Sparky Paris left a lasting impression in Pictou County
Born and raised in Pictou County, Sparky Paris became one of the most well known members of the community – let alone sports community.
Sparky Paris, right, is shown with his wife Ruth Mae at an event in 2012, which recognized his contribution to his friends’ lives and to the community. Paris, 91, passed away Saturday at his home surrounded by his family.
A quiet, kind-hearted man, Paris got his start with boxing in Pictou County as an 18-year-old when he was working at Maritime Steel. It was 1941 and he was helping to make artillery supplies for the war effort.
On his way to work two men approached him and said they wanted him to fight in a boxing match.
“Who am I going to fight?” Paris asked.
“You’re going to fight Dave Melanson,” the man replied.
“When?” Paris asked.
“Friday night coming,” the man said.
“OK,” Paris responded without hesitation despite the fact that he had no training and only days to prepare.
Held in an outdoor ring known as The Bowl, which could seat 1,500, he was promised $25 for the fight. He and Melanson fought four rounds before a packed audience, with Melanson knocking him down four times. In the fifth round Paris came out strong and put him out cold.
That it was where his lifelong love of boxing began.
Paris, who passed away Saturday at home in New Glasgow at the age of 91, went on to fight around 25 fights, never being knocked out.
He eventually stepped away from fighting in the ring to become a referee and a trainer, opening the “Paris Boys Gym” in New Glasgow in 1942, while continuing to work full-time.
Early in his time competing as a boxer he learned two qualities boxers needed to have, which he carried over to the gym. Paris always believed that to be a boxer you had to be tough and fast.
He passed those thoughts on to dozens of youth from the area who came to train with him including the likes of Bearcat Jackson, Jo Jo Jackson, Gary MacLean, Nathan Paris and Joe Borden as well as his own brother Percy and nephew Keith, guys who went on to win many championships and titles.
Pictou County Heritage Sports Hall of Fame curator Barry Trenholm said that around the 1960s Sparky’s club was one of three major clubs in the area. Gary Simon ran the Square Circle Club, while Donnie MacIsaac ran the Archie Moore Boxing Club.
At one time he had 40 amateur and professional fighters, black and white, training in the gym.
“Sparky always had an open door policy,” said Trenholm. “Everyone was welcome.”
Trenholm added that Sparky was a well-respected gentleman in the community, always having a kind world for people.
“He always promoted fair play and he himself was a very quiet fellow,” said Trenholm. “Sparky was a quiet, soft-spoken person. He didn’t make a lot of noise when he was around, but he had one heck of a presence when he was around. Any athlete in Pictou County knew who Sparky Paris was.”
Sparky’s “Paris Boys Gym” was open until 1964.
For his accomplishments in and out of the ring he was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame, the Nova Scotia Sports Heritage Hall of Fame and the Pictou County Boxing Hall of Fame.
Sparky was also named the honorary chairperson of the Pictou County Heritage Sports Hall of Fame a few years ago when fellow boxer Bobby Beaton passed away.
Trenholm said Sparky was involved with the creation of the Pictou County Hall of Fame and was a board member ever since they opened their doors.
“He was always supportive of starting and continuing the Pictou County Sports Hall of Fame with Billy Dee,” he said. “When Bobby Beaton passed away (the original honorary chairperson) he was the natural guy to take his place as the honorary chair.
“From the point of view of the community Sparky will surely be missed. From the Sports Hall of Fame he will be missed as well, but always remembered.”
With files from Adam MacInnis.