In 1978 the Saint-Dunstan Basilica in Charlottetown lost it’s bells all 18 of them. The North tower made of Island stone was not structurally sound and cracks had appeared in its walls suggesting that a larger problem existed. The soil on the Island is notoriously soft, rural roads that are not paved become impassable if it rains. The weight of the Basilica with the vibrations created by ringing bells created a lot of problems for the building. So down came the bells and they went into storage and have been there until recently. The bells were made in 1927 and given to the Church by different groups of people. One of the bigger bells was donated by the Employees of the Canadian National Railway.
Just 10 years ago a group of citizens motivated by historical interests wanted them restored, but how to do it the structural problem had to be solved and at what cost. The Bishop was dead set against any such plan and came out publicly saying he opposed any proposition or plan to restore the bells in the North Tower. Proclaiming himself the sole custodian of the building as Bishop, Roman Catholic clergy have all this tendency to proclaim themselves enlighten above the common folk. We know where that leads this is why we are celebrating 500 years of Protestant Reformation this year.
Nonetheless the group of concerned citizens forged ahead, they were surprisingly successful. The project cost $500,000 CDN. an engineer was hired to devise a safe way of going about this project and this week we saw the conclusion of the project.
The engineer came up with the idea of building a free standing steel structure inside the hollow portion of the North Tower. The stone tower simply envelops the steel structure on which the bells hang, no more stress on the walls. The steel structure is invisible to the onlooker.
So this week we saw the big crane on Great George Street in front of the Basilica hoist the pieces of the steel structure into the top of the tower, one piece at a time and it was being assemble inside the hollow stone tower. Then the bells were brought out of their container. They had just returned from North Carolina where they were retuned, after 40 years out of service and sitting in a warehouse this was necessary. It is said that the sound is similar to that of Notre Dame in Paris and St-Patrick in New York.
Inscription, Bells made in Annecy Le Vieux by G. Paccard Fils, Haute-Savoie, Southeastern France.
Bells will be mounted with ringing equipment and GPS control systems for automatic ringing programs, a wooden keyboard console for live and manual playing of the bells, a system of automatic dampers that will protect the inside of the tower from weather but will also open to let the bells ring out and close when the bells are finished ringing
Many of us came out to see the operation and to look at the bells before they went back into the tower. As they were hoisted up, one by one, the engineer would give them a gentle tap, it made a beautiful clear sound, this operation took 3 days, very slow and meticulous.
The Bishop Richard Grecco is apparently on board now, the Basilica gets it’s bells back at no cost to the Parish or to him. You don’t look a gifted horse in the mouth. Catherine Hennessey who is a prominent citizen and local historian and Kevin Murphy who Chairs the St-Dunstan Basilica Bells Fundraising Committee and all the supportive donors have done a great job for the common good.
The Bells will ring on 1 July, Dominion Day, to Celebrate Canada’s 150th Year.
The weather did not cooperate on this operation, it was cool, windy and rainy but the work had to be done to meet the deadline.