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The clock at Old City Hall in Toronto has been running for over a century. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
The clock at Old City Hall in Toronto has been running for over a century. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

toronto, brought to light

A trip up Toronto’s Old City Hall clock tower Add to ...

Toronto, Brought to Light: For this summer series, The Globe and Mail's team of award-winning photojournalists get behind the scenes around the city - uncovering what's hidden, capturing the unexpected, in places they've always wanted to go.

While walking along Queen Street, almost every Torontonian has heard the bells ring from Old City Hall. I had a chance to see the wonder behind the four walls of its clock tower with John Scott, a horologist and tintinnabulator – or clock and bell expert – with Scotiabell. After a few breaks on the long climb up we came to a doorway; as we arrived, the quarter-hour bells began to chime. Mr. Scott pulled out his phone to check if the time was correct; he quietly said that it was off by six seconds.

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We put on our ear protection and entered the bell chamber, where I glimpsed the “Big Ben” – the largest cast bell, which rings out the hour – and the smaller bells that ring our the quarter-hour chimes. Mr. Scott took out his oil gun and started lubricating and checking the bell’s mechanics, before we headed up to the clock room – a bright space with a glassed-in movement, or mechanism, in the middle and four clocks facing east, west, north and south. It was quite peaceful with the clock ticking away, as it has since 1900. The historic Gillett and Johnston Clock installation uses a unique remontoire movement, which moves the hands every thirty seconds versus every second; there are only four like this in the world.

Mr. Scott patiently watched over the mechanism, listening and looking as it moved. His job requires great patience; nothing happens quickly with old clocks. Even to change the time a small amount takes a whole day. He told me he feels honoured to work here,“and it’s a kinetic piece of art,” he added. “I come up here and I feel energized for the rest of the day.” After spending some time with him in this historic place, I felt the same way. I could have spent the day watching the time go by.

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