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Restoring history

David Ker with the replica printing press he restored at the St George’s Historical Society (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

David Ker has been charming visitors at the St George’s Historical Society for 24 years.

The replica 18th-century press in the basement of Mitchell House on Duke of Kent Street is his baby.

The 79-year-old loves demonstrating how the press once worked.

“Right now, things are pretty quiet,” he said. “We’re getting maybe one or two visitors a day. We see a few people from the new St Regis Bermuda Resort. They have a wander around but they mainly want to go to Hamilton to shop.”

Despite the quiet, he still goes in every Wednesday from 10am until 2pm.

He came across the press back in 1997 while visiting the Historical Society with his wife, Sally.

The couple had just moved here from Canada and Mrs Ker was showing him around her island home.

Having spotted the press rusting away in a corner, she immediately volunteered her engineer husband to fix it.

“I didn’t mind,” said Mr Ker. “I am a fix-it kind of guy. I’d rather try to fix something than throw it away.”

The repairs took him about a month although getting the machine to actually work was a little more complicated.

“It took a lot of skill to operate a press like this. The challenge to operating it was getting the amount of ink and the consistency right,” he said.

“The ink there was pretty dried out. I was thinning it out, but I was making it too thin.”

Visitors to the shop gave him some tips and he eventually got the formula right.

Mr Ker grew up in Tillsonburg and London, Ontario. While helping his wife, who was born an Outerbridge, trace her family’s ancestors, he became interested in his own history.

“I realised that I didn’t know anything about my family tree,” he said.

With the help of old records and genealogy websites he discovered that his grandfather, James Charles Hagell, 11, and his brother William, 15, were English orphans sent to Canada as cheap farm labour in 1885.

After sailing to Quebec with 150 other boys, the brothers were separated.

“William died a few years later so they never saw each other again,” Mr Ker said.

His grandfather died in a barn fire in Ontario in 1917, leaving a wife and four children behind. Mr Ker’s mother Margaret, was only three years old.

“Nobody ever talked about him or where he came from,” Mr Ker said.

His father, Wilbert, was an engineer in the Timkins Bearings factory in St Thomas, Ontario.

After high school, Mr Ker also joined a factory where he made bearings and machine parts out of powdered metal. He quickly noticed there was no upward mobility and after a year of saving his money enrolled at Ryerson University.

A visit to a wind tunnel testing facility sent him towards electronics and aerodynamics.

“There were 12 kids who graduated with me, and 11 of them went to de Havilland Aircraft of Canada, including myself,” he said.

It was there he met his wife, Sally.

Annoyed when he found that his name was being misspelt in reports as “Kerr” instead of “Ker”, he went into her office and demanded: “Who the hell types up these reports?”

The secretary shot back: “Who the hell wants to know?”

“It was love at first bite,” Mr Ker joked.

It was a high point during the time he worked as an aircraft tester.

He remembers pilots on a two-engine turboprop transport plane called a DHC-5 Buffalo complaining that the instrument panel was vibrating so much that they could not read it. To figure out a solution, he went for a ride with them.

“Procedure was to run on one engine, turn it off and run on the other,” he said. “Then the co-pilot came bouncing out of the cockpit. On the inside there was insulation secured with Velcro. He started ripping this stuff off. All of a sudden we started smelling smoke. He was flipping switches on and off.”

The pilot started both engines and they made their way back to base. They never figured out what the source of the smell was.

“Something got overloaded, I guess,” Mr Ker said.

Having spent four years with de Havilland, he was laid off in 1970, the same year he was married.

“It was a low point in employment,” he said.

Mr Ker bounced around jobs for a while and then joined a weather company, researching wind tunnels.

The company sent him back to de Havilland, where he worked in the mechanics shop making instruments for research scientists.

In 1997 Mrs Ker decided she wanted to return to Bermuda.

“Sally could never get warm in Canada,” Mr Ker said. “It's typical of people that are born and raised in warm climates. The day we left it was cold as stink in Toronto. It was January. I woke up the next morning in Bermuda to the sound of someone cutting the grass. I thought, ‘Wow, cutting the grass in January! I have arrived!’”

He worked at the Bermuda College as a technical assistant from 1997 to 2003 and then joined the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, looking after instruments there.

In 2007 he retired.

When he is not volunteering at the St George’s Historical Society, Mr Ker tends to the vegetables he grows in his backyard in Devonshire, and takes photographs.

The Kers have a son Tom, a daughter Pauline LeBlanc, and two grandchildren.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published September 22, 2021 at 8:01 am (Updated September 22, 2021 at 8:01 am)

Restoring history

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