The Halifax Garrison Clock, more commonly known as the Town Clock, was installed in 1803 under the direction of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn (Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in the Maritime Provinces 1794-1800). It was intended to encourage punctuality amongst the troops garrisoned in the nearby barracks. The structure was designed by Captain William Fenwick (Commander Royal Engineers Halifax 1799-1806) and was originally intended to be located beside the guard house on the road that led from Artillery Barracks to Citadel. However, Governor Sir John Wentworth intervened and directed it built in its present location, on the grassed eastern glacis of the Citadel, fronting on Brunswick Street at the top of Carmichael Street (formerly the upper end of George Street). Here, overlooking the town, it would be of use to not only the military but also to the townspeople.
The clock mechanism itself was made in London by Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, King’s Clockmaker to George III, who also produced the famous Regulator Clock, the main timekeeper at the King's Observatory at Kew. The original mechanism, serial number 371, which has been operating since 20 October 1803, is still contained in the clock tower and continues to function today. The three iron bells were cast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London by the firm of Thomas Mears in 1801 – the same foundry that also produced London’s Big Ben, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, and the bells for Westminster Abby. The Hour Bell is the largest at 430 pounds, and measures 2 feet across its bell mouth. The Half Hour Bell is next, at 156 pounds and 18 inches across, while the Quarter Hour Bell is the smallest, at 64 pounds and 14 inches.
The style of the structure is Palladian, characterized by a symmetrical and balanced composition, monumental scale and elegant proportions. The structure consists of a symmetrical rectangular base supporting a three-tiered octagonal tower with classical elements and details. The tower portion is composed of a round-plan colonnade, which supports the octagonal clock storey, which in turn supports an octagonal arcaded storey containing the bells and is crowned by a copper dome with a copper ball surrounded by a balustrad.
The clock tower was occupied initially as a guardhouse for the Citadel in the early 19th century, and thence by a succession of resident clock-keepers. The son of one of the clock-keepers who grew up living in the town clock, Joseph White, would later become a fighter ace in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. The caretaker position ceased in 1965.
When the British garrison withdrew from Halifax in 1906 the clock was transferred to the Canadian Ministry of Militia and Defence, who in turn leased it to the City of Halifax. After World War II it was transferred to the Department of Mines and Resources, the body responsible for Canada’s National Parks. In 1952, under the initiative of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, it was incorporated into the Halifax Citadel National Historic Park.
The structure deteriorated from neglect over the years to such an extent that it required a complete reconstruction from scratch in 1960-62. It was again extensively refurbished in 2018-19, a $1.1 million project that involved new copper roofing, stairs, windows and upgrades to the four clock faces, including applying 24-karat gold leaf to the clock hands and numerals and repainting the clock faces the original cobalt blue.
One of the oldest remaining buildings in Halifax and a key element of the city’s military heritage, the Garrison/ Town Clock was designated a Classified Federal Heritage Building in 2004. It remains an iconic structure that has come to be recognized as a symbol of Halifax.