The port as we know it today is the result of major development work done in the early 20th century. The years 1896 to 1930 were the Port of Montréal’s golden years, a time when it was the destination of trans-Atlantic ships and trains from all over North America. Millions of tonnes of merchandise travelled through Montréal, and to meet demand, the port modernized its facilities by building structures such as grain elevators, sheds and higher quays.
Relics of this heyday are still visible, like giants from another era. If you listen, they will tell you the fascinating history of the Port of Montréal.
Clock Tower and basin, date unknown.
Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec / Notice 2633633
Clock Tower, 1922.
Port de Montréal – Archives / APM-3200
The Clock Tower is a multi-purpose building. Over the years it has served several roles: to honour the memory of lost sailors, to mark the entrance to the port, to conceal neighbouring storage sheds, and, of course, to indicate the time!
The Clock Tower was built between 1919 and 1922 from a design by Montréal-based engineer Paul Leclaire. Forty-five metres high, it marks the entrance to the port and is a memorial to sailors lost at sea in wartime.
Its extremely precise clock mechanism was made in England by Gillett and Johnston, and is a replica of Big Ben in London. Like Big Ben, its accuracy is legendary, and sailors would set their own time pieces by it. The Clock Tower was the port’s time keeper in an era when wrist watches were not yet common. It is even said that when the clock stopped working, many port employees would report to work late.
With its powerful light, the tower also served as a lighthouse to guide incoming ships. The structure was originally designed to conceal the unsightly sheds that once lined the quays.
Classified as a federal heritage building since 1996, the tower provides spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River and the city for those willing to climb its 192 steps to the top.