By Sarah Elizabeth Brown The Chronicle Journal
Kevan Holroyd checks the mechanism in the clock tower of St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Holroyd who looks after the clock with help from his father Gordon Holroyd will be turning the clock back to standard time this weekend. (Brent Linton) When Kevan Holroyd changes his clock back an hour tomorrow, he’ll walk up a flight of stairs and clamber up five steep, wooden ladders. A chartered accountant by day, Holroyd is also the clock keeper at his church, St. Paul’s Anglican.
Though the church was built in 1908 with a tower designed to hold a four-faced clock, the clock wasn’t installed until 1959. It arrived by freighter from now-defunct Gents of Leicester, England, with a $5,000 price tag, a huge amount of money for the time, said Rev. Deborah Kraft. The clock was installed to honour the six founding members of St. Paul’s. “I really feel like it’s our Big Ben,” said Kraft. Appropriate then, since the previous clock keeper got the volunteer job because of his English training. He’s also Kevan’s dad. An electrician trained in his birth country of England, Gordon Holroyd is familiar with Gents’ products. In England, electricians school is a six-year trip through every trade, including electro-mechanical devices like St. Paul’s clock.A quarter-century ago when the previous clock keeper moved away, the then-rector asked Gordon to take over. Besides being the outgoing clock keeper, Gordon is one of three assistant priests at St. Paul’s. In the 1990s, he took a parish in Ignace, and for some of that time, the clock stopped. Time started again when Gordon returned to maintain the clock.
Kevan began learning the clock’s inner workings several years ago when a fellow parishioner asked him to contact Gordon about fixing the clock. “(Gordon) said, ‘Why don’t you come and learn how to do it,’” said Kevan. “I said, ‘OK.’ It was that simple.” About a year ago, he took over completely, though he still goes to his father if he’s stumped. Kevan was barely into his teens when Gordon took over the clock’s maintenance. “I remember daylight saving’s time in the spring and the fall, him having to go do that.” Kevan didn’t climb to the clock tower as a boy, nor will he take his own sons until they’re old enough to clamber up the steep ladders. That doesn’t mean the boys, ages five and seven, aren’t curious. “He’s got to know how everything works,” he said of his eldest son. “They’re bugging me constantly to take them up there.”
Father and son have long fiddled with machinery together. By the time he was 16, said Kevan, they’d stripped down and rebuilt four or five cars. Caring for the clock is a symphony of small adjustments. Its mechanical guts are made of everything from brass to aluminum to steel, and they expand, contract and wear at different rates. Cold weather usually means more work, and voltages must be adjusted for summer and winter. Energy-efficient light bulbs that make the tower a glowing beacon create just enough warmth to keep lubricant on the gears working properly, said Gordon, who makes his living supervising maintenance and housekeeping at Grandview Lodge. Those lights had been out for nearly a decade before being turned back on last fall. The electro-mechanical, pendulum-driven clock is controlled by electrical impulses — a tiny description of an intricate process. The whole mess is hooked to an 18-volt DC battery, kept charged by being plugged into an electric socket. It all starts with the main controller in the vestry. Both the bells and the pendulum mechanism, located in the tower top, are connected to that controller, and to each other, through solenoids, or electromagnets. In the tower, the only sound is the clicking of the pendulum. Until the top of the hour. “When it’s time for the bells to ring if you’re only one flight above them, then you have to put your fingers in your ears,” Gordon said. “It’ll sure rock you. “Oh they are loud, yes,” he said. “One feels like Quasimodo sometimes.”
These clocks and their parts aren’t made anymore. Several years ago when one section needed repairs, the two Holroyds took one face apart from inside the tower and had Port Arthur Shipbuilding make new parts by hand. “When it needs service, it’ll let you know in no uncertain terms that it wants some general maintenance,” Gordon said. “It will all start to go wrong. All the times will get out and the bells will not be the same time as the tower. And the tower won’t be the same time as the vestry clock. So you know that it needs some TLC.” When the time gets funny, it’s common to climb the ladders four or five times during repairs, said Gordon. “In another few years, I’m not going to be able to make that climb,” said the 60-year-old Gordon, explaining why he passed his skills onto his son. Gordon’s arthritis makes the stairs and ladders a difficult route. “They seem to take on a whole life of their own,” said Gordon about the intricate mechanisms. “The bells, many times, for no reason when it’s eight o’clock, chime seven times. And yet, when you go there . . . it’ll ring right every time. “It seems to know when the clock doctor’s away, the mice can play.” The clock faces are just as sneaky. When he’s there or driving by daily, they’re fine. But don’t drive by for a day “and guaranteed, 15 minutes out,” chuckled Gordon. “So we think we have a clock fairy somewhere.”