By Allan Symons
The Canadian Clock Museum, Canada’s only clock museum, opened to the public in Deep River, Ontario in May 2000. Its focus continues to be on Canadian-made and Canadian label clocks that date from the early 1800s to the present time. In 2019 this unique museum – Allan Symons’ ‘retirement’ project – celebrates twenty years of telling the Canadian clocks story.
The holdings now total more than three thousand examples that include major collections of Pequegnat clocks (Berlin/Kitchener 1904-1941), Westclox alarm and wall models (Peterborough, 1920-mid 1980s), and Snider clocks (Toronto, 1950-1976). There are also significant collections of Walter mantel clocks (Toronto, late 1930s-mid 1950s) and Girotti wall clocks (St. Catharines, early 1960s-1979).
Examples of some of these are shown below, but most of them can be seen in the Galleries on the museum’s web site at www.canclockmuseum.ca. Research has led to the publication of articles about four Canadian companies in the Bulletin of the National Association of Watch & Clock Collectors in Pennsylvania. The museum’s own reference library has more than six hundred books plus several hundred issues of magazines published for watch and clock collectors.
SNIDER: Harry Snider and his younger son, Michael, designed and manufactured many dozen ‘starburst’ wall models in Toronto in the 1960s. But they also produced several screen-printed, wood panel wall clocks. Shown here is the largest model, which they called THE VIKING. It is 47” wide and would have taken up significant space on a family’s dining room wall. The museum is still looking for the smaller MING TREE model.
PEQUEGNAT: The Arthur Pequegnat Clock Company was Canada’s premier manufacturer of mantel, wall, and “hall” (as Arthur called them) clocks. All of the movements and wood cases were made starting in Berlin, Ontario and then Kitchener (since 1916) from 1904 until the brass shortage of WWII closed the company factory around 1941. There were more than sixty different models of oak-cased mantel clock, and the museum’s extensive Pequegnat collection includes examples of all catalogued models except one – the very rare PREMIER model with its black, cast-iron case. Mahogany and walnut wood were more expensive case options.
Most model names were taken from Canadian cities and provinces. To the left is the STRATFORD model with its mahogany finish upgrade, fancy metal feet, and lion heads similar in style to clocks from the many American companies in Connecticut at that time. Also included is one version of the century-old, oak-cased Maple Leaf Kitchen Clock with that classic Canadian symbol – maple leaves – on the door glass and fancy pendulum bob.
WESTCLOX CANADA: The Western Clock Company (Westclox) factory in Peterborough, Ontario was the first outside of the United States. Hundreds of thousands of wind-up and electric alarm clocks plus many models of electric kitchen and starburst wall clocks were produced for the Canadian market starting in 1920. The factory closed in the 1980s. Of special interest are the three mid 20th century animated alarm clock models that were originally made for children and in much smaller quantities. The PIXIE (1932-early 1940s), EARLY BIRD (1946-1950s), and WOODY’S CAFE (1959-1961) models (approximate production years) are very collectible today.
BLUE MOUNTAIN POTTERY (BMP) in Collingwood made the colourful ceramic cases for four Bulova Caravelle model battery-operated wall clocks in the 1960s-1970s. This is the display in the museum that shows several typical BMP colours for those models: round and eight-sided plates, a chicken, and a fish. The characteristic BMP ‘three trees’ logo and the word CANADA are embossed on the back of each clock plate with its model number C-170 to C-173.
UNUSUAL CLOCKS: All of the clocks shown above for these various Canadian companies were produced in significant numbers. But there are some very unusual clocks on display in the museum for visitors to see. Four of them are presented here.
PEQUEGNAT BUFFET CLOCK: This massive piece of furniture with its built-in pendulum clock dates to around 1910. The mantel clock movement was made in the Pequegnat factory in Berlin, Canada (Ontario). The quarter-cut oak buffet with wing mirrors was built by one of the furniture companies active in Berlin at that time. The city was called “The Furniture Centre of Canada” in 1912.
Three of these buffet clocks are known. It was not shown in any Pequegnat company catalogues, but would have been available on special order at significant cost for sure. The top is 56” wide and 41” high. The clock case extends 29” above the top. There is a display of typical 1920s – 1930s dishes, glass pitchers and vases, seltzer bottles, and an English silver-plated tea and coffee set for visitors of all ages to enjoy.
TRAMP ART CLOCK: This unique clock was made in Welland, Ontario in 1934-1935 by Harry Sykes as a tribute to the 25th anniversary of King George V’s reign over the British Empire from 1910 to 1935. It was constructed in the tramp art style with its hundreds of characteristic carved notches in the cigar box wood. The case is 38” high, 24” wide, and includes two Silver Jubilee medallions and a photograph of the king at the top. The current mystery to be solved is whether Harry Senior or his son, Harry Junior, built this masterpiece.
According to an August 1935 column in the Welland Tribune newspaper, Harry spent several months and used almost one thousand pieces of cigar box wood. The clock won an honorable mention in the craft competition at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in 1935. The judge was quoted as saying that it was not awarded first prize because the six animals were cast metal and not carved from wood. This clock, with an old cigar box at its base, has become the new centrepiece in the museum’s Exhibits Room.
MIDGETS PALACE CLOCK: This short floor clock – just 60” high and 33” wide at the base – came from the Midgets Palace on Rachel Street East in Montreal. Philippe Nicol, his wife, and their son, Philippe Junior, were all midgets. They operated their home as a major tourist attraction in the early to mid 20th century. The museum display has several examples of souvenirs available to their visitors and the front covers of three 25 cents admission-fee booklets. The booklets included their own history in French and English plus many monotone photographs of themselves in their home. This clock appears behind their son in a picture taken in a room in the ca. 1940 booklet.
The Pequegnat weight-driven pendulum movement was made before 1916 in Berlin, Ontario. The clock runs for several days rather than a full week because the clock is shorter than the catalogued Pequegnat hall clocks. The triangular base includes two drawers. What look like fluorescent light tubes are actually three hot-wire filament tubes that predate fluorescent technology by two decades.
LOWER CANADA TALLCASE CLOCK: The information in French received with this clock indicates that it was made north of Montreal, Lower Canada in the early 1820s by a spinning wheel maker named Xavier Clement. The three-train wood pendulum movement operates for a week on two large tin-can weights and one smaller lead weight. The case (87” high, 20” wide hood) is pine wood with an apparently original dark finish.
This very rare Canadian clock is almost two hundred years old, but it still runs well. The hood has to be removed so the three weights can be wound up each week. Every quarter hour one or more of three of the four replacement bronze bells is struck. Just the largest bell is struck on the hour. There is a simple calendar function on the hand-painted wood dial that shows the day of the week (by the first letter of each day in French on the dial) and the day number of the month from 1 to 31.
THE MUSEUM TODAY: More than thirteen thousand visitors have come to the museum since its May 2000 opening. There are four hundred clocks on display (including some in the public washroom!). But the hour-long tour also provides the opportunity to see, and hear, many period artifacts that include working century-old players for Edison music cylinders and his flat records, and those shellac 78s records pressed in the billions up to 1960.
The Canadian Clock Museum received the Ontario Historical Society’s 2018 President’s Award in June 2019 in Toronto; this award “recognizes an outstanding contribution to the preservation and promotion of Ontario’s history.”
Dozens of e-mail and telephone requests for information are received every month from people who inherit or find old Canadian and other clocks. When was it made? What is it worth? Where can I get the clock restored? The museum’s e-mail replies go out from Allan with the following tagline: “In 2019 celebrating our twentieth year of telling the story of two centuries of Canadian clocks and helping people with their research.” Please visit www.canclockmuseum.ca