Debi Sheffield is carrying on her husband’s dream to breathe life back into the historic armoury building.
Debi Sheffield is carrying on her husband’s dream to breathe life back into the historic armoury building.
Martin Sheffield longed to give the historic building the same passion in restoration that the clock tower building, which once served as the town’s post office, received.
“I think these buildings, like the clock tower and the armoury, evolved to become a symbol of achievement in these communities and they’re a reminder of hopes and dreams in many ways,” said Debi.
The ribbon was cut in November 2015 signifying the opening of the Clock Tower Centre.
Martin died June 11 after dealing with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. The month of Martin’s death is ALS Awareness Month in Canada.
“ALS is a relentlessly progressive, fatal motor neuron disease that eventually leads to the loss of ability to move, speak, and breathe,” said Canada’s Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos in a June news release. “The disease can progress swiftly with four out of five people dying within two to five years of their diagnosis. On top of the mental and physical distress of this disease, it also has tremendous emotional and financial impact on families and loved ones.”
Debi and Martin worked on several projects together and Debi said that while Martin was unwell, she became his arms and legs. Despite his illness, Muskoka Time, a Gravenhurst clock store now operated by the couple’s son Colin Sheffield, celebrated a grand reopening in December 2021.
“I helped him get a lot of projects started, and the armoury was one of them,” said Debi. “He wanted to fix up the cement. He said it was unsightly and he wanted to refresh the building because it’s got such a high profile.”
The building abuts the clock tower building at the high-profile corner of Taylor Road and Manitoba Street.
The late Robert Boyer wrote in his book “A Good Town Grew Here: The Story of Bracebridge” that during a visit on July 31, 1914, Col. Sam Hughes, then minister of militia and defence, promised an armoury would be built in Bracebridge, hinting that one costing $30,000 would be built in the next season.
“This was a peacetime promise, of course,” wrote Boyer, “and when the rear part of the post office building was extended to include a small armouries section in due course, it was less than intended.”
In December 2015, not long after the clock tower was refurbished, Martin received bad news about the armoury building. It was deemed unsafe by the Town of Bracebridge and an order not to occupy was issued. Martin had purchased the building in June of that year. During the investigation of a water leak, structural issues, whereby the trusses were pushing on the walls, were discovered.
Since then, much work has been done, “including getting the building up and going again,” said Debi. “Older buildings require a lot of care and a special kind of care too.”
Next on the agenda is stepping inside to determine what is salvageable, what needs gutting, and what can just be renovated.
“It’s got beautiful high ceilings so I’m hoping we can do something with the ceiling,” she said. “It has so much potential.”
Once renovations are done, Debi said she would like to leave it as a blank slate and see who would like to move in and finish it off.
“You’d be surprised what happens when you just leave it and advertise it as a commercial space,” she said. “You get people in with better ideas than me.”
She said this is also how the clock tower developed. Once it was renovated, they waited for people to come and ended up with a “great vibe” with “wonderful people in there.”
The bells will toll again in Bracebridge.
Town of Bracebridge councillors had a lengthy discussion during the Sept. 20 general committee meeting over the topic of the clock tower, which also generated a great deal of interest on social media last week. It was determined at this meeting, by a unanimous vote, that the clock tower will ring again.
General committee actually threw out making the chiming of the clock an exemption to the noise bylaw but will in fact amend the bylaw itself to include the clock tower as an item in the noise bylaw.
Mayor Graydon Smith reiterated a conversation made to this paper last week stating that the clock tower building is an iconic piece of infrastructure and he would be voting in favour of getting the bells ringing again. He went on to say that when the bells originally fell silent under the previous owner, it did not create the level of controversy that was created last week when the current owner Martin Sheffield, who restored the clock tower, was asked to temporarily stop the ringing until the matter was resolved.
“When people think it’s a choice by government they get their backs up,” stated the mayor.
Coun. Don Smith stated that much of the much of the interest in the clock tower is due to revitalization of the downtown core and the renewal of the clock tower is part of that excitement.
The mayor expanded to state that he did understand that the ringing of the bells were causing hardship for some people living in the downtown core; however, Coun. Lori-Lynn Giaschi-Pacini took a slightly different tact on that sentiment stating that the issue of the clock tower was a “no-brainer” and that people who chose to live in town’s urban core must be accustomed with the associated noises, which include church bells, the train and the ringing of the clock tower bell. Those wishing for a more tranquil lifestyle would, according to Giaschi-Pacini, be better suited for the rural areas of Bracebridge.
Her strong opinion on the issue included how she found out there was an issue, learning of the silence of the bells from “people on the street” as opposed to learning of the matter from town staff.
“How are we expected to govern if we have no idea what’s going on in the town office,” she questioned. She also issued an apology to building owner Martin Sheffield for the stress this has caused.
Chief bylaw officer Scott Stakiw did state that complaints about the bell were handled in very much the same manner of other bylaw complaints but because this matter involved an historic building, along with working with the owner, they did seek legal advice. However, while they were waiting on a legal opinion the complaints continued, which is why they had asked Sheffield to voluntarily silence the bell, which he did.
As per the bylaw itself and the omission of the clock tower, which had been silent for about a decade at the time the bylaw was drafted, Stakiw admitted “This wasn’t even on our radar,” noting the clock tower wasn’t addressed under the previous noise bylaw either.
For Coun. Archie Buie, who proposed scrapping the exemption for an actual amendment to the bylaw, the sound of the clock has special meaning. When he first moved to Bracebridge in his early 20s he rented an apartment under the town clock. When the owner at that time was away he was asked to wind the clock and keep it going.
“Eventually you don’t hear it anymore,” he said.
Buie said he believes the exclusion of the clock tower bell from the noise bylaw was an oversight but also strongly believes that the bell is an important part of the town and its history. He said when council approved the bylaw the inclusion of the clock tower was assumed, which he said it shouldn’t have been.
“We have to let the people know that it was never intended to be this way,” he said.
It is anticipated that the decision made by general committee will be ratified by council at the Sept. 28 meeting.
But there was some concern, aired by coun. Rick Maloney, of the “flurry of activity” on social media and he hopes people will not be reluctant in future to have their voices heard if their opinions are not with the majority.
He noted those who expressed a difference of opinion were shot down, which he said is not what one would expect from the people of Bracebridge.
Martin Sheffield, owner of the Clock Tower Building, said the Town of Bracebridge has ordered him to stop the clock.
BRACEBRIDGE – The historic clock in downtown Bracebridge has stopped and according to its owner, it has been silenced by the town.
“The reason they ordered me to stop the clock was due to a few complaints about the noise from the bell,” said Sheffield in a Sept. 12 email. “The clock runs together with the bell meaning that both have to be stopped.”
Sheffield said he has a top clockmaker looking after the clock, which looks down from its perch in the historic clock tower.
“He told me that it should only operate as a unit together with the clock and bell working at the same time,” he said.
Sheffield said it would be very disappointing to lose a clock that has been part of Town of Bracebridge history since about 1912.
Although people no longer solely rely on the clock to tell the time, Sheffield said the tower itself is part of the “heart and fabric Bracebridge.”
“In other words, this clock tower is part of Bracebridge and shouldn’t be ordered to be shut down,” he said.
He said the longer the clock sits idle, the higher the likelihood of damage to the mechanism.
“If I were ordered to permanently shut the clock down, then it would probably end up being sold,” said Sheffield. “But I would really hate to have to do that.”
Town of Bracebridge chief bylaw officer Scott Stakiw would not confirm that Sheffield was ordered to shut down the clock.
“We don’t disclose enforcement actions taken unless charges have been filed – in which case it becomes public record,” said Stakiw.
He did confirm, however, that his department began an investigation into the clock tower based on complaints received from Bracebridge residents and Sheffield has submitted an application for a noise bylaw exemption.
Staff is currently working on a report for council consideration, although a date has not yet been set for this matter to go before general committee.
ICONIC BRACEBRIDGE CLOCK TOWER
File photo Bev McMullen/Metroland
The chime of Bracebridge’s historic clock tower has been silenced recently while an exemption under the town’s noise bylaw is considered. Sept. 12, 2016.
During a telephone interview on Sept. 14, Smith said the clock tower bell exemption being missed from the town’s recently updated noise bylaw was an error. The bell from the tower that had been silent for decade until new owner Martin Sheffield rehabilitated it, simply wasn’t at the forefront of anyone’s mind when the bylaw was drafted, according to the mayor.
Although the agenda for the Sept. 20 meeting has not yet been posted, Smith said both council and town staff are pushing to have the matter addressed at that meeting. He said everyone recognizes that it’s in the best interest of the town to have the issue addressed as quickly as possible.
“I think on Tuesday this is gong to sail on through without a whole lot of concern,” said the mayor.
He said that although he understands there are some residents in town who don’t like the ringing, particularly late at night, it is an iconic building and it should ring out.
“If it’s working, it’s got to be ringing because it is a heritage piece,” he said. “It’s one of those things that if you’ve got it – flaunt it.”
He said the iconic clock tower is part of the fabric of the community and has 100 years of history in the town.
Smith said he is concerned over the backlash on social media against both council and the complainants.
“Just because someone has an opinion that is different than yours doesn’t make it wrong,” he said.
However, he does highlight that the process is working. The complaints were heard, town staff and council are dealing with the issue and the technical issues surround the bylaw in terms of the clock tower are being rectified.
Even if council approves the exemption to allow the bell to ring again, which is the anticipated result of Tuesday’s meeting, the bell will continue to remain silent until the decision made by committee is ratified at the next council meeting, slated for Sept. 28.
BRACEBRIDGE – There is an old familiar sound ringing out and an old building springing back to life in downtown Bracebridge.On Friday, Nov. 13, a ribbon was cut signifying the opening of the Clock Tower Centre at the corner of Manitoba Street and Taylor Road.The old building is much beloved in the town and owner Martin Sheffield has been pouring his heart and soul into the building.
“This building is, I would say, the most important building in Bracebridge and it’s undergoing a complete transformation,” said Sheffield.The building is now home to craftsmen, artisans, a jeweller, business professionals and medical services.
“And it’s going to be an official clock museum as well,” said Sheffield about his future endeavour. “This building is going to be a destination point for tourists all over Ontario.”
A cottager on Lake Muskoka, Sheffield is a Toronto real-estate professional by trade but said the purchase and refurbishment of the clock tower building is a personal project.
“I have a passion for it and this building allows me to exercise my passion. It’s a place where I can fulfill all my desires and be creative and benefit the Town of Bracebridge at the same time,” he said.
While other cottagers on Lake Muskoka spent the summer boating, he was driving through town looking at the architecture and thought how nice it would be if he could do something with the building. He purchased it in June and worked steadily for the months leading up to the ribbon cutting.
“Any investment in the town, but investment in iconic buildings in the town, is really something special and there is nothing more iconic than the clock tower in Bracebridge,” said Mayor Graydon Smith. “It is representative, as well as the Silver Bridge, of what we’re all about. So to take this building and put some retail in it and put artists in it, really makes it more accessible for the public.”
He said Sheffield has a passion for clocks and the clock tower and there is more to come.
“I won’t reveal what all that is but it’s investing in the present and the future and investing in the past all at the same time, so it’s wonderful,” Smith said.
According to Sheffield, the big future plan is the museum and “just the building in general is going to be jazzed up. It’s going to look really nice.”
“It’s a beautiful building and it’s so nice to see somebody finally taking some interest in putting the effort into it,” said Monica Hastings of Elements Salon and Spa, who moved her business into the building in the spring.
She said there is a terrific momentum working in a building full of artists and artisan and the sound of the clock chimes is an added bonus.
“I love it. The bells never went off before. Well, they did and then they stopped,” she said. “They needed to be fixed. It’s so nice that they’re going.”
Another building resident, Stan W. Tait of Stan W. Tait Jewelry recalls living on Taylor Road and listening to the clock ringing with its “clankety bell” and welcomes its return.
“This is like the cornerstone of the town. It really is. Between this and the old library building, these are the anchors of the town. To have it come alive with someone like Martin’s energy. He’s a wonderful influence on all of us,” said Tait. “He cares so much about it all and so do we. He’s trying to put together a group of people that honours the building and the idea of art and creativity and purpose.”
Tait said it isn’t that other offices aren’t important but having the “creative juice” in the building will likely attracted people to the downtown.
“I love the building. It has character so it has this lovely ambience which is nice when you’re working,” said Col Mitchell, an artist with space in the Clock Tower Centre. “He’s got the clock going and the chimes going, which is really lovely.”
The centre will be holding a Christmas at the Clock Tower event from 4 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 11, where many of the artists and artisans will be featuring their wares, and Big Brothers Big Sisters Muskoka will be having an open house.