Bells, And Change Ringing
A fixture of the Elbow Park soundscape for over half a
century, the bells of Christ Church are still rung - not by a mechanism
- but by real people pulling the ropes and ringing! Our resident ringers,
The Christ Church Calgary Bell Ringer's Guild, are a dedicated group that
includes both parishioners and friends of the parish. They ring to the
glory of God, to support the purpose of the parish church, and to learn
and improve in their skill at this art together for the joy of it.
Story of Our Bells
Christ Church dates
to 1913 and originally there was just a single bell. It came to us after
ringing in St. Michael and All Angels Church (Holy Cross). That bell is
now hanging at St Michael and All Angels, Canmore.
vision of the octave of change ringing bells dates to the building of
the bell tower, the cornerstone of which was laid in 1954 by Michael Ramsay,
the Archbishop of Canterbury. In the early 1950, a group of parishioners,
lead by Judge E. Tavender, purchased bells for the church. The bells were
designed and tuned by Gillett and Johnston of Croyden, Surrey England.
The three tenors were cast at the Surrey foundry and the five trebles
at John Taylor of Loughborough. They hang in a conventional steel "A"
frame in the upper chamber. Originally they were fitted with an Ellacombe
chiming apparatus, which is now disconnected.
a long wait, a longer voyage, and time installing the bells, they were
ready to be rung. The eight bells in the tower are hung for a type of
bell ringing called change ringing, an ancient English art based on mathematics.
Each bell has a wheel with a rope and swings in just-over a full circle
so minute changes can be made to the speed of the swinging.
the gift of bells came to the high prairie. Then, as now, the real gift
was to find ringers! Finally, on September 8th, 1957, all eight bells
were rung! And the tradition continues to this day.
to the ringing chamber, completed in 1994, include insulation and paneling,
double-paned glass, new carpet and new maple seats and coat
rack making ringing conditions much more bearable in the Calgary winters.
the church is working to restore the tower louvres and exterior cladding,
as well as other improvements to protect bells and ringers alike especially
in the winter months. Your support is most welcome!
Ringing and Methods
Ringing is a team sport, a highly coordinated musical performance, an
antique art, and a demanding exercise that involves a group of people
ringing rhythmically a set of tuned bells through a series of changing
sequences that are determined by mathematical principles and executed
according to learned patterns. In the ringing room, ringers stand in a
circle, one behind each rope. The person ringing the lightest bell, the
Treble, calls out the
traditional alert: "Look to!" Then as she starts her pull, "Treble's
going!," and finally as the bell begins to swing downward, "She's
Each other bell is then pulled off in rapid succession creating the mesmerizing
sound of a descending scale, repeated over and over again,
known as Rounds - 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.
ringer who has been designated the conductor will soon announce the method
to be rung by calling out, for example, "Go, Grandsire Triples,"
and smoothly - if all goes well - the sequence of sounds will change from
the descending scale to continually shifting orders while keeping to the
steady, even rhythm until the sequence naturally returns to Rounds again.
ringing has a long history. From the 12th century, the chiming of tower
bells had been customary in all English villages to tell the time of day
and to call people to church services. Ringing changes on these bells
first arose around the year 1600 in the eastern counties of England, having
been made possible by two parallel developments. The motivating development
was the desire for the bells to be heard more broadly over the countryside
and for the
ringers to have more control over the timing of the sound. The enabling
development was the replacement of the rope and lever, which had been
used from the earliest days to sound the bells with, first, quarter wheels
and then, by stages, the full-circle wheels that we still use today. This
approach had the great benefit of permitting the bell to sound mouth-up,
projecting its voice widely up and out of the tower. It also allowed much
more precise control of the timing of each blow and thereby stimulated
the imagination of ringers to develop a repertoire of different methods.
written music sheets are used during ringing. The ringers commit various
methods to memory and shift within or among them according to occasional
short "calls" from their conductor. Methods do not resemble
either the tunes typically played on a carillon or the jangle of European
style church bell ringing but instead are the majestic pealing that is
associated with great English state ceremonies as well as humble village
weddings. The changes in the order of the bells' sounding that constitute
a method are governed by four rules and one ideal. The rules are that:
(a) each bell sounds once in each row;
(b) no bell may move more than one position at each change/row;
(c) no row is repeated; and
(d) the ringing begins and ends in Rounds.
ideal is that the spacing should be exactly equal between every pair of
bells in each row.
Ringing Methods and Times
Christ Church's ringers
are mostly locally trained although there are some members of the band
who learned to ring in England. Methods commonly rung include Plain Bob
and Grandsire Doubles, Bob Minor, and Stedman Doubles. Christ Church's
bells are rung every Sunday from 9:45am -10:30am and by request for weddings
and funerals. Practice nights are Fridays at 6.30pm - 8.00pm and by request.
Calgary winters can be extremely cold and ringing is cancelled if the
temperature falls below -20 Celsius, except for special occasions.
More Information about Change Ringing
The North American
Guild of Change Ringers was formed in 1972 as a means of linking change
ringers to each other and supporting the growth of change ringing in North
America. For more information on ringing, please speak to any member of
our local guild, or see the
North American Guild
of Change Ringer's Home Page.
Bells are cast in bronze
and are usually quite large. In North America tower bells typically weigh
between 100 and 3600 pounds and are characterized by richness, dignity,
and mellowness of tone. They are typically hung in rings of 8 to 12 near
the top of a tower in the belfry. Each bell is attached by its headstock
to a large vertical wooden wheel and is rung by means of a long rope that
runs in a channel around the wheel's rim and down into the ringing room
below. This arrangement enables the ringers standing in a circle there
to very precisely control their bell's rotation and, thus, its sounding.
This is the tradition which Christ Church's Bells are rung.
Church Bells: Specifications
Treble (B flat)
- 366 lbs [3-1-2 cwt] Diameter: 22.5".
Given by an anonymous parishioner in memory of his mother, with inscription:
"To the Glory of God, 'O praise the Land of Heavens: praise him in
the height.' " (Ps. 145)
(A) - 350 lbs
In memory of John David Southam, 1909-1954
The second is actually the lightest bell in the tower despite its pitch
being a semi-tone lower than the treble.
(G) - 406 lbs
Presented by the Women's Guild, Nov 29, 1955.
"In this foothill city I peal my notes abroad,
That man may learn by listening to love this House of God."
(F) - 472 lbs
Given by a "thankful parishioner" (Charles S. Robinson)
"Through the vast of Heaven It sounded, and the faithful... rung"
(John Milton - "Paradise Lost")
(E Flat) - 550 lbs
In memory of Letitia Ann Hill (1895-1955) and Henry Bruce Hill (1894-1955)
"Here the prairies touch the mountains,
Here the Bow and Elbow meet.
For such beauty, Lord we thank thee,
Sung in bell notes clear and sweet."
(D) - 590 lbs
In memory of E.F.L.
- (Middle C) - 708 lbs
In Memory of Florence Adele Lowes (1877-1948)
- (B Flat) - 952 lbs [8 1/2 cwt.] 35.25".
Dedicated to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sept 4th, 1954.
verses on the third and fifth were written by Edith Hunter (Mrs. H. Murray),
Church also owns a set of eight Gillett & Johnston handbells in the
key of C which were supplied with the tower bells for practice use. These
handbells were quite possibly the first of their kind in Calgary.
American and Canadian Bells
are only seven towers in Canada with bells hung for change ringing:
- Two in Quebec City,
- Calgary, Alberta - Christ Church Elbow Park, Calgary
- Mission, BC - Westminster Abbey Roman Catholic Church - 10 bells, 21
- Vancouver, BC - Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Cathedral - 8 bells, 16 cwt
- Victoria, BC - Christ Church Anglican Cathedral - 10 bells, 29 cwt.
- Toronto - St. James Anglican Cathedral - the only ring of 12 bells on
the North American Continent, dedicated 1997.
There are over 20 towers in the United States (including Hawaii). For
comparison, there are about six thousand in England.
It is a journey to the foothills for bell enthusiasts: as a result visitors
can be few and far between but are most welcome.
Noteworthy Local Bells
Although there are
no other bells hung for change ringing on the Canadian prairies (yet!),
there are other bells of various kinds. Many churches have old train or
steamship bells in their towers or elsewhere, but occasionally interesting
bells surface. St. Mary's Roman Catholic Cathedral on 18th Avenue and
First Street South West has four French bells from the 19th century in
the tower, a gift of then Senator Patrick Burns. The three smaller ones
are hung with small wheels and cart-ropes, and the largest bell is electrically
swung and controlled by an automatic mechanism. The bells still retain
their original gargoyle-decorated canons and are in separate frames built
by an American clock-maker. Central United Church on First Street and
Seventh Ave. SW has a large chime of tubular bells which has recently
been refurbished. They are played electrically from the organ console
and ring the quarters and the hours. Calgary City Hall has a single bell
rung mechanically by the clock. Grace Presbyterian In Banff, Alberta,
there is a chime of thirteen bells in St. George's In The Pines (Anglican)
rung by a small traditional carillon mechanism. The chime was a gift of
the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta in 1911. St. Georges is located one
block off Banff Avenue near the Bow River.
"Here the prairies
touch the mountains,
Here the Bow and Elbow meet.
For such beauty, Lord we thank thee,
Sung in bell notes clear and sweet."
- Edith Hunter
Church's tower hosts an Octave of beautiful bells. The ringers rehearse
on Friday evenings, and the bells are rung Sundays for a half hour before
the 10:30 Eucharist, as well as at special services and occasions such
as weddings, and are part of the musical crowning of high feasts such
as Easter, Christmas and literally ringing in each New Year.
is a rare and wonderful art: these are the only bells of their kind in
the province: in fact, the only octave of bells of their kind between
Ontario and British Columbia. The bells are part of the regular music
of the parish, calling the community to worship, reminding the community
that the parish church prays for the well-being of everyone - member or
not - in the community, and that the church works faithfully to give thanks
to God for over 100 years of the privilege of serving in Christ's name.
and new ringers are both welcome.
Ruth Lund, our Tower Captain, would be happy to hear from you!