Owen Sound City Hall Clock
Recently I was downtown in Owen Sound and looked up at the City Hall clock. It was working again! It made me glad, as I always forget to wear my watch. When I was a kid, there were two clocks downtown, the City Hall’s clock, and one on the Bank of Montreal building. I still like hearing the Kennedy’s factory whistle, as it helps me keep track of the time too.
Owen Sound still has remnants of an old timepiece that I never had the opportunity to hear or see in action, but have seen in storage over the course of my museum career. They are the remnants of four clock faces, mechanism and the toned bell set of a 1921 tower clock. The remnants were salvaged after Owen Sound’s City Hall burned on February 24, 1961. The components were later given to the County of Grey-Owen Sound Museum in 1967, and they now again belong to the City. They have an interesting history. The set was ordered from Croydon, England, and shipped to Owen Sound. It was a No. 2 Westminster Quarters Gravity Escapement Clock, manufactured by Gillett & Johnston Limited. It was a heavy item. Its pendulum alone is said to have weighed 100 pounds. The five bells (four chiming ones, one striking bell) range in weight from one cwt (hundredweight) to 10 cwt and two quarters. A special brick, steel and cement tower had to be designed to properly support them.
The Town of Owen Sound was incorporated in 1920 into the City of Owen Sound, and the clock investment (which cost the new city 759 British pounds) was likely made in order to improve the aging former Town Hall building, which was built in 1868-1869. The old brick Town Hall had a wooden fire bell tower added to its roof at some point. The old bell tower was an eight-sided cupola, with a faux clock painted on it. It was perhaps an amusement to Owen Sounders when visitors were perplexed at the unchanging time. It likely was also considered an embarrassment though, over the years, as it was not a working clock, but just a “Dummy Clock”. Everyone was likely really tired of it always being “9:03”? Therefore, it was proudly reported in The Daily Sun-Times article, “City Hall Clock Has Perfection in Mechanism”, October 23, 1922, that the Gillett & Johnston clock tower project was nearly complete. I wish that I could travel back in time and hear it. I like Westminster chimes. But, apparently, as time passed, some people didn’t like the frequent chiming the 1921 clock made. So perhaps a silent, working clock is what works best in a city setting.