About the Author

Karl Kessler

Karl Kessler is a film-and-darkroom photographer originally from New York City. He moved to Ontario in 1996 and currently works as a researcher and writer in the heritage field. With his wife Jane, he coordinates the annual architectural and heritage event Doors Open Waterloo Region. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario.

Books by this Author


Portraits of a Vanishing Canada
tagged : lifestyles
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Joe Kelly: Town Clock Keeper

'It actually is something beating inside this building, keeping it alive....'

The town clock in the tower of the former Elmira post office has ticked the seconds and struck the hours since 1914, even when the building has sat vacant. 'You had whistles to tell you when to go to work, you had whistles to tell you when to stop working,' says Joe Kelly. 'This clock told you when church was over-the church across the street-at twelve noon.... When this tower went off, the pastor had to quit his sermon!'

Once a week Joe climbs into the base of the tower to wind the giant original brass movement of the J.B. Joyce and Co. eight-day pendulum clock. Using 'elbow grease' and a two-handed crank, he spools up the weighted drive cables.

As they unwind from the movement, turning the gears and striking the bell, the cables ascend two storeys, pass through a series of pulleys, and disappear into a space behind the wall where they slowly drop. A gear shaft also rises to the uppermost room, where it moves the hands of the four glass- and-metal clock faces. In a room between the faces and movement is the big bell.

The clock loses two minutes between windings. Some locals tell Joe they set their own clocks by it.

Several tower clocks still operate in Waterloo Region, but Elmira's is one of the last in Ontario keeping time with a wind-up mechanism. Joe says it could run forever: 'The only thing stopping it would be somebody not caring.'

Most of what Joe knows about the clock he learned from its previous keeper, his father-in-law. Joe meticulously cleans and oils the gears; any debris could halt the entire works. He also makes repairs. 'You have to treat it like it's your own.' The bell strikes eleven and the tower reverberates. Joe winds the bell, then the movement: sixty-four turns of the crank each. He is breathing quickly, smiling. 'We worry so much about tomorrow, but we should just live in today,' he says. 'Today is precious.'

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