Old Post clock tower restoration a community-driven project

The success of a fundraising effort was celebrated and a new endeavour was announced at The Old Post Centre for Business and Creativity here on Oct. 20.

Michael and Susan Hendrick, owners of the former Harriston post office building, held a celebration at South Street Café for major donors to a campaign to restore the clock tower and bell at the historic building. 

The exterior of the tower has been restored, the clock is now ticking and it’s just a matter of weeks before the bell will ring out once again.

About a year ago the Hendricks purchased the landmark, which had been under-utilized and fallen into disrepair since Canada Post moved operations out of the building in the mid-1980s. 

Spaces in the building have been quickly filling up, with an engineering firm, public relations business, hair salon and Perth-Wellington MP John Nater all now operating out of the facility. 

The building has been renovated inside and out, including restoration of the clock tower that has made the building the easily-recognized centrepiece of Harriston’s downtown for more than a century.

“A lot of things have happened in under a year … it’s almost surreal,” Michael Hendrick told the gathering, as he thanked contributors to the clock tower project. 

He said only about $1,300 remains to be raised from the original goal of $17,500.

“It’s a community-minded  contribution,” he added. “Getting that clock ticking, the bell ringing, which will be Dec. 3, creates excitement and enthusiasm for our downtown core for seeing the post office become a hub.”

Hendrick said the decision to restore to working order the four-sided clock and the bell located on the roof was community-driven.

“The community has spoken to us very clearly,” he explained. “We originally thought okay, bell on the top … take it down, we’ll show it, it will look nice and we’ll have a plaque beside it. 

“Quickly we were challenged in that effort by community members who came up and said, ‘This is our bell. This is our post office. We want it to ring because that’s what it did, and this is what it meant to me.’

“So, listening to that message, as a consequence the fundraiser was created, and we’re going to achieve all those goals.”

The Oct. 20 event included a tour of the Old Post. 

The approximately 30 people in attendance had a chance to see the many unique features of the building, including the clockworks restored by Doug Harkes of Gorrie and a stained-glass skylight, installed by Harriston craftsman Tony Hale, who did much of the fine detail work on the project.

Hendrick noted the clock restoration would have been extremely expensive without Harkes’ ingenuity. 

For example, the actuator for the bell “is a little red box probably constructed in 1955,” said Hendrick, adding a replacement was quoted at $2,500.

“Well, the MacGyver and clock-master rebuilt that red box for probably one one-hundredth of that cost,” Hendrick said.

“With all these people contributing, it truly makes the post office exceptional and that’s the reason people are going to stop. 

“That’s the reason people are going to come in, because it’s not just a building, it’s an exceptional building that has all these features that are going to invite people in,” said Hendrick.

Previously announced plans for the business and arts hub include an artists co-operative and a recording studio in the basement level. 

The Oct. 20 tour wrapped up with an announcement of plans for the third floor attic area, which is still under renovation.

Hendrick said the third floor would be turned into an “escape room” a popular activity in which participants solve puzzles and uncover clues in order to escape a locked room.

“We believe if you were to have an escape room here, the features are so darn compelling that it would be the best and most awesome escape room in Ontario; because we have a clock, we have a bell, we have a tower, we have all these natural variables that would add to that experience,” stated Hendrick, noting the target is to open the facility sometime in 2017.

“We believe it will bring people from outside our community and within our community to the Post. And it fits with our vision of the Post as a place for business and creativity.”