A Vancouver time travelogue brought to you by Past Tense.
Nova Scotia born George Paris was a black man raised in Montreal who came to the West Coast just before the turn of the last century. He isn’t prominent in Vancouver history, which is a shame because the few sources available show an impressive and interesting life, which includes heavyweight boxing champion of Western Canada, boxer Jack Johnson’s personal trainer, and Canada’s first professional jazz musician.
Before settling for good in Vancouver, Paris spent time in Seattle training its baseball team and working in the local athletic club. In 1899, the papers dubbed him “the colored wonder” for easily setting a Pacific Northwest record for running the 100-yard dash in 10.25 seconds. In Vancouver, Paris found work training the Vancouver Lacrosse Club until one fateful game in 1908 when he pulled a gun after being pelted with an egg while protecting one of his players from an angry mob of 200 New Westminster fans. His heroism nearly got him lynched and cost Paris his job and a sixty-dollar fine.
Earlier that year, George Paris became the heavyweight boxing champion of Western Canada by knocking out Wat “The Welsh Wonder” Adams in the second round of a Victoria title fight. When the Canadian Boxing Federation formed in 1925, it recognized George Paris as Canada’s first heavyweight boxing champion.
When Jack Johnson came to town in 1909, Paris was the in-house trainer at the Vancouver Athletic Club, where the freshly minted heavy weight champion of the world fought future movie star Victor McLaglan. Paris later joined Johnson as his personal trainer on a tour of Europe.
Somewhere along the line, the emerging new jazz music caught his attention and Paris took up drumming. When alcohol prohibition was introduced in October, 1917, the Patricia Hotel converted its bar into a cabaret and hired Paris and other local musicians. American jazz cats eventually took over the Patricia gig, but Paris continued playing professionally, listing his occupation as “musician” in the city directories from 1920 to 1922.
Details of his music career are non-existent except for a short note that was sent to the Chicago Defender in 1918 saying that Paris, “the kingpin of the drummers,” and a railway porter named Elmer “Peewee” Malone were playing in a big band at a club called the “Hole in the Wall” at 1164 Richards Street (probably a prohibition-era speakeasy, as it was unlisted).
George Paris went back to his old career as an athletic trainer and spent the rest of his working days training members of the Vancouver Police Department how to fight. He died in 1947.
Source: Vancouver Daily Province, 2 September 1947