The following article appeared in the Hamilton Spec in October of 2007 and was written by P. Wilson. This is one of the locations along John Street that really spoke to me about the passage of time.
Watchmaker’s shop defies time.
SPECIAL TO THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR
The streetscape has changed, but the past comes alive inside the watch shop.
(Oct 22, 2007)
For the first time in 120 years, no one named Edwin Pass will be fixing clocks and watches on John Street South.
“I’m tired,” says Edwin J. Pass, 77, who has worked at the shop on John near Jackson since the summer of 1946.
His grandfather, Edwin K. Pass, was first. He arrived from Coventry, England, at 21, having just finished a seven-year watchmaker’s apprenticeship. In 1887, he set up his shop, right where it is today.
There were no cars then. No electricity. Even the wristwatch was not yet born.
The first Pass begat a second, Edwin S. The two worked side by side at a desk of solid cherry by the front window. Two apprentices toiled at the back.
At the end of the Second World War, young Edwin J. Pass joined his father and grandfather in the shop. All wore shirts, ties and vests, no matter how hot the day.
Grandfather died in 1955, and father 20 years later. Edwin J. has been on his own these past several decades.
The mechanical way of watches, with mosquito-sized axles and tiny balance wheels, changed when the Swiss introduced quartz precision. Now you can buy a $20 electronic watch — with no moving parts.
But Edwin J. became the man to whom Hamilton turned to fix the old mechanical marvels.
On this morning, Joe Mancinelli’s pieces are going home. The well-known union leader has a serious clock addiction. He has old clocks in the hall, in the kitchen, in the bathroom. He’s just had two 1830s English grandfather clocks overhauled at the Pass shop and will now have to find another master craftsman.
“I might have been able to coax out another few years,” Edwin says, “but I would start to shake. The quality would be gone.
“This is physically demanding work. You need a grip of steel. You need wonderful eyesight. You need very good hearing to listen to how the clock’s behaving. You need a keen sense of smell to know what kind of chemical somebody used to gum up the works. You need all your faculties.”
Edwin and wife Barbara have a daughter. She is not Edwina, but Anne, and has a good career in construction management.
So Edwin J. would be the last. He decided it should happen this year.
Back in the 1970s, urban renewal ruled. In the core, they were knocking down old theatres and stores and putting in Jackson Square.
Someone in the city hall ranks paid Edwin a visit back then and said, “You know, it’s old stores like yours that are holding this city back.”
But Edwin would not rip out the past. Not the pressed-copper ceiling. Not the front display window, with showcase mirror on lead-weighted pulleys. Not the big wood-and-glass doors. Not the fancy tiled floor.
And he left that one-ton, bank-quality, century-old Taylor safe right by the front door. It was customized at the factory by in-house artists who painted on special-request landscapes and the Pass name.
So prospective purchasers saw all this when agents brought them through. “A lot of the people were just investors,” Edwin says. “The history didn’t matter.”
Then along came Robin McKee. He is 55, has been an audio man with CHCH for some 30 years and operates a company called Historical Perceptions, which does cemetery tours, research, writing, photography.
He is not a rich man, but decided that he must make this time capsule his. He remortgaged his house near Gage Park and has bought the Pass premises for $145,000.
He plans to change nothing. He’ll sell Hamilton history exotica and, beside the old safe, he’s creating a little Pass shrine. He’s applying right away to designate the building, which makes it harder for anyone to ever tear it down.
“This is not a noble thing,” McKee says. “I’m just putting my money where my mouth is and riding the wave of downtown rejuvenation.”
The deal closes Wednesday morning. The clockmaker will head for home at noon, a quiet end to the Edwin era.
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