Time will stand still for Roddick Gates clocks

The iconic clocks and bells of the Roddick Gates will be turned off until October 2017, while the work is done around the Gates.
The clocks on McGill’s iconic Roddick Gates were restored in 2010. / Photo courtesy of the McGill Alumni Online Community

Roddick Gates’ clocks and chimes will be stopped for the summer

By McGill Reporter Staff

The iconic clocks and bells of the Roddick Gates will be turned off during excavations on the lower campus. They will be off until October 2017, when the work is done around the Gates. However, the good news, as the old joke goes, is that the clocks will be right twice a day.

On July 13, the four clock faces and the chimes at the Roddick Gates will be turned off because the electrical panel which powers them has to be removed so contractors can proceed with excavations. It’s all part of the renovation and upgrade project in that area. When the work is finished, the old panel will be replaced.

The Roddick Gates form the iconic main entrance to McGill. They are on Sherbrooke Street and are at the head of the very short and broad McGill College Avenue, which starts at Place Ville-Marie.

The Westminster Chimes that ring in the lower campus every fifteen minutes will not be heard for approximately four months. The Westminster Quarters is the most common name for the clock chime melody used by a set of four bells to chime on each quarter-hour. The chimes are also known as the Cambridge Quarters from its place of origin, the church of St Mary the Great, Cambridge.

On October 1, 2010, for the first time in living memory, the four clocks actually chimed in unison. The clocks and bells had just been restored, thanks to the generosity of retired neurologist and McGill graduate Dr. Joseph Hanaway.

Hanaway (BA ’56, MDCM ’60), a retired neurologist from Missouri, meticulously researched the history of the clock tower. Hanaway discovered Birks of Canada supplied the original mechanisms when the Roddick Gates were erected on Aug. 25, 1925. Working with a Birks representative, Hanaway tracked down a clockmaker in the Boston area who was able to repair the historic machinery.

“He was a punctuality fanatic,” Hanaway said of Roddick. “He’d arrive at a lecture three or four minutes early, wait, and then walk through the door on the dot.” McGill’s Dean of Medicine from 1901-08, Thomas George Roddick was a renowned surgeon who pioneered the use of antisepsis. The Roddick Gates were constructed in his memory with a gift from his widow, Amy Redpath Roddick.

After the 85th anniversary of the Roddick Gates, the clocks and bells were re-started at a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2010. The clocks were water-sealed and satellite-controlled, and the bells were computerized so they can be set to ring on any schedule and at any volume.

“It’s an iconic location for the whole University,” said Jim Nicell, Professor & Dean of Engineering. When Nicell was Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) his building operations staff, led by Gilles McSween, replaced the ancient electrical wiring and took care of numerous other structural upgrades, in preparation for the installation of the new clocks and computer controls. For Nicell the project was in keeping with many other recent efforts by his team “to restore elements of the downtown campus to its former glory.”