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The Pequegnat Clocks — Canadian Timekeepers

Early Endeavours in Canada

Ulysse Pequegnat
Ulysse Pequegnat, the patriarch of the family in Canada (Courtesy Jane and Costas Varkaris)
The Pequegnat family, led by father Ulysse and mother Françoise—eighteen strong and speaking only French, with broken German also spoken by Françoise—arrived in Toronto from Switzerland in April 1874 on their way to Muskoka, Ontario. Both an April storm and the language challenge contributed to the change in destination, at least temporarily, to Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, the heart of a German speaking region.

Ulysse took up carpentry and other family members found employment and set about to pay off their home and save up to purchase watchmaking equipment from Switzerland. In 1875 Arthur, the eldest son, who had apprenticed to a watchmaker at the age of ten, set up a small jewellery business in Mildmay, Ontario, and began to take apprentices. Arthur and his family returned to Berlin later in 1881 to establish a partnership with the second eldest son Paul. Over the next two decades they helped their younger brothers establish jewellery shops in surrounding communities. This network of shops, with the Berlin store as the flagship, was supplied from the main store with savings made possible because of the combined volume of orders placed with suppliers. Arthur’s motto was “Cheaper and Best,” and this philosophy was carried on with the clockmaking firm and its products. His business acumen was soon evident, and Pequegnat became the most widely recognized name in Canadian clock history.

Arthur and Franz Pequegnat
Arthur (right) and his cousin Franz with a jeweller’s lathe and other clockmaking tools (Courtesy Jane and Costas Varkaris)
Arthur’s first foray into manufacturing in Canada involved making bicycles. He began in the mid-1890s by repairing bicycles at the back of his jewellery shop. In 1897, recognizing the opportunity provided by the rage for bicycles, Arthur decided to close his jewellery shop and become a manufacturer of bicycles, a business that lasted until the early 1920s as the Berlin & Racycle Manufacturing Company. The Berlin bicycle model appears to have been Pequegnat’s design, while the Racycle had been the product of the Miami Cycle & Manufacturing Company of Middletown, Ohio, where Pequegnat had worked earlier. The Berlin, a men’s safety, chain-drive, model with a diamond frame, was built between 1897 and 1917. However, by 1903 the appearance of the motor car made Arthur nervous and he decided to return to a business he knew well — clockmaking.
Pequegnat bike
The Museum’s example of a Pequegnat bike (CSTM 1984.0719) belonged to Ronald Pequegnat of Bruce, Ontario, and the Museum acquired it from Mrs E. M. Pequegnat.