Clock tower memories from the watchmaker’s granddaughter



By Martha Briggs Watson

On the morning of October 11, 1927, there was great jubilation in Huntsville.  A huge crowd had gathered at the Town Hall. At 11 a.m., the clock in the tower started to swing its pendulum to officially start the marking of time in the centre of our town.

My paternal grandfather, Edward (Ted) Hugh John Briggs, emigrated from England in 1908, and was watchmaker and jeweller with the Harry Booth store in Huntsville until he enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1916.

Upon returning to Huntsville in 1919, and being discharged from the army, he opened E.H .Briggs Jewellers (where Muskoka Jewellery Design is now, at 68 Main Street East).

The municipal building (Town Hall) on Main Street was completed in 1927.  During its construction, the question of a clock to go into the tower came up.  The Town Council had heard about a clock due to be removed from the old railway station in Toronto, slated for demolition and to be replaced by the new Union Station on Front Street.

My grandfather was asked to go to investigate the clock’s size and suitability for relocation. It would be quite an engineering job to modify the clock to fit the clock tower in Huntsville, but my grandfather decided it would be possible, and Mr. Charles Paget bought the Toronto station’s clock as a gift to the town of Huntsville.

Councillor Tom Millest and George Ralston, the town’s engineer, accompanied by my grandfather Ted, travelled by train to Toronto where Ted took charge of packing the clock’s parts to bring them carefully to Huntsville. He carried the more delicate parts home with him.

It was indeed quite an engineering job to install the clock in the new Town Hall tower. New dials, hands, connections, and mainly the motive power weights had to be done, and Ted used special tools for those purposes with the help of his sons Harold (my father) and my Uncle Ted.

What is really interesting to me is that in getting the correct weight, assorted pieces from old car crankshafts etc. were used.

The clock was officially started at 11 a.m. on October 11, 1927, where the Briggs family maintained it and made sure it kept as close a time as it was possible to get in a tower clock at that time.

Mr. P.W. Ellis, the dean of jewellers, pronounced the work of installing this clock “A magnificent job!”

This piece of writing is taken from various written accounts by my Uncle Rixon, younger brother of Harold and Ted Briggs, as well as my Uncle Ted’s wife, Hattie Briggs, and also my memories of the story told to me by my father Harold.


My Memories of the Town Hall Clock

Although I always knew the story of the purchase and installation of the clock, I regret that I didn’t question my dad more about the thoughts and feelings of the mayor, H. E. Rice, the town councillors, my grandfather, the Briggs family…as well as ALL the other people of the town, and the excitement that must have been in the air! (For that reason, I have written and continue to write MY memories and thoughts and feelings about my experiences so that some day, when they are interested, my sons can read this kind of stuff and not have the regrets that I do.)

My Uncle Ted, watchmaker par excellence, made sure that the Town Hall clock kept meticulous time.  For that reason, he walked from Briggs Jewellers, at 68 Main Street East, to the train station in the west end, to set his pocket watch at the official time. He in fact did this at the same time every day, so people en route would indeed set their clocks according to my Uncle Ted’s passing their shops or homes!

He and my Dad took turns changing the clock’s time from EST to EDT and back…the official time to do that is 2 a.m. and so that is when the Town Hall clock’s time was changed.  On occasion, my dad would wake me up to take me with him. It was just magical for me to be able to climb the iron staircase up to the tower to see all the wheels, the pendulum, the weights, and all those metal bits and pieces tick-tocking away (especially in the middle of the night!).

Years ago, dances were held in our Town Hall. There is a story of two young lovers who were attending a dance in 1939, just as the Second World War had broken out. The young man had been called to duty as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. The two of them climbed into the clock tower, where they carved their initials in one of the beams. Sadly, his plane was shot down, and he was tragically killed. I often wonder if those initials are still there.

Every time I look at that clock now, I am so grateful that it continues to run. I am forever thankful, even though there was much controversy that the Town of Huntsville saw fit to refurbish the tower in 2013. Big thanks to Terry Smith, who keeps the clock ticking!

Perhaps some readers have stories of their own about this wonderful icon.

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  1. Geraldine O’Meara on

    Martha, thank you for this wonderful story. I want to hear more about the history of Huntsville. If you have more, please write them.

  2. Such a wonderful story. Thankyou for sharing, you must be so proud of your heritage. Would love to hear more!

    The stories from the the past are so precious and priceless. For those of you out there that still have grandparent and parents learn from Dan, take a breath and make sometime to ask and listen.

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