A Brief History of Guelph's Town Bell
October 3, 2023
After many years of planning, design and construction, Guelph's first Town Hall and Market House was finally completed in 1856. Learn more about the history of Old City Hall. Soon after, in 1857, city council issued a debenture for £5,000 to complete the project, which included the commissioned purchase of a bell for the new Town Hall. A wooden bell tower was constructed on the roof of the Town Hall, and the new bell became an icon in the skyline of the growing city.
The Guelph Town Hall bell was forged at the Meneely Bell Foundry in West Troy, New York. Meneely bells were high quality commissions and are found around the world as far as Europe, Asia and Central America.
The Guelph bell had multiple functions. It regularly marked the day at 7am, 12 noon, 1 pm and 6 pm to keep time during the work day Monday through Friday, and on Saturdays it rang an hour earlier at 5 pm to signal the close of businesses. The bell was also used to mark significant events, including funerals of local officials and other notable passings. Town bells throughout the world were often used as fire alarms and Guelph was no exception.
To alert the citizens of a fire, the bell was rung in staccato rhythm. According to historical records “the size of the fire was judged largely by the vigor and length of the ringing.” The ringing continued until the fire was deemed under control. “Then there was a pause, and this was followed by a one-stroke message to citizens that the danger was over.”
The bell marked the end of two world wars, and was rung to celebrate the city’s Centennial in 1927.
The town In 1869, the bell tower was raised to incorporate a town clock and the bell was moved to upper portion.
In the 1960s, the wooden tower and slate roof had fallen into disrepair and needed to be replaced. The structure was removed in 1961, and the bell and clock were relocated. The bell was initially displayed at Riverside Park. Both the bell and clock were later moved to the City Operations facility. Over the years, the bell and clock were out of sight, but never out of mind.
In 1961, editorials were written about the potential reconstruction of the tower and there was an expectation of a future reinstallation. As the city’s Bicentennial approached in 2027, there were renewed conversations in the community about re-installing the bell and clock as part of commemoration of the event.
In September 2023, city hall staff moved the Town Bell from storage and relocated it to the interior courtyard of new city hall where it was mounted and is now on permanent display. The site is not visible or accessible to the public, unless access is granted through a locked community room or security authorization to enter into the administrative area of city hall.
Guelph Public Library newspaper files.