in Culture, Technology

visiting the Canadian Clock Museum

Today I’m going to digress a bit from modern IT topics and talk about an aspect of turn-of-the-century IT that many of us have forgotten about: the venerable analog clock. It was less than 100 years ago that a wall-mounted, spring-driven, windup analog clock was still considered a major appliance. Salesmen used to go door-to-door and sell clocks; sometimes they would loan one to a household for a month to see how they liked it, and many times a household would find that they couldn’t do without it and would purchase it.

How do I know all of this? Because I recently visited the Canadian Clock Museum in my home town of Deep River, Ontario. Both Meredith & I expected to be underwhelmed, as many small-town museums are poorly-lit, haphazardly organized, and with little regard to proper museum cataloguing and preservation techniques. However, we were duly impressed with the clock museum, which has over 1000 artifacts, bootstrapped by more than 600 clocks from owner Allan Symons’ personal collection. The story goes that Allan retired from the local AECL research facility after 27 years, and once he hit 600 clocks his wife made him move the collection out of the basement, and so the museum was born.

The $5.00 admission fee includes a tour by Allan himself, which is well worth the money. Allan’s visibly passionate about the clocks that he has collected, preserved and/or restored, and it shows — he stayed over an hour past closing time to answer our questions and lead us through the museum. He has an intimate knowledge of clock machinery and clock history in Canada — he has an extensive collection of clocks from the now-defunct Western Clock (a/k/a Westclox) company based out of Peterborough, among other artifacts.

The museum also has a handful of other interesting artifacts, such as a collection of windup gramophones. Among them is an original Edison wax-cylinder gramophone with a number of four-minute (!!!) records. For a device that’s over 100 years old, the sound quality is actually surprisingly good.

If you’re ever in the Deep River area or even just driving through Deep River along Highway 17, I highly recommend dropping into the clock museum for a tour to learn about this fascinating piece of our history.

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