The Thomas Fuller
by Lorie Lee Steiner
cadence drifted through the architecture like a lonesome thought,
only to be swallowed by silence. My search had taken me to
the end of a dark passage on the third floor, where I paused,
peering like Alice at a little white, four-panelled door in
the corner. Suddenly, an icy draft crept down from the tower,
raising goosebumps on my arms as the door began toever
so slightly but unmistakablyopen.
Real-life adventures seldom rival the
imaginings of Lewis Carroll, or the mysteries of Agatha Christie,
but a history sleuth always dreams of the exception
one fantastic find that makes the risk-taking worthwhile.
So, ignoring the instinct to beat a hasty retreat, and armed
with an insatiable desire to snoop, I grasped the darkened
doorknob, and stepped over the threshold
Though it reads like a scene set in Great-
Aunt Matildas Victorian mansion on a dark and stormy
night, this isnt fiction. Its true, and takes
place in what could be considered one of the least ominous
and most unromantic places imaginablea post office.
Still, however, its a tale that begs to be tolled
The location: a former Post Office and
Customs House, now home to the Arnprior and District Museum.
The set creator, and founder of the architectural feast: none
other than 19th century visionary Thomas G. Fuller. World-renowned
designer of the original (1859) Centre Block of the Parliament
Buildings, and the recently restored Library of Parliament,
Fuller left an equally impressive legacya testament
of time in the guise of impressive stone federal buildings
in towns across the country. His brilliant use of local materialscombining
warm red sandstone with bold-faced statements of quarry-cut
limestoneresulted in instantly recognizable symbols
of the new Dominion image
trademark designs reflecting
the strength and stability of government in federal architecture.
But Fuller also showed an inspiring sense
of romance in his work, designing the Gothic and Romanesque
structures with commanding clock towers, round-headed arches
and intricate stone carvings. During his tenure as Chief Architect
of the Department of Public Works (1881 to 1896), more than
seventy of these monumental post offices rose up in picturesque
communities such as Smiths Falls, Strathroy, and Almonteas
well as the aforementioned blushing gem imbedded deep in the
heart of Arnprior.
Which brings us back to the tour. On the
other side of the Alice door was a small, drafty
room with curved walls of thick grey stone, and a winding
wooden staircase. As I entered, afternoon sun streamed down
through a series of skinny porthole windows, warming
the chilly air and highlighting a collection of miscellaneous
cast-offs that littered the floorspace. Tattered window screens,
glass milk bottleseverything, including the kitchen
sink, or in this case a smaller porcelain version resting
upside down on the second step. Judging by the clutter and
the giant jigsaw-shaped holes in the lath and plasterwork,
the space had become nothing more than cold storage.
Thomas Fuller once said, Light,
Gods eldest daughter, is a principal beauty in a building,
and seeing the sun cascade, as it had for more than a century
through those same narrow panes, I realized that I had indeed
stumbled upon an abandoned treasure. But the best was yet
to come, high above, where the upper reaches of the tower
culminated in a dome of crisscrossed, hand-hewn pine, as breathtaking
in workmanship as any royal crown. Suspended from the ceiling,
a protective container housed the brains of the operation,
the clockworks. Four cylindrical metal driver arms extended
from the housing, to the north, south, east and west sides
of the tower, where they manipulated the hands of time like
If there were any bats in residence that
day theyd forgiven me my trespass, for the belfry remained
dark and quiet. The only sound was a steady clicking. Obviously
the original clock gears and doohickeys had long ago been
replaced with some miracle of modern electronics, but the
aura, the musty essence of bygone moments lingered, as each
ticking second became part of the past.
bells and alls well.
Chances are, if you reside in small town
Ontario, youve grown so accustomed to the deep, resonating
toll that it literally goes in one ear and out the othera
sound taken for granted like the once prominent shriek of
the mill whistleas expanding technology vies for majority
share of our senses.
But it wasnt always so. When Canada
was in her infancy, and personal timepieces of any description
were considered a luxury, people quite literally looked up
to the village clock tower for guidance. Though slightly bulkier
and more intrusive than todays streamlined schedulera.k.a
the Blackberrythose lofty timekeepers wielded
great power in their finely crafted hands. And a clock tower
designed by Thomas Fuller was not only practical, but a great
source of pride to the community as well.
Perhaps the most bizarre example of tower
love is in the city of Trenton, Ontario. As the Murray
Canal neared completion in 1888, the federal government anticipated
a wave of growth and prosperity for the town, and commissioned
Thomas Fuller to design a Post Office in keeping with the
importance of the area. With the laying of the cornerstone,
the local newspaper reported that the building will
be a permanent improvement in the town. No expense was
spared in the landmark construction, as Fullers specifications
of the best quality limestone from Ox Point Quarries
near Belleville, and red brick, the pick of the
kilns from the Belleville Brickyard, were incorporated
into the two-and-a-half storey Romanesque beauty. When the
town fathers complained that there wasnt a clear view
of the clock faces from the street, the tower was raised ten
feet higher than the original design, to a soaring height
of ninety feet.
Trentonians became so enamoured with their
beloved Clock Tower, that in 1979 it was designated as a heritage
property under the Ontario Heritage Act, for architectural
and historic reasons. The ultimate irony is that the tower
is all that remains. The Post Office building itself was demolished
eight years earlier, in 1971, to make way for City Hall and
a parking garage. Joni Mitchell had it right when she sang,
they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
Thomas Fuller died in 1898, and since
then, sadly, many of his prized post offices have been lost.
Only sixteen of the almost eighty original works still exist,
many of them converted to museums, eateries, or tourist venues.
Recently, while enjoying a cold beverage and a snoop around
the interior of one such conversiona magnificent stone
structure in Cambridge, OntarioI happened to mention
this article and Thomas Fullers name to the server.
At which point a voice from behind commented, Yes, there
arent many of us left.
Enter Marv, the owner of the establishment,
who was boasting of the Fuller designed Galt Post Office which
is home to his pub, the Fiddlers Green.
The workmanship of this building
is amazing, gorgeous, he added, you just dont
see that anymore. By the way, did you know that Creepy Canada
is doing a segment on our ghost?
A haunted post office, you say? Its
true. Tantalizing tales of a spirit roaming the clock tower
started circulating after a tragic incident in the early 1900s,
and continue to this day. According to legend, William S.
Turnbull, a married man, and postmaster at the time, was having
a rather risqué relationship with a postal employee
named Emily. Not a patient girl, Emily became restless at
having to keep the secret and threatened to go publica
scandal that would ruin Williams reputation and most
certainly cost him his career. How ironic that not long afterward
her lifeless body was discovered swaying from a rope high
up in the Galt clock tower, and a few weeks later, William
himself died in his sleep, some say of a broken heart. Was
Emilys death a suicide or murder most foul? No one knows
for sure, but either way, Emily and William became the talk
of the town.
Today, employees and patrons of the legendary
pub revel in sharing stories of the haunted happeningslevitations,
mysterious lights, doors opening and closing on their own.
A surreal mural of Emily floating past the old Post Office
graces a rounded wall on the second floor, alongside a set
of stairs that spiral to the tower room where she died. Though
the narrow windows are regularly nailed shut, about once a
month the nails are found pulled out and scattered on the
ledge. Reports of Emily peering from the attic window are
common, and William, with a mournful expression, has been
sighted as well, in the upper staircase to the towerpining
for his beloved.
Mystery and mayhem aside, Thomas Fullers
masterpieces have earned their place as national treasures
by virtue of their distinct architectural beauty and resilience.
From the Victorian magnificence of Parliament Hill to the
stand-alone determination of the Trenton Clock Tower, Fullers
legacy is destined to live on, forever carved in stone in
the towers of time.
The Thomas Fuller Legacy
Thomas Fullers treasures continue
to make the headlinesmost recently the re-opening
of the Library of Parliament. After seven years of preparation,
four years of construction, and a cost somewhere in
the soaring vicinity of $140 million, the Victorian
Gothic jewel has reclaimed her sparkle and is once again
ready to receive visitors.
In 1859, the architectural team
of Thomas G. Fuller and Chilion Jones won a design competition,
sponsored by the Department of Public Works, to design
the Houses of Parliament in Ottawa. The pair were awarded
first place for their stunning rendition of a Gothic
Revival Centre Block, graced by a stately clock tower.
The Victoria Tower, fifty-five metres high and topped
with an intricate crown of ironwork, affectionately
came to be known as the birthday cake tower. The drawings
also included a circular domed library at the rear of
the complex, overlooking the rivera less formal
addition, but a masterpiece in its own right, designed
to blend in with the picturesque beauty of the natural
Construction began in earnest in
1859, taking seventeen years to complete, and today,
the Library building is the only section that remains
of the original structures. Some say she has led a charmed
life, saved from a devastating fire in 1916 that destroyed
the rest of the Centre Block, when a quick-thinking
employee, M. MacCormac, closed her solid iron entrance
doors. In 1952, flames again lit the skies over Parliament
Hill, this time in the Library itself. Caused by an
electrical malfunction, fire raged high in the dome,
forty metres above the floor, for more than ten hours.
When it was over, 200,000 gallons of water had entered
the structuredestroying books in the reading room,
the two upper galleries, and many of the underground
vaults. This left the Government at the time faced with
a moral dilemmaraze the Library and replace it
with a modern version, or restore the original. Wisely,
our Nations leaders put heritage first, and subsequently
closed the building for a period of four years for restoration.
Since then, age and weathering have
continued to take their toll on the famous Library,
resulting in such extensive deterioration that by 2002,
her doors once again had to be closed to the public.
The roof leaked, walls were crumblingnot only
the integrity of the structure was at risk, but her
priceless literary contents as well. Again, the Government
intervened on the side of conservancy, sparing no expense
to preserve a Canadian legend. Perhaps the ultimate
tribute to the Thomas Fuller legacy came with the hiring
of a construction firm to oversee this latest restoration.
You see, the company awarded the tender is one which
symbolizes the true Canadian spirithardworking,
meticulous, respected. A family business, handed down
through the generations. Its nameFuller Constructionowned
and operated by William, Mark, Anthony, and Simon
Fullers grandchildren. The legend lives on.
Yet another famous clock tower made
the news in recent weeksThe Peace Tower on Parliament
Hill. While a crowd of visitors gathered at her base,
eyes raised, listening intently for the sweet chime
of the carillon, the Tower mysteriously went to sleep7:28
a.m., May 24, 2006, the day that time stood still.
Blamed on a small electrical
relay malfunction, the repercussions were anything
but small. Frustration and disappointment abounded as
tourists repeatedly checked their watches for the actual
time. Many had travelled quite a distance in anticipation
of a 53 bell serenade from the Peace Towerpromoted
worldwide as one of the highlights of the Capital tour.
The present day tower replaced Thomas Fullers
original Victoria Tower that burned in 1916, and the
electric clock of which we speak has never stopped in
the 25 years since its installation. Government officials
stated it needed only a minor repair, but, well, it
would take up to 72 hours for the work to begin.
Whats that you say, Mr Fuller?
They dont make em like they used to?
Interesting websites relating to
Thomas Fuller and his accomplishments include:
(Creepy Canada, Season Three)
(Arnprior & District Museum)