 Unusual Places Adventure Continues!
The beautiful Paris Stone Church officially marks stop #6 as I work towards visiting all 160 unusual things to see in Ontario according to Ron Brown’s book. The next adventures include a ghost mansion, a ghost town (I sense a pattern), and an infamous family’s gravestone! If you’re on Instagram, hop on over to follow along. To check out the first adventure in the series, visit the blog post on Waterloo’s Pioneer Memorial Tower. For more local reading, head on over here to learn about the Ontario castle built by enterprising Scotsmen in the 19th century. Happy browsing, fellow adventurers!
Sources and Further Reading
- The majority of the information I learned about the cemetery was from a kind man and volunteer grounds caretaker. Thank you Alan, for taking the time to chat and share the area’s history with me on such a scorcher of a day!
- County of Brant Public Library: Digital Collections
- The Paris Museum
- County of Brant
- The Expositor
- Find a Grave – Henry V.S. Maus
- Intermet.net Cemetery Records
- Brant’s Cemetery Tour Brochure
- Ontario Plaques
- The History of the County of Brant, Ontario
- Upper Canada History