Mark­ing time at the old watchmaker’s shop down­town

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - MARK MCNEIL mm­c­neil@thes­pec.com 905-526-4687 | @Markatthes­pec

It’s a watchmaker’s shop where time stands still, a throw­back to an era when time was kept by tick­ing mech­a­nisms car­ried in vest pock­ets.

There’s a big green vault in the mid­dle of the floor that looks like some­thing an Old West out­law might try to blow up. And be­hind the big wooden counter is a young man with an eye­glass car­ry­ing on the tra­di­tion.

And it’s all — ev­ery­thing about it — just the way that owner/land­lord Robin McKee had hoped.

McKee is known for his weekend tours of Hamil­ton Ceme­tery. He’s a fan of her­itage, a cham­pion of the way things used to be.

And on Fri­day, he hosted a cel­e­bra­tion of preser­va­tion — the of­fi­cial un­veil­ing of a her­itage des­ig­na­tion plaque on the front of his pre-Con­fed­er­a­tion store­front at 91 John St. S.

Most prop­erty own­ers would wel­come her­itage des­ig­na­tion about as much as a cracked foun­da­tion. But for McKee, it’s a badge of honour.

“I’m the other way around,” he said. “Peo­ple think a des­ig­nated prop­erty is worth less, but I think it is worth more be­cause you are sav­ing her­itage and when you re­store a build­ing, you make it more valu­able.”

McKee has waited 10 years to re­ceive the of­fi­cial plaque, fil­ing out the pa­per­work in 2007 shortly af­ter buy­ing the prop­erty from pre­vi­ous owner Ed­win Pass. At the time, Pass wanted to re­tire as a watchmaker, end­ing three gen­er­a­tions of a fam­ily busi­ness.

There was a time when all three gen­er­a­tions worked in the store.

“At one point, there were five watch­mak­ers. I re­mem­ber the work­bench. My fa­ther would be at one end and he could touch feet with my grand­fa­ther; they worked that close,” said Ed­win J. Pass, 86, who came out to the cer­e­mony.

Doc­u­ments show the build­ing dates from the 1820s and it was used for var­i­ous busi­nesses in­clud­ing bars un­til the 1870s, when the first Ed­win K. Pass watchmaker opened the store, first as a ten­ant and then later buy­ing the build­ing. The next owner was his son, Ed­win S. Pass.

The her­itage plaque fi­nally ar­rived last month. It says: “Mid-19th cen­tury. 91 John Street South, Two storey brick and lime­stone ver­nac­u­lar com­mer­cial. Des­ig­nated un­der the On­tario Her­itage Act.”

The des­ig­na­tion means spe­cial ap­provals are needed from the city for McKee or fu­ture own­ers if they want to do ren­o­va­tions. And it’s an en­cum­brance for any­one who might want to de­mol­ish the build­ing.

McKee paid $145,000 for the prop­erty and sunk an­other $50,000 into ren­o­va­tions, wiring and plumbing be­ing among the im­prove­ments. He did most of the work him­self — “I call it ‘hands on her­itage’” — and can’t be­gin to imag­ine how many hours that took up. McKee says he is also pleased that he found some­one to run a watchmaker busi­ness in the build­ing to con­tinue the tra­di­tion. His name is Vin­cent Cino and he calls his busi­ness V. Saint Orologi (V. Saint is a play on “Vin­cent” and Orologi means clock or time­piece in Ital­ian).

PHO­TOS BY BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

Ed­win Pass, left, and Robin McKee un­veil the On­tario Her­itage Act plaque for 91 John St. S.

Be­low, the orig­i­nal stairs lead­ing to the sec­ond floor likely date from the 1820s.

Above, the rip­pled view of a wall clock through the orig­i­nal front win­dows of the busi­ness.

A small gar­goyle stares out from the front of the build­ing.

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