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Electronic chime could replace Old City Hall bells

File photo inside the Old City Hall clock tower. CITYNEWS.CA/Shawne McKeown.

The historic bells at Old City Hall could be replaced with a cheaper electronic device, according to a city document.

Facilities Management issued a request for proposals Tuesday asking companies to bid for a five-year contract to maintain the century-old timepiece. But in the paper, the city also says it would consider installing an electric clock in its place.

“The city is interested in obtaining proposals to disconnect the heritage timepiece and replace it with an electric clock that can be programmed to provide the same time keeping and bell chiming as the heritage timepiece,” it reads.

The bells first rang on Dec. 31, 1900, and are currently maintained by horologist David Abernethy and his son, Phil.

“It’s a very unusual clock,” Abernethy said. “It’s one of a kind. It’s a one-off. It’s quite a treasure … The right thing is to preserve this piece of machinery. The City of Toronto has a fine piece of machinery here in working condition.”

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Mike McCoy, the city’s director of facility operations said he would prefer to keep the bells working, but they cost about $50,000 a year to maintain.

And Mayor Rob Ford seems to support the view that the clockwork is worth keeping.

“I like the bells,” he told CityNews. “I think the bells are unique. Everyone knows about them in Toronto, so let’s try to keep the bells if we can.”

The alternatives are a powered device which strikes the bells or a recorded sound, used in some world cities.