Ontario couple winds down long-running clock shop to take time for themselves

·3 min read
Barbara and Gaetan Fortier will close the Heritage Clock Shop and begin their retirement on Saturday. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)
Barbara and Gaetan Fortier will close the Heritage Clock Shop and begin their retirement on Saturday. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)

The owners of a long-running clock shop in eastern Ontario are winding down their business this weekend.

The Fortier family behind Heritage Clock Shop in downtown Brockville, Ont., have sold and repaired timepieces for nearly a century.

Barbara and Gaetan Fortier have run the business six days a week, and sometimes seven days, in the same location for nearly 30 years, but now say they will take some time for themselves.

"Our adventure has been great, very rewarding, even though at lot of hours were needed to get it accomplished," Barbara said, as customers dropped by with last-minute watch battery requests and notes of congratulations on the couple's retirement.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Barbara's father, Robert Baier, learned clock-making from his own father in Germany before immigrating to Canada in the 1950s.

He in turn taught Barbara's husband Gaetan, who, from a young age, was fascinated with the intricate mechanisms of mechanical timepieces.

"I remember when I first started, I made myself a little bench in the bedroom just to take them apart and put them back together just to learn," he said.

The Fortiers aren't retiring for lack of business. They said, if anything, smartphones, Fitbits and watches that can manage your dating life have only spurred a renewed interest in well-made, mechanical timepieces.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

House calls for grandfather clocks

Several Sundays every month, the Fortiers have travelled the Highway 401 corridor through eastern Ontario for house calls for customers whose grandfather clocks — too big and delicate to move — were no longer punctual.

Gaetan brought the movements back to the shop, made adjustments, and then kept them for "observation" for a few weeks to verify their accuracy.

It was a time-consuming process.

"For a while we were six, seven, eight months behind in my repairs," noted Gaetan.

Repairs to delicate antique mantel clocks and the like required his undivided attention. That meant carrying out cleanings, overhauls and restorations in the quiet of the evenings after the shop was closed.

It's fair to say the Fortiers have been fixing clocks around the clock.

"You've got to put in the time," said Barbara.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

2 vacations in 30 years

Gaetan resisted taking on an apprentice, worried the demands of training would eat into his already limited time, but now he wishes he'd found somebody whom to pass along the specialized, vanishing knowledge of how to repair and rebuild timepieces.

The couple said running a clock shop has been an adventure, but with only two vacations in the last 30 years, they are ready to unwind.

"It's unfortunate because you can only get so much service at a place like Walmart," said customer Dan Mahon, who stopped in to wish the couple well.

WATCH | 'It's been bittersweet': Brockville clock shop closing after 30 years

Last month, the couple placed an ad in a British horological trade journal, listing the business opportunity in Brockville. There were no takers.

The same journal presently lists an ad for a very similar family-run watch and clock business for sale in Orillia, where the owners are also retiring, so it may be a case of bad timing.

The Fortiers, who won local business awards for their service-first approach, operated under the slogan: "We've always got time for you."

Now, with nearly 30 years fixing and selling timepieces, they hope to take some for themselves.

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