Halifax will soon hear a new sound ringing through its downtown core as a pair of historic bells are set to be reinstated at Halifax City Hall.
A tender issued on Monday details plans by the city to reinstate two bells that appear to date back to at least 1853 — with one possibly serving as the original bells of city hall.
At the moment there are no actual bells in the clock tower of city hall. Instead, the chiming sounds Haligonians hear come from a set of electronic chimes installed in 1995.
A Halifax spokesperson says the project to reinstate the bells are just “one component” of the multi-year renovations for city hall which have included “exterior restoration, roof replacement, interior renovations, accessibility upgrades, indoor air quality improvements and energy efficiency measures.”
A heritage briefing document prepared by McIvor Conservation provides the somewhat muddled history of the bells.
The larger of the two bronze bells could be the original bell of Halifax City Hall while the smaller one is thought to have been used at the former City Market Building at the corner of George Street and Water Street.
Thought to have been purchased in the 1880s or 1890s, the two bronze bells — which weigh 376 kilograms and 485 kilograms, respectively — are believed to have been removed from their position in Halifax City Hall after the Halifax Explosion in 1917 damaged the building.
But since 2007 the two bells have said in the col-storage basement of the Fairview Cemetery.
The smaller of the two bells is marked with the words: J. Warner & Sons London 1853.
The briefing document reports that J. Warner & Sons London was the company that “famously fabricated the first giant bell for Big Ben that cracked shortly after it was installed.”
The bells are not cracked but are corroded and have undergone some wear. Although it’s not clear how much it may cost to get the pair of bells back up and running the municipality is pushing forward with the plan.
“With the 100th anniversary of the Explosion in 2017, there has been an increased interest and awareness of the event. In addition to reinstating these original heritage features, there was a need to update both the clock mechanism and the electrical system as well,” said Maggie-Jane Spray, a spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Municipality.
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The plan is to install an electronic controller that will operate the bells while allowing a new south-facing clock to rest.
The north-facing clock which is currently in place will remain permanently set at 9:04:35, the exact time of the Halifax Explosion.
There’s no timeline for when the bells will be reinstated but Spray says the municipality will have a better idea of a timeline once the tender closes. That’s scheduled for Sept. 24, 2019.