Calgary

Don't set your watch to it — the century-old clock in old city hall isn't keeping time

After four years of renovations, Calgary's historic City Hall officially reopened last month, with city officials saying the $34.1-million project would ensure the building would be around for another century.

Rehabilitation of Calgary's historic City Hall completed in September, but clock still needs work

The rehabilitation of Calgary's City Hall was completed in September, but officials have had trouble getting the 110-year-old clock to keep proper time. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

After four years of renovations, Calgary's historic City Hall officially reopened last month, with city officials saying the $34.1-million project would ensure the building would be around for another century.

But since its reopening, city officials have had trouble getting the more than century-old clock to keep proper time.

The bell has rung out intermittently, the clock itself runs slow — or just stops. 

"It's such a unique piece of equipment," said Darrel Bell, Calgary's acting director of facility management.

"But without the right expertise on site … I wouldn't call it embarrassing, I would just say it's a symptom of the situation we find ourselves in."

The clock mechanism inside the tower at old city hall. The tower clock was manufactured by the Seth Thomas Clock Company of Connecticut at a cost of about $3,500, which is equivalent to about $92,000 today. (City of Calgary)

As Bell explained, there's no manual when it comes to making the clock work. Plus, only five people in North America know how to make it keep time, all of whom are in the United States.

Bell said the clockmaker can't travel here due to pandemic travel restrictions, and trying to troubleshoot the fixes through video calls hasn't been efficient.

"We've been trying to do this in a virtual environment, and it's proving more difficult than we imagined," he said.

WATCH | Learn more about the clock in this video shot while it was on display at the Municipal Building:

The rare century-old clock on display to the public

CBC News Calgary

2 years ago
0:44
The rare century-old clock on display to the public 0:44

Bell said he is confident officials will find the right fix, but there's a possibility the clock may not function until the clockmaker can come to Calgary.

"We're pretty confident we're almost at the end of the journey," he said. "But as I say, there's always the possibility that we may have to go up and knock the pendulum and keep it running manually for a while."

Before being reinstalled in City Hall, the clock was put on display in the atrium at the Municipal Building. The clock is one of only 50 of the model ever made, and is one of 12 still operating without modernizations like auto-winding or electronics.

Another view of the clock mechanism from the tower at Old City Hall. (City of Calgary)

It was originally installed in the five-storey tower at Old City Hall in 1911, and is the only remaining timepiece of its kind in Canada.

Historic City Hall itself, which began its renovation after the sandstone parts of the building began to deteriorate, has been home to a police station, a court and a jail. It was originally constructed between 1907 until 1911.

With files from Scott Dippel

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