Old City Hall Clock Tower – A Focal Point in Downtown Toronto

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1920 – The Water Tanks and the Old City Hall Clock Tower. Notice the advertising of Shea's Hippodrome on one of the Water Tanks on the right
1920 – The Water Tanks and the Old City Hall Clock Tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 289)

Did you know you would have to climb 280 steps to reach the top of the clock tower at Old City Hall? It’s located at 60 Queen St W in Toronto. The square, off-centre tower that once had an elevator is over 87 m high and is at the axis of Bay St.

The Richardsonian Romanesque-style building was designed by architect EJ Lennox. The now National Historic Site took 11 years to build and was completed in 1899.

The Clock

When the clock was installed in the tower at Old City Hall, it was the largest striking clock in the “New World.” It was designed and manufactured by world-renowned clockmakers and bellfounders Gillett & Johnson of Croydon, England. The company was founded in 1844 and is still in business today.

1900 – The clock not yet installed in the City Hall Clock Tower
1900 – The clock not yet installed in the City Hall Clock Tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 3, Item 1b)

There are four clock dials, and they are each 6 metres in diameter and in total weigh 15,240 kg. The hands on the clocks are 203 kg. The minute hands move a distance of 0.4 km each day as they go around the dial. That’s a total of 147 km each year. The clock is operated by three sets of weights that are wound by an electric motor. Those driving weights are a total of 2,286 kg.

The Bells

There are three bells in the clock tower. The hour-striking bell, the largest, weighs 5,588 kg. It was said to be heard at a distance of 32 km, and the hammer that strikes it is 113 kg. The two smaller bells are quarter bells. According to historical photos, the bells first pealed on New Year’s Eve 1900 to ring in the new century. However, other sources say it could have first rung a full year earlier on December 31, 1899, as the system installation had to be in place by January 1, 1900.

1900 - Chimes being installed at the City Hall
1900 – Chimes being installed at the City Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 183)

When do the Bells Chime?

The quarter chime train strikes one time on each of the small bells at 1/4 past the hour, two times for the 1/2 hour, three times for the 1/4 to the hour and four times for the hour. The hour train will then strike the number of hours.

The Gargoyles

The clock tower originally had four stone gargoyles; however, in the 1930s, they were removed as they became a hazard. One broke off and came crashing through the roof of Old City Hall. More than six decades later, they were replaced during a restoration completed in 2003. The cast bronze gargoyles are 3 m long and watch over the majestic building again.

Old City Hall Clock Tower Photos

2021 - Old City Hall and York County Court House, serving today as an Ontario Court of Justice courthouse, is located at 60 Queen St W (bordered by Bay St, Albert St and James St) in downtown Toronto
2021 – Old City Hall and York County Court House, serving today as an Ontario Court of Justice courthouse, is located at 60 Queen St W (bordered by Bay St, Albert St and James St) in downtown Toronto
July 1, 1971 - Close view of the clock tower without Gargoyles of old City Hall located at 60 Queen St in downtown Toronto
July 1, 1971 – Close view of the clock tower without Gargoyles of old City Hall located at 60 Queen St in downtown Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 13, Item 10)
1899 - Souvenir of Toronto City Hall Clock
1899 – Souvenir of Toronto City Hall Clock (Toronto Public Library PC1042)
June 15, 1971 - Looking northeast along Queen St W towards Old City Hall and the original Eatons store in the background
June 15, 1971 – Looking northeast along Queen St W towards Old City Hall and the original Eatons store in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 83, Item 1)
2023 – Looking southwest towards the Old City Hall Clock Tower located at 60 Queen St W in downtown Toronto
2023 – Looking southwest towards the Old City Hall Clock Tower located at 60 Queen St W in downtown Toronto
After 1900 – The southwest gargoyle at the Clock Tower of the Old City Hall
After 1900 – The southwest gargoyle at the Clock Tower of the Old City Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 100, Item 12)
2022 – Old City Hall Clock Tower
2022 – Old City Hall Clock Tower
1934 - Looking up the elevator shaft in the Old City Hall Clock Tower
1934 – Looking up the elevator shaft in the Old City Hall Clock Tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 323H)
1923 - Scaffolding on the Old City Hall Clock Tower in the Old City Hall Clock Tower located at 60 Queen St in downtown Toronto
1923 – Scaffolding on the Old City Hall Clock Tower in the Old City Hall Clock Tower located at 60 Queen St in downtown Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 1, Item 605)
December 19, 1923 - Copper Finial for the Old City Hall Clock Tower located at 60 Queen St in downtown Toronto
December 19, 1923 – Copper Finial for the Old City Hall Clock Tower located at 60 Queen St in downtown Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 1, Item 606)
1920 – The Water Tanks and the Old City Hall Clock Tower. Notice the advertising of Shea's Hippodrome on one of the Water Tanks on the right
1920 – The Water Tanks and the Old City Hall Clock Tower. Notice the advertising of Shea’s Hippodrome on one of the Water Tanks on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 289)
2021 – Looking north up Bay St from south of King St towards Old City Hall Clock Tower on Queen St W
2021 – Looking north up Bay St from south of King St towards Old City Hall Clock Tower on Queen St W
Circa 1912 - Looking north up Bay St from King St W towards the City Hall Clock Tower. The building left of the tower is the Temple Building
Circa 1912 – Looking north up Bay St from King St W towards the City Hall Clock Tower. The building left of the tower is the Temple Building (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 1210)
1950 - Looking east from Osgoode Hall toward the tower at the old City Hall
1950 – Looking east from Osgoode Hall toward the tower at the old City Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 28)
2022 – Looking north during sunset from Queen St W towards Old City Hall Clock Tower
2022 – Looking north during sunset from Queen St W towards Old City Hall Clock Tower
1920 – The gargoyle at Old City Hall
1920 – The gargoyle at Old City Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 1, Item 350)
Circa 1910 - Old City Hall Clock Tower, with the gargoyles
Circa 1910 – Old City Hall Clock Tower, with the gargoyles
1904 - Toronto Fire ruins, looking north from the foot of Bay St with Old City Hall Clock Tower in the distance
1904 – Toronto Fire ruins, looking north from the foot of Bay St with Old City Hall Clock Tower in the distance (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 2)
1901 – The Arch for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York visit at Richmond St W and Bay St. Notice the former Temple Building on the left and City Hall Clock Tower in the background
1901 – The Arch for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York visit at Richmond St W and Bay St. Notice the former Temple Building on the left and City Hall Clock Tower in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 197)
1901 – The Arch for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York visit at Richmond St W and Bay St. Notice the former Temple Building on the left and City Hall Clock Tower in the background
1901 – The Arch for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York visit at Richmond St W and Bay St. Notice the former Temple Building on the left and City Hall Clock Tower in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 504)
2022 – Looking southeast during sunset from Bay St towards Old City Hall Clock Tower
2022 – Looking southeast during sunset from Bay St towards Old City Hall Clock Tower
November 22, 1900 - Big Ben Bell for City Hall Clock Tower
November 22, 1900 – Big Ben Bell for City Hall Clock Tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 3, Item 5)
1900 - Chimes being installed at the City Hall
1900 – Chimes being installed at the City Hall (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 183)
1900 - Works of the City Hall Clock Tower
1900 – Works of the City Hall Clock Tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1568, Item 168)
1900 – The clock not yet installed in the City Hall Clock Tower
1900 – The clock not yet installed in the City Hall Clock Tower (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 376, File 3, Item 1b)
2020 - Old City Hall and York County Court House, serving today as an Ontario Court of Justice courthouse, is located at 60 Queen St W (bordered by Bay St, Albert St and James St) in downtown Toronto
2020 – Old City Hall and York County Court House, serving today as an Ontario Court of Justice courthouse, is located at 60 Queen St W (bordered by Bay St, Albert St and James St) in downtown Toronto
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