The origin of the City of
Westmount’s Floral Clock
A unique feature of Westmount Park that is one of only four in existence
By Michael Walsh
May 18, 2023
The City of Westmount, at one point in time, had a large complement of gardeners working in the municipality’s potting sheds within their eight-building greenhouse. Under the direction of a superintendent of parks, playgrounds and greenhouse, they produced year-round floral displays, planted a multitude of flower beds in Westmount Park, donated flower arrangements to hospital patients, assembled an annual Chrysanthemum show and maintained a floral Union Jack outside City Hall.
In fact, in the 1950s, Westmount Park was an entirely different place than it is today. Aside from the myriad of floral displays, there were shuffleboard courts, a putting green, chess areas, rugby, soccer and cricket fields. A large bandstand showcased evening band concerts that attracted hundreds of residents. Victoria Hall offered meeting rooms for municipal groups and social organizations, in addition to many dance recitals and a wide variety of entertainment.
Although many of these unique aspects of the municipality have disappeared over time, one remains at the corner of Lansdowne Avenue and Sherbrooke Street: Westmount’s floral clock.
It was inspired by former Mayor Peter William McLagan’s visit to Edinburgh’s West Princess Street Garden. That garden had a floral display containing tens of thousands of plants in the shape of a clock that also displayed the correct time of day. (The mechanism needed to be wound daily). Upon returning to Westmount, in July 1926, he approached Council to construct a similar floral display, arguing that apart from Edinburgh, one outside Scarborough and another in Switzerland, no others were in existence.
Once approved, the task to construct the display was given to John G. McCreath, superintendent of parks, playgrounds and greenhouses. He was well qualified for the project, a native of Scotland, having spent his entire life as a gardener, both in the City of Westmount and Montreal West, and was responsible for the development of the greenhouses and the floral displays in Westmount Park.
The second portion of the project, designing the electrical mechanism to operate the clock’s hands, was given to the City’s Manager, G. W. Thompson. Various options were considered before deciding to use a modified Ford Model-T motor.
Unveiled in 1927, the City’s floral clock was an instant success drawing residents, day and night, from the entire Island of Montreal to witness this marvel of botanical ingenuity and technology.
The floral clock measured 21 square feet on a sloping elevation surrounded by a low fence. The display comprised 10,000 plants (today, fewer than 5,000 are used), with an eight-foot six-inch minute hand and a six-foot hour hand, each holding hundreds of plants using two 100-pound weights for balance.
The outside border was comprised of mesembryanthemums (baby sun roses) with a centre setting of tall red alternantheras and echeverias. The centre of the bed ring displayed sedums with an outside circle of red alternantheras. At the foot of the clock was the floral inscription Tempus Fugit. The entire display was illuminated with a searchlight.
Interestingly, the clock became known as the “harbinger of summer” – with annual newspaper reports of city gardeners spending their customary two weeks installing the floral display. More famously, it was also Westmount’s most popular tourist attraction, with passersby checking their watches against the clock.
In 1964, Council adopted a “Westmount Park Rehabilitation” scheme that transformed the area into its present topography. The work was contracted using the U.S. landscape architectural firm McFadzean, Everly and Associates (designers of Angrignon and St. Emile parks in addition to the Garden of Wonders at Lafontaine Park), who recommended relocating the floral clock eastward facing Mount Stephan Avenue – allowing the redevelopment of the Victoria Hall and Library mall areas with a large rose garden. The clock’s new location would be shared with a reflecting pool and formal garden.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), this portion of the park’s “rehabilitation” plan did not come to fruition. Frankly, the term “mall areas” implies a large concrete footprint coupled with a loss of green space.
Today, no longer a major tourist attraction, the clock adorned with 5,000 plants each summer dutifully displays the time of day as it has for nearly a century, a testament to the visionary approach and ingenuity of the city’s early leaders.
Michael Walsh is a long-time Westmount resident. He is happily retired from nearly four decades in the field of higher education technology. A “professional student” by nature, his academic training, and publishing, include statistical methodology, mycology and animal psychology. During this period, he was also an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. Prior to moving to Montreal, he was contracted by the Ontario Ministry of Education evaluating bilingual primary and secondary school programs. Today, he enjoys spending time with his (huge) Saint Bernard while discovering the city’s past and sharing stories of the majestic trees that grace the parks and streets. He can be contacted at michaelld2003 @hotmail.com or through his blog Westmount Overlooked