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Toronto’s original weather app gets major LED upgrade

Thursday, February 6th 2020, 3:07 pm - This beacon tells Torontonians the weather, but many residents don’t even know it exists.

Once upon a time, before the internet was invented and long before weather apps were even a thing, Toronto residents looked up to get their forecast.

Not many people know about it today, but the weather beacon atop the Canada Life building at 330 University Avenue is the original weather app for Toronto residents circa 1951.

“It's an illuminated tower that, if you're familiar with the code, you can figure out what the weather is going to be for the next four hours,” said Richard Dunigan, the director of security at GWL Realty Advisors Inc.

The beacon was lit for the first time on August 9, 1951. When it was first turned on little cards explaining the significance of the lights were sent to all City of Toronto occupants so they could follow along for weather updates.

beacon - david hodge

It looks the same as it did on opening day, but in December 2019 it experienced a major upgrade to its hardwiring, marking its first update since 1951.

“We were using neon tubes up at the top in the cube to get the colours that was the only way when it was initially put in. Now we've got LED technology we can just do it with LED chips,” Dunigan said.

All 1,004 bulbs were replaced with LED fixtures that are kept stainless-steel enclosures.

“The neon tubes that started to fail and it was more cost-effective in the long run and better from an energy conservation and ecological standpoint to go with the better option being LEDs.”

BY DAVID HODGE: Toronto weather beacon

The lights in the main beacon box were also replaced with 108 LEDs, totalling 2,160 watts.

It's part of an ongoing effort to reduce energy consumption. The LED chips that cast a light into frosted bulbs are expected to shine for 50,000 hours.

“That was a huge consideration in the actual renovation of the project because the building itself has heritage designation there's very little we could do nor would we want to I mean it's been part of the building and the city for so long,” said Dunigan.

Canada life tower - David Hodge

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Security staff in the Canada Life building update the conditions four times a day using data from Environment Canada.

“When it's turned on at 7:00 a.m., it will give the conditions for the remainder of the morning, then at 11:00 a.m., it's updated for the afternoon. At 3:00 p.m., you get the evening conditions and then at 7:00 p.m. there’s an update [for the following day],” said Dunigan.

“If the temperature is going to be rising in the next forecast, the lights will be cascading up and if the temperature is going to be falling, they will be cascading down and if there's no change, they should be steady all illuminated steady,” said Dunigan.

THE COLOURS

  • Green – clear weather
  • Red – cloudy
  • Flashing red – rain
  • Flashing white – snow

DIRECTION OF THE LIGHTS

  • Running up – warmer
  • Running down – cooler
  • Steady – no change

Unfortunately, the beacon isn’t open to the public but if you happen to be within sight of it, look up to get a quick weather update and then check it against the Weather Network app!

All photos courtesy of David Hodge.

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