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  10 months ago

Ray Saunders, 79, creator of Gastown Steam Clock, seriously hurt in fall from ladder. Have you seen this major tourist attraction in downtown Vancouver?
Vancouver Sun
By Susan Lazaruk

The man who built and maintains one of Vancouver’s iconic landmarks, the Gastown Steam Clock, is recovering in hospital from grave injuries suffered in a five-metre fall from a ladder.

Ray Saunders, 79, known as “Father Time” to friends and family, fell from a ladder onto concrete while servicing a clock in Ladner a week ago, said his son, James Saunders, also a watchmaker. He suffered a fractured pelvis, broken vertebrae, three cracked ribs, a dislocated and fractured shoulder, a gash to the head that required 15 stitches and internal injuries, including a nicked spleen and damage to an abdominal artery.

He’s had three surgeries so far and spent most of the past week in the trauma ward at Vancouver General Hospital, where he’ll likely remain for months.

Saunders will have to enrol in a physical rehabilitation program at the GF Strong centre for up to eight weeks “before I can even walk,” he said in a phone call from his hospital room Thursday. “You can’t put pressure on the bones until they’ve had a chance to heal.”

Despite the injuries that have incapacitated him for the first time in his long career of building and maintaining large public clocks, which require him to climb high above the ground to access, he’s jovial and talkative on the phone.

“My family has forbidden me to go up ladders,” said the father-of-five grown children and five grandchildren. “I think it’s time to hang up my safety vest.”

Saunders has contracts to service the many clocks he maintains and some of which he built or rebuilt, including those in Mount Pleasant, Kerrisdale, Queen Elizabeth Park, at Vancouver City Hall, the Sinclair Centre, Birks and the Heritage Hall on Main at 16th Avenue. He’s making alternative plans for the switch to standard time on Nov. 3 — “it’s a big money-making weekend” — for the dozen of clocks he has to adjust back an hour.

“I lubricate them and service them at the same time,” he said. “My plans are to train my new apprentice, Dylan Scott, to do all the ladder-climbing for me.”

Saunders usually visits his most famous clock, in Gastown, about twice a week.

“I like opening the clock and talking to the children,” he said.

Saunders is upbeat and anxious to return to work, but James said it will likely take six months to a year, during which he’ll have reduced income. His apartment will also require extensive and costly modifications to allow him to continue to live there, including, a stairlift, bed rail, shower rails, shower chair and adapted furniture, including a specialized bed and reclining chair.

His family and friends have launched a Go Fund Me account, with $100,000 goal, said James.

“He’s definitely getting better day-by-day,” said James. “But it’s going to be a bit rough. He can’t sleep very well in the hospital because of the pain. It’s going to be a long haul. At that age, you don’t heal as quickly.”

And he will possibly require more surgery.

“This is really hard for him because he’s so stubborn,” said James.

His son said his dad often used his own funds for parts to fix clocks and has no retirement fund because he planned to continue working. He copyrighted the Gastown Steam Clock image, but has never received any payment, said James.

“If anyone who had ever taken a photo of the clock had given him a dollar, he would never have to work again,” he said.

Saunders has built more than 250 clocks, seven of them steam clocks, including one in Australia, one in Indianapolis, Indiana, and two in Japan, his friends and family said.

And he’s been involved in the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, the Lions Club and Young Men’s Adventure Weekend charities, they said.

“Dad has always been a giver, first and foremost, from his charity work to leaving a lasting legacy, at personal cost, to the world through his creations and clocks,” said his children on the Go Fund Me page. “He has been a selfless ambassador of this city for decades.”

Now he needs “the gift of time,” they said.

But Saunders’ brain keeps ticking.

He’s excited about plans for “my dream clock” made of railway rails and spikes to commemorate the railway workers from a century ago that he would like to build near Main Street and Terminal Avenue.

In the meantime, he’ll be training his apprentice and working on smaller clocks that won’t require climbing ladders, he said.

I love this clock! I remember going with my dad when I was little just to check out the clock. I hope he recovers quickly and I encourage you, to find his "go fund me" page, if you can afford it.


  10 months ago
Jeeze, poor guy! 5 meters is huge! He's lucky he survived, hopefully he continues to recover well. I was only in the area once and not for long enough, so I haven't gotten to see the clock...yet! Reply


  10 months ago
I loved going to Gastown and listening to the clock go off every hour, it is iconic, but i never knew who built it, i hope Mr Saunders makes a full recovery, so sad he had such a terrible fall. Reply


  10 months ago
No, I haven’t seen it. Looks nice. Reply

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