Clock Tower old City Hall Toronto

How to put a price on authenticity at Old City Hall?

The City of Toronto is considering replacing the bells in the clock tower at Old City Hall with an electronic recording, a move which is likely to disappoint heritage enthusiasts around town. After all, it's tough to get less authentic than sending out glorified cellphone chimes from one of Toronto's best-known and historic clock towers.

Like most issues related to heritage preservation, the possibility of disconnecting the bells has to do with money. According to a report in the Toronto Star, it costs the City $50,000 a year to maintain the mechanism behind the iconic clock. And because the exterior of the clock would remain unchanged, it might make sense to update the machinery that exists behind the scenes.

"The clock is a treasure," says Mike McCoy, director of facility operations for the City. "It's just an amazing piece of machinery; I wish I could take people up the clock tower and they could watch it work. And it's one of the last of its kind. But...we're faced with looking at the cost of things. That's a part of the reality of budgets being sort of fixed."

Here's the question: is it worth keeping the bells just for the sake of authenticity? If the only change that results from their replacement is audible rather than visible (and the electronic sounds the new system would produce are claimed to be "similar"), does it make sense to spend the extra money on maintenance of the original? Is it somehow silly to have electronic bells ringing out of a 110 year-old clock tower? Although a relatively minor case-specific issue, such questions go to the heart of preservation debates in general. My suspicion is that most citizens would be fine with all this as long as the new "bells" don't sound ridiculous, but I've embedded a poll below to test that theory.


Photo by greyvdm in the blogTO Flickr pool.


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