The Clock Hands


After World War I, Canada decided to expand the Port of Montreal. A grain conveyor and Hangar 16 were built on Victoria Pier in 1922 to receive cargo. A war memorial was also commissioned to pay tribute to the sailors of the Merchant Navy who died during World War I. Paul Leclaire, assistant-engineer for the Montreal Harbour Commission, was in charge of drawing up the specifications. His goal was to build a historical monument honoring sailors that was also useful to the Port.

After researching, the engineer decided to build a mechanical clock building, which would be very helpful to sailors. And for timely boat departures, the clock needed to be the most precise in the country! He then enlisted the expertise of Gillett & Johnston, clockmakers and bellfounders since 1844, from Croydon, England. Cyril Frederick Johnston decided to use a double three-legged gravity escapement and four 12-foot dials. Moreover, the clockmaker guaranteed the device’s accuracy, as its twin was already operating in the Palace of Westminster’s clock tower, also known as Big Ben.

The inauguration was planned for spring 1923, and the engineer was worried because the clock hands had still not come from London. Our two longshoremen, Médée and Stevie, were admiring the Sailors’ Memorial Clock when suddenly, an out-of-breath man in a top hat called out to them in English. Stevie asked him how they could help. The stranger opened a beautiful case and showed him the clock’s hands. Médée immediately picked up the box to deliver to the engineer, who was visibly relieved. Copies were given to our longshoremen, just in case!


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