Bruce Linton, then co-CEO of Canopy Growth, was standing in front of the old post office building on Russell Street in Smiths Falls one evening with Mayor Shawn Pankow, waiting for Snoop Dogg to show up for their dinner date at Chuckles Jack.
“I turned to Shawn and said I think this is the nicest building in town, but’s it’s in terrible shape, why isn’t it being maintained?” recalled Linton.
Fast-forward to 2021, Linton has been recognized with the Lieutenant-Governor’s Heritage Award for Excellence in conservation for the restoration of that same building.
That early discussion with the mayor in front of the Fuller Post Office led to a connection with the owners and from there it wasn’t long before Linton purchased the building.
“She had caught my eye when I first passed through town in 2013; I visited her cautiously for years and a love grew that was costly and worth every penny,” said Linton.
In many ways restoring the building wasn’t only a labour of love for the building, it was also a tribute to the town that had welcomed Tweed/Canopy Growth into the old Hershey factory, said Linton.
“It’s my way of saying thank you to Smiths Falls,” said Linton, who adds he doesn’t own a fancy car, a second home or a cottage – but he owns a post office.
Originally designed by Thomas Fuller, chief architect to the dominion of Canada in the 1800s, the old post office was built using red-brown sandstone on a foundation of Beckwith Township limestone in 1894.
It is one of 80 post offices designed by Fuller between 1881 and 1897 in the Romanesque Revival style, a list that includes Brockville’s own Thomas Fuller Building. The clock tower was added sometime after the Smiths Falls building was completed.
It closed as a post office 1964 and the building received heritage designation in 1978. Linton purchased it in October 2018. At that point it was in such disrepair its future seemed endangered.
“The Fuller Post Office is a building that has long been regarded as one of our most important heritage assets and means something to everyone in Smiths Falls. It has long been in need of an owner who possessed the vision and commitment to restore it to its original glory, and we were thrilled when Bruce purchased it with an eye towards restoration,” said Pankow.
The building has a colourful history.
It once housed a speakeasy in the basement which was followed by a chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. On the main floors it went from being a post office to an armoury to a girls’ high school to office space.
“When I bought it, I had no plan at all. The ‘why’ is my specialty, the ‘how’ is often not so clear,” said Linton.
The timing just worked out. Linton had connected with old friend Dwight Brown, semi-retired from construction giant PCL Canada, and had persuaded him to come out and oversee work at the Hershey factory. When Brown heard of the acquisition he offered to take a look, but he too got hooked and took on the job as project manager.
With Brown overseeing the project, Linton hired Ryan Peters of AFM Construction, and Paul Moore for the specialty mason’s work, but 95 per cent of the workforce was local.
Restoration began in February 2019 and was completed in October 2019. The restoration involved a complete renovation from basement to clock tower and extensive research to ensure architectural details and millwork restoration were done according to traditional methods using original materials.
“I believe the magnitude of this project was far greater than Bruce had initially anticipated, but we were confident his love for this building would carry him beyond every obstacle,” said Pankow.
Linton has renovated the building with authenticity but with modern bells and whistles. The clock has retained its original face, for example, but is lit with LED light, sports a new sturdier glass face, and can play programmable music as needed.
His vision for the building gives a nod to its history and the town’s future. The basement, he says, will be a very high-end bar.
“It won’t have any signs outside, just a red light; when the light is on the bar is open,” said Linton, in a gentle nod to its history as a speakeasy.
The ground floor has been designed for shared office space, and Linton hopes to rent the spaces out to a lawyer, an accountant, an engineering firm and an IT firm – basically a variety of business support services.
“If these companies offer their services pro-bono to small businesses in town, I will reduce their rent,” said Linton, who says he wants to encourage and help build better businesses in the area.
The second floor has three apartments with in-floor heating and all-new windows.
“The entire place is using 10 per cent of the energy to heat that it used when I bought it,” said Linton, adding that he hopes the restoration will inspire other building owners in the town to undertake restoration work, and inspire pride in residents for the beauty of the town’s architectural heritage.
While Linton won’t speak of the cost, he admits it’s his future grandchildren who might realize a return on the investment he made.
“Without question, Bruce is the only person who would have had the fortitude to complete this project regardless of the time, energy and cost involved. We’re very pleased that he has received recognition for his contribution through the Lieutenant-Governor’s award,” said Pankow.
Linton had no idea he had even been nominated for the award; it came as a complete surprise.
“I had no clue such an award existed, but it was nice to receive the recognition, so thank you to whoever filled out the forms and submitted the nomination,” said Linton.