Historic city hall clock is on time
CALGARY -- In the world of mechanical tower clocks, it’s considered good form if you can keep a clock running within three minutes per month. The clock at Calgary's historic city hall is currently running within less than one minute per month.
That’s great news for Eric Brolund, the project manager for the rehabilitation of historic city hall.
Brolund has become somewhat of an expert on the large timepiece. That’s because there are only a handful of experts in the world who know how to repair them and the specialist the city used is in his 70s and lives in New York.
“Unfortunately because of the pandemic he wasn’t able to travel up here to help us put it together and get it going again,” said Brolund. “So the city team had to basically find other resources and other ways in which to accomplish the goal.”
Brolund and his team used cell phones and iPads to video link with the expert who walked them through repairs. Not an easy task.
“Mechanical guys are hands-on so trying to work like that was very difficult,” said Brolund. “Especially when you have a clumsy guy like me being their hands, it made it a little bit more tough.”
Built for $3,500
The clock was manufactured by the Seth Thomas Clock Co. of Connecticut and is one of only 50 clocks of its model ever manufactured. It is the only remaining timepiece of its kind in Canada, and one of only five working versions left in the world.
Its cost at that time was $3,500, which is equivalent to about $125,000 in 2020. Its historical value is priceless.
“Before we built city hall they used to fire a cannon at noon and that was the only time you got in the day,” said Darrel Bell, the acting director of facility management with the City of Calgary. “Nobody had a watch on their wrist and very few people could afford one so once a day you knew it was 12 o’clock, it was noon and that was all you had and (then) in 1911 when the building was open, every Calgarian could see what the time was.”
During the $34.1 million dollar restoration of historic city hall, the clock stopped working and was dismantled and sent off for its own restoration. When it was re-installed in the tower it wasn’t keeping time and the city team working on it didn’t have a manual to help them fix it.
”If you have a string of Christmas lights for instance and one light is out the whole string doesn’t work,” said Brolund. “We were faced with a similar problem, we had to check absolutely everything before we had it right.”
Now that it is running properly and keeping time city workers visit the clock tower two or three times a week to wind the vintage timepiece.
“There was a lot of trial and error to get it working as it is today but I can say today it’s fantastic, on time and it’s such a pleasure to see,” said Bell.
“I went up to see it fully installed and had an opportunity to wind the clock and it’s just a great thrill.”
Brolund says the clock will be serviced quarterly along with annually checkups and he’s trained a dozen city staff to operate it.
“Well certainly I felt that I was particularly blessed to have the privilege to actually put my hands on it and play my own small part in taking care of such an iconic piece of Calgary’s early history,” said Brolund.
Historic City Hall was designated a Provincial Historic Resource in 1978, a National Historic Site of Canada in 1984, and Calgary’s first Municipal Historic Resource in 1991.