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The Surprising History of the St. Albert Clock Tower

The St. Albert clock tower (aka, the Perron Street clock tower) is a beautiful building. It is also one of the most characteristic landmarks of the St. Albert skyline. It is a nice welcomed beacon as you drive past in the morning, and a constant reminder of the time as you drive past on your way home. But do you know the real reason why the St. Albert clock tower was built? You may find it surprising…

Since its construction in 1995, the Perron Street clock tower has been acting as a University of Alberta research facility. Surprising, right?

In the mid-1990s, Dr. Mike Hatzinikolas, a university professor of civil engineering at the University of Alberta, approached the then-mayor of St. Albert, Anita Ratchinsky, with an interesting idea. He was studying how bricks weather and erode over time and needed a new building in order to study the process properly. An older building’s bricks would have already begun the erosion process, so he needed to construct a brand-new building for his research. The mayor and council agreed to his proposal, and the St. Albert clock tower was born.

Construction began in June of 1995 and by September, St. Albert had a brand-new clock tower. While it looked nice on the outside, many residents of St. Albert had no idea of the research implications on the inside. The four walls were constructed using different methods, each displaying a different construction style. Next, Dr. Hatzinkolas and his team hung a series of weights, pendulums and machines to conduct measurements on the structure. The weights were designed to measure the brick’s erosion over time. After about a year, the research team had all the data they needed for their study and left the clock tower to tick along in peace.

After almost 20 years, there was renewed interest in the tower from the University. New engineering professors at the University thought that the tower could still produce valuable data and they wanted to run new and exciting experiments. The researchers brought in new technology to measure the walls and found some interesting results.

A St. Albert Gazette article from January 2013 explains:

“While they cautioned it is still early, their preliminary observations show the south wall of the tower is gaining a significant amount of heat due to solar radiation, sometimes double what current standards dictate. The outside wall is also not contracting as much in the cold compared to the inside walls. To date, the wall has shrunk only one or two millimetres.”

While the clock tower will stand forevermore as an iconic landmark in our city’s downtown, it’s original purpose was for something much more. The pursuit of science!

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