Pictou Advocate sports

Another tribute to Sparky Paris


I knew — and worked with — many very fine journalists during my career with The Chronicle Herald. That’s only natural when you spend close to 50 years of your working life in one newsroom.

No, I’m not about to name names. The list would resemble a phone book — and phone books are no longer a necessity in this high-tech age we now live in.

Nonetheless, I’ll identify one.

Sherri Borden Colley arrived in the Herald office some 20 years ago, not long after she received a bachelor of journalism degree with honours from the University of King’s College.

I had several reasons to take an interest in her.

She was from New Glasgow. Her college days were spent where I had studied journalism four decades earlier. To top it off, her dad was Hugh (Sparky) Paris, a legend around New Glasgow and one of my favourite people back in my Pictou County days.

Before I reminisce — again — about Sparky, I want to explain a bit about Sherri. She’s gone now from the provincial paper after years of exemplary service — but she continues impressing Nova Scotians with her reporting duties with the CBC.

Sherri, one of the few black reporters in the province, quickly developed a reputation in the African Nova Scotia community. So much so that, as she pointed out in her on-line profile, “they email me, they call me at home.” That, she added, “is an honour.”

Almost from her first day at the Herald, I became impressed with her goals, her interest in reporting, her manners, her approach to everything. In other words, here was a fine young woman, a fine young writer.

It was easy to put the pieces together that she was Sparky’s daughter. He had always impressed me in similar ways. Another example that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

I maintain a small connection to Sherri — we’re friends on Facebook, that social media outlet that keeps people in touch with each other.

The morning I was starting to write this week’s column on a different subject, I found a Facebook message from Sherri that a new honour was to be bestowed on her father. The Town of New Glasgow was preparing to induct him into its budding Business Hall of Fame, a ceremony that was scheduled for this past Monday at the town hall.

A lovely gesture!

Sparky, who passed away four years ago at the age of 91, had a long career in boxing as a competitor, referee and trainer. It was a career that saw him inducted into the Pictou County Sports Heritage Hall of Fame, the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame.

This latest tribute was the result of his 64-year career as a businessman providing sanitation services within New Glasgow – a position he didn’t relinquish until he was 89.

His contributions didn’t stop there. He employed many young people through the years, teaching them valuable ethics and life skills besides giving them jobs.

In sports — this is a sports column — Sparky was one of three boxers in the Paris clan, Percy and Keith being the others. I was fortunate, at a very young age, to watch all three in action. They were all talented. They were all Maritime champions.

Two months ago, I wrote about my loss of interest in professional boxing, mainly because of the way the sport has strayed from its roots.

But in the late 1940s and through the ’50s and ’60s, my love for boxing was right up there with hockey and baseball. It was fun being six and seven years old, sitting at ringside with my father and seeing the fighters up close.

As the years went by, I got to know Sparky well. I learned a lot about the sport from him — and I learned a lot about a man who, from a young age, worked terribly hard to get where he was.

Not long after I started writing this column for The Advocate, I spent most of an afternoon with Sparky at his home on Vale Road. It was a wonderful, enjoyable few hours.

That day, I learned about a small youngster who delivered 600 newspapers a day back in the war years. He got only one penny for each paper carefully placed in mail boxes.

I learned, too, that when he fought in the ring, he didn’t become rich by any stretch of the imagination. The biggest payday he ever had for getting into the ring netted him about $75. Sometimes he got as little as $15 for a bout.

I learned a lot about him that afternoon — like how he turned a horse barn on his property into a gym, and named it the Paris Boys Gym.

Oh how he contributed to his favourite sport after that. For the next 22 years, he taught boxing to many local young fellows, some of them later going on to fight professionally and successfully.

Sparky’s own boxing experiences hadn’t lasted nearly as long as Keith’s or Percy’s. He had 25 fights himself, some of them outdoors at the old St. John’s Bowl next to St. John the Baptist Church in New Glasgow’s north end.

The fighters he brought along later had far more opportunities than he had, fighting primarily at Stellarton Memorial Rink and New Glasgow Stadium.

Since beginning my Advocate columns almost 15 years ago, I’ve sat down with many old athletes, coaches and trainers to chat about their sports activities.

I must admit the visit to Sparky’s home was one of the most enjoyable, thanks, too, to his wife Ruth who provided the tea and treats. She was so personable, so pleased to have an old reporter drop by.

What a great couple!

No wonder I was impressed by Sherri when she became a newsroom colleague.