600 sets of Canadian bells to ring in 400th celebration


The newly refurbished bells of the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral are set to ring out in honour of Quebec City’s 400th anniversary, July 3 at 11 a.m.

A chorus of bells throughout the country will herald the anniversary of Samuel de Champlain’s arrival in Quebec City 400 years ago on July 3, 1608. The Société du 400e anniversaire de Québec has confirmed that sets of bells will ring out in honour of this important moment in Quebec and Canadian history from coast to coast at 11 a.m. EST, the supposed time Champlain set foot on the shores of Stadacona to establish a permanent French colony in the Americas.

“It’s a great event, we didn’t know it would get so big ... it’s a really sweet idea,” Communications Director Luci Tremblay said, adding, “We wanted something that included all Canadians.”

Some 600 sets of bells in all will ring during the event, from local parishes to large cathedrals, town and city halls, as well as the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. Even ships in Quebec City’s harbour like the Blue Nose II will salute the event. CBC will broadcast the bells ringing from around the country.

“The 400e Society has asked us to do 11 blows at 11 a.m. by firing all eight bells at the same time,” explained Douglas Kitson, tower captain for Quebec City’s Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Kitson explained that firing bells, or having them all strike at the same time is usually reserved for weddings and special occasions. The Société has asked for 400 seconds of cheerful celebratory bell music to play after the eleven blows.

Despite the pan-Canadian effort in co-ordinating the event, Kitson says the event presents a number of hurdles.

Kitson explained that from the statue of Champlain, where an official ceremony will take place, three sets of church bells should be audible, those at the Notre Dame Basilica Cathedral, the Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral and the Notre-Dame-des-Victoires church in Place Royale.

Synchronizing the bells of the three churches to strike at the same time all eleven times, however, will be very challenging. First of all, the bells at the Basilica and Notre Dame ring electronically, “something which has nothing to do with change ringing,” Kitson said. Kitson is also the ringing master of the Quebec City Guild of Change Ringers.

The bells at Holy Trinity Cathedral are rung manually, which itself presents a challenge. “With one person per bell and eight bells, you have to co-ordinate the efforts of eight people,” Kitson explained. “It takes a long time to learn how to ring a bell,” Kitson added.

Additionally, there are only ten change ringers in Quebec City, so the city is in need of outside help.

“I am disappointed there are only a few additional ringers coming,” Kitson said. Many of the guild’s American counterparts will be staying in the U.S. for Independence Day celebrations on July 4.

Kitson is constantly looking for more change ringers and, in light of the 400th anniversary, he stated, “The more you learn, the more you get into it. This is a hobby that has not changed for 400 years; it’s the same activity people did in the 1600s.”