June 1890 witnessed the birth of a remarkable experiment in Canada. Two Toronto based watchmakers, Edward Beeton and Henry Playtner, opened a school for watchmakers in downtown Toronto - a school that would gain worldwide attention as one of the finest institutions of its kind.
For 23 years, the Canadian Horological Institute trained students of all ages and with varying levels of experience in the theory and practice of watch making and repair. While Canada had no watch manufacturing industry and its history in clock making was littered with corporate failures, this institution implemented a program that equalled and exceeded the exacting standards of schools in Switzerland, Germany and the USA.
Experienced watchmakers as well as those aspiring to the trade came from around the world to learn from Henry Playtner. Students came from as far as India, England, New Zealand and Bermuda. They came from every corner of the United States and Canada. They left with exceptional experience and, for the most dedicated among them, a watch made by their own hand. These watches are unique and highly prized today by descendants of the students and by collectors alike.
Playtner, the owner, director and instructor of the school from its inception, was considered one of the most knowledgeable horologists on the subject of the Lever Escapement. His book "An Analysis of the Lever Escapement" was positively reviewed in trade journals as far away as Germany. While it was first published in 1895, the book is still in print today and is available on the Internet as an e-book.
But despite the success of the school and the contemporary renown of Playtner, little is known of either today. People walk briskly down King Street East in Toronto and barely notice the building where Playtner first held his classes. If asked, no passerby would likely have any idea that this building once housed a world famous school.
I have been researching the Canadian Horological Institute (CHI) since 1999, and am in the process of writing a book addressing this fascinating part of our history. This web site provides the briefest look into the school and its founders.
If you have interest in the school, if you know of or are a descendant of one of the students, or if you own a student made watch, escapement model or other token from the school, please contact me at CHI_Information@yahoo.ca. I may be able to provide information about the school and possibly the student. All I seek in return is information.