Although we didn’t live in Paris while the Wincey Mills Building was still in use, people we’ve met here have been keen to tell us of its illustrious past. It is still commonly referred to as the Canadian Tire building, which is where that business lived just a few years ago before moving further uptown. Canadian Tire murals still decorate the walls (though will likely be coming down), and industrial garage doors are being repurposed into other parts of the building.
Long before the Wincey was Canadian Tire’s home base, Paris’ founder Hiram Capron first prepped the site for grinding, storing and transporting grains. (His plaster factory, which took advantage of Paris’ large gypsum deposits that inspired the town’s namesake, was next door where the LCBO is now.) It must have been a site to see, a flurry of activity nestled amongst the old raceways connecting the Grand and the Nith rivers. In the 1870’s, however, a large fire destroyed many of those original buildings and the Wincey Mills as we know it was rebuilt in 1890. By the mid-1960’s, many of the surrounding buildings – excepting the Wincey – had been razed.
One wonders: What saved this particular building? Did Canadian Tire save it? Was it the large windows, and whoever remembered to shut them, keeping the building’s structural innards safe from the elements? Did someone care just enough to think about the Wincey’s full lifespan, designing its spaces for the long haul, planning its use for after its doors as a mill would close? Could someone see the potential meaning it could have to a community in times like today? The possibilities range from the mundane to the prophetic. And what seems important now is that it is getting a second life, and we’re keen to see it succeed.
Enough waxing poetic. Today there are people hard at work to ensure the Wincey Mills thrives when its doors open on May 5th. Although the grand opening is not until June 4th, the vendors want to be accessible from the beginning. Inside, a test kitchen, 15 market stalls (they’re still looking to fill another), Blue Dog Coffee, and several upstairs offices need to be ready for occupation. We had the pleasure of visiting Bird & Bee Vintage Rental Company as they meticulously set up their real estate within the Wincey.
Bird & Bee was founded by the charming wife and husband duo, Emery Silva – who has a degree in art, teaches art at a secondary school, and paints (and who coincidentally grew up on Jane street and played in Jury street Park as a kid) – and her husband David Black, who worked in the music business for over a decade. The two set up their vintage rental company after tying the knot, recognizing their flare for designing with old relics. To us their business is akin to pulling the best-of at Southworks and making it available for special events – invigorating a second life in old forgotten things. It’s no coincidence their first real storefront is at the Wincey.
Emery and David are setting the bar high for other market stalls, poring over details and adding whimsy to each corner. They will install a large handmade bird cage with various items on display for sale, including Emery’s paintings and vintage jewelry, and the Wincey will also serve as a meeting space with their clients. They didn’t hesitate for a second to pose American-Gothic style for our portrait (thanks guys!), a testament to their good nature and willingness to work with other creative visions. Check out more about Bird & Bee on their most excellent Facebook page.
We also met with Francine Bayley, the Creative Marketing & Community Relations Manager for the building, and caught a glimpse of the other renovations happening on-site. Keen to preserve as many of the building’s original features as possible, Francine’s office is being constructed from the original elevator’s housing and parts. A company who specializes in historic renovations was brought in early to help preserve many of the original windows. (As we laboriously clean up antique windows for our new home office, we appreciate the determination this takes.)
Still, modern touches will also make a difference in the space. While we were there a worker was installing the track lighting to light up Holly O., Julie Buckrell, and Jennifer Budd’s lovely artwork for sale in Francine’s office. The Blue Dog Coffee Roasters is also soon to open – how exciting, another coffee shop in Paris!
Many other vendors are also working on their homes within the Wincey (check out the list on the Wincey Mills Facebook page). Workers pace the floors, electricians sort out wiring, and the whole space is rife with the smell of paint and big ideas. The energy and excitement is palpable. As we continue work on our own studio renos and see them happening all over town, we feel like we’re part of a giant wave of dust settling over the town, and we’re eager to see what all these transformations will bring.