North Durham is fortunate to have a variety of interesting residents within our borders, but few are as historically minded as Paul Arculus, retired teacher, historian, tour guide and author of nine novels (soon to be 10), all of which focus on the history of our area.
“I am so concerned that small town history in Canada will disappear so quickly with each generation,” said the retired school teacher. “If we do not capture it, our children will no longer have it.” Truer words were never spoken, and we are very fortunate Paul has undertaken the task of scribing times gone by for our area.
Born in Yorkshire, England, Paul moved to Canada, residing in Scarborough. He attended Teacher’s College, and after a few years of teaching elementary school and obtaining degrees from McMaster and U of T, decided to switch to teaching English and History, in the high school circuit.
“I was fortunate to receive several job opportunities. When we came to Port Perry to spend a day, I was made so welcome by Grant McDonald, Principal at PPHS at the time, and other local residents, that no other locale stood a chance. In 1970, Paul and his wife Isobel, moved here, and Paul began teaching at Port Perry High School.
Peter Hvidsten, owner of the Port Perry Star at the time, asked Paul if he would be interested in writing a historical column for the newspaper. Paul agreed, and his life as a historian was born. Paul wrote the column for ten years and began to record diachronic information, which eventually made its way into his books.
The most popular is Durant’s Right Hand Man, a book about Edwin Campbell, one of the founders of General Motors and the Chevrolet. I was amazed at how Paul captured the realism of the trials and tribulations of one of our largest corporations.
When Paul was working on his Masters in 1988, he compiled an 80 page history of Port Perry High School, in time for their reunion. His latest published book, Pine Grove Cemetery, is a virtual Who’s Who of dozens of local personalities that make up our history.
Once you start reading it, you feel as if you are sitting face to face with the likes of Joseph Bigelow, William Brock, Samuel Cawker and all the forefathers who built this great township.
Paul’s previous book, Blessed Are They, is a history of the Church and Parish of Blackstock. It contains little known facts, which would have undoubtedly been forgotten if they had not been penned by him. Most of Paul’s books are available at local bookstores.
Not only is Paul a respected author, but he also dons a top hat and gives local historic tours to residents and visitors alike. As he marches along the streets of town, relaying events of the past, people are mesmerized by his knowledge of the past and his humorous flair, when relaying it.
Paul is currently putting the finishing touches on his tenth novel, Nip and Tuck. It is a fact based account of the Port Whitby, Port Perry and Lindsay Railroad. I asked Paul where he came up with the title “I have been working on this book for the past ten years,” he replied. “I would tuck it away for a while and nip it in the bud when I gathered more information.”
Why would it take so long? Paul explained that all the railroad records were destroyed. Any accounts of historic significance would be from old newspaper archives. The Grand Trunk Railroad took over all the records and destroyed most of them. Whatever remained was trashed by CN when they acquired the rail network.
A friend, Bill Graham, had started a book called Greenbank and when he moved to Toronto, turned all the records over to Paul. There was a fair bit of information about the local railway, which was typical of many small railroads of the day.
The book is extremely intriguing, as it is filled with corruption and mayhem, and even a murder at Myrtle Station. “The problem,” Paul explains, “Was that successful, local businessmen, who knew nothing of railways, thought it would be simple to begin the venture. Unfortunately they were wrong, and it led to much financial strain on the local economy.” I can’t wait for the launch next month.
Paul has two more literary projects in the works. The first is a biography of Peter Perry, the man who lends his name to Port Perry. The second is a biography of newspaperman, George Gurnett, probably the greatest Mayor Toronto has ever seen. He was responsible for establishing the Constabulary (Murdoch fans will know this), as well as establishing health services for residents.
Paul has a third book in mind, which is the story of Elizabeth Christy and is based on a diary, to which he had access. ”There were continuous entries made from 1870 to 1900,” Paul explained. “Her father was a farmer and politician who owned 200 acres in Manchester.”
Paul and Isobel enjoy travelling, especially to England's southern coast. They try and go every year, if for no other reason than to relax, stay in touch with their roots and enjoy some fish and chips. When in Durham, they enjoy time with their three sons, their wives, and their eight grandchildren.
Towering well over six feet, with his deep voiced Yorkshire accent, I could not help but think if his hair was darker, he would be a double for Downton Abbey butler, Carson.
Pick up a copy of one of his books, at Books Galore and More, and lose yourself in times past and the people who make up our history.
Jonathan van Bilsen is an award winning photographer, published author, columnist and key note speaker. Follow his adventures, at photosNtravel.com
Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.