British Columbia

Vancouver clockmaker eyes retirement as the clock counts down on daylight saving time

Horologist Raymond Saunders, best known for building the Gastown steam clock in Vancouver, says he’s ready to retire from setting clocks to focus on his own collection of timepieces.

Creator of the Gastown steam clock still adjusts a handful of street clocks each year in Vancouver

Horologist Ray Saunders is pictured by a street clock he built in Vancouver's Kerrisdale neighbourhood in the 1990s. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Every year, horologist Raymond Saunders keeps the hands moving on Vancouver's street clocks.

Saunders has been building and servicing outdoor clocks in B.C. and around the world for over 40 years, but it's the steam clock in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood, built in the 1970s, for which he's best known. 

Each year he repeats his daylight saving time ritual: he shuts off each clock for an hour, goes for lunch at a nearby restaurant, then turns the clock back on an hour later. 

He does the same set of tasks, plus any additional servicing, for the street clocks in Vancouver's Kerrisdale and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods, and the clock tower in the Maillardville neighbourhood in Coquitlam, B.C.

He's passed on regular maintenance and servicing of other clocks he's built or rebuilt — including timepieces in Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Park and at Vancouver City Hall — to city workers. 

"Falling back takes the most time. Because you've got to shut the clock off for an hour and come back and turn it back on," he said.

At 81, he has been slowly passing his skills on to others, including his son-in-law. 

"It's a shame that it's a dying trade and no one is really learning the trade," he said. "I've been on my own all my life, fixing clocks."

Eyeing the end of daylight saving time

As governments on the West Coast consider moving to permanent daylight time, Saunders says he's looking forward to letting go of this part of his job and focusing more on his passion for vintage clocks.

Saunders stands in Gastown, next to the steam clock he built in the 1970s. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

More than 93 per cent of respondents to a 2019 B.C. government survey said they were on board with scrapping the twice-a-year time change and making daylight time permanent. 

"Every year I keep thinking, 'This may be the last time I'm setting these clocks,' but it'll be a while before Washington, Oregon and California get on board," he said.

"My retirement is going to be restoring my own clock collection and making metal sculptured clocks. That's what I want to do."

WATCH | The maker of the Gastown steam clock gives it a check-up

Keeping time in Gastown

9 months ago
Duration 1:18
Raymond Saunders shows how he adjusts time on the steam clock he built in the Gastown neighbourhood in the 1970s.