Classical Music

THE SCOOP | Carillons Return To Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church

Improvements to the Carillon at the Metropolitan United Church, Toronto (Photos courtesy of the Met)

The carillon bells at Toronto’s Metropolitan United Church have returned from more than three years of repairs south of the border, just in time to celebrate the instrument’s 100th birthday. The centenary birthday celebration and rededication will take place Sunday, October 16, 2022.

Return of the massive musical architecture was delayed due to the pandemic and resulting restrictions at the border.

The Carillon

  • 1922: installed with 23 bells cast by Gillet & Johnson, Croydon, England;
  • 1960: 12 mid-range bells cast by Petit & Fritsen, Netherlands added;
  • 1971: 19 treble bells cast by Paccard et Fils, France added;
  • Heaviest weight: 8,456 lbs, and remains one of the largest in Canada.

The carillon is played via a keyboard. It’s a versatile instrument that has been used to perform both traditional and modern repertoire.

The tower and bells survived the terrible Toronto fire of 1928 that devastated much of the downtown area. Exposed to Toronto’s weather over nearly a century, though, the bells had undergone wear and tear, and needed repairing. The Met launched an enormous undertaking that began in September 2019 to lower the bells, so they could be transported to Meeks, Watson & Company of Ohio, a carillon specialist. Reps from the company supervised the lowering of the bells, which range from 22 to 150 lbs each, via a system of hoists, and then transported them back to their workshop in Georgetown.

The improvements include:

  • New cast-iron ball clappers and headpieces;
  • New transmission actions connecting the bell-ringer to bell clappers above;
  • Retuning the 1960 Dutch bells;
  • Repositioning the upper 26 bells;
  • New playing keyboard (North American standard) and adjustable bench.

Victory Rhapsody was composed for the end of WW2 by Percival Price (the first Metropolitan Carillonneur from 1922-1926). Roy Lee, Met’s present Carillonneur, recorded the piece in 2020 on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of VE Day.

The Met’s carillon was the first in North America to be harmonically tuned. Today, it used as both a teaching instrument and performing instrument for recitalists. The carillon restoration came at a cost of about $400,000.

An invitation

Members of the public are invited to have a look at the incredible carillon architecture, located up a spiral staircase of 100 steps.

The public can visit the Metropolitan’s tower and bells on Saturday, October 15 during a carillon conference, or at the rededication on Sunday, October 16 at 12:15 p.m. Visitors will be required to wear shoes with closed toes, and sign a safety waiver.


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