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

1920 - Water Tanks and Old City Hall Clock Tower
1920 – Water Tanks and Old City Hall Clock Tower

Did you know that 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-renown clockmakers and bellfounders, Gillett & Johnson of Croydon, England. The company was founded in 1844 and is still in business today.

1900 - Old City Hall, clock not yet installed
1900 – Old City Hall, clock not yet installed

There are 4 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 Years’ 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 - Old City Hall, chimes being installed
1900 – Old City Hall, chimes being installed

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 were becoming 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 in length and once again watch over the majestic building.

Old City Hall Clock Tower Photos

2020 - Old City Hall Clock Tower
2020 – Old City Hall Clock Tower
1971 - Old City Hall Clock Tower, without Gargoyles
1971 – Old City Hall Clock Tower, without Gargoyles
1971 - Old City Hall & Eatons on Queen St W
1971 – Old City Hall & Eatons on Queen St W
After 1900 - Old City Hall Clock Tower Gargoyle
After 1900 – Old City Hall Clock Tower Gargoyle
1934 - Looking up the elevator shaft in Old City Hall Clock Tower
1934 – Looking up the elevator shaft in Old City Hall Clock Tower
1923 - Scaffolding on Old City Hall Clock Tower
1923 – Scaffolding on Old City Hall Clock Tower
1923 - Copper Finial for Old City Hall Clock Tower
1923 – Copper Finial for Old City Hall Clock Tower
1920 - Water Tanks and Old City Hall Clock Tower
1920 – Water Tanks and Old City Hall Clock Tower
1920 - Old City Hall Gargoyle at Terauley St (today's Bay St)
1920 – Old City Hall Gargoyle at Terauley St (today’s Bay St)
1912 - Bay St, looking north from King St W
1912 – Bay St, looking north from King St W
1910 - Old City Hall Clock Tower, with Gargoyles
1910 – Old City Hall Clock Tower, with Gargoyles
1904 - Great Toronto Fire ruins, looking north from the foot of Bay St with Old City Hall Clock Tower in distance
1904 – Great Toronto Fire ruins, looking north from the foot of Bay St with Old City Hall Clock Tower in distance
1901 - Arch for Duke and Duchess of Cornwall & York visit at Richmond & Bay Sts with Temple Building and Old City Hall Clock Tower
1901 – Arch for Duke and Duchess of Cornwall & York visit at Richmond & Bay Sts with Temple Building and Old City Hall Clock Tower
1900 - Big Ben Bell for Old City Hall Clock Tower
1900 – Big Ben Bell for Old City Hall Clock Tower
1900 - Old City Hall, chimes being installed
1900 – Old City Hall, chimes being installed
1900 - Works of Old City Hall Clock Tower
1900 – Works of Old City Hall Clock Tower
1900 - Old City Hall, clock not yet installed
1900 – Old City Hall, clock not yet installed
2020 - Old City Hall
2020 – Old City Hall
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