PWGSC keeps the Peace Tower carillon ringing
On any given day, you may find Building Operations and Maintenance Supervisor Tom Sutton inside the frame of Parliament Hill’s famous Peace Tower, inspecting a transmission wire that controls the clapper of a 25 kilogram bronze bell. This is so the bell rings out flawlessly and in sync with the other 52 bells that make up the Peace Tower carillon.
Tom has worked in operations and maintenance in the buildings on and surrounding Parliament Hill since he joined Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) 21 years ago. He is an employee of the department’s Parliamentary Precinct Branch, which manages the day-to-day operations, maintenance and renovations of the East, Centre and West Blocks and Library of Parliament, as well as the Confederation and Justice Buildings.
Tom got involved in working on the carillon two years ago when Dr. Andrea McCrady, the musician who plays the Peace Tower carillon and holds the official title of Dominion Carillonneur for the House of Commons, asked him for assistance in maintaining the instrument. The Peace Tower carillon was installed in 1927 and is played at official ceremonies such as Canada Day and visits by dignitaries, and during occasional lunchtime recitals—a special treat appreciated by visitors to Parliament Hill.
The carillon manufacturer closed after the Second World War, making it difficult to replace parts that break or malfunction. “
Tom is the carillon’s doctor,” says Andrea, a retired family physician, “
and he makes house calls. He is a great problem solver. Without Tom, the bells would not work.”
Tom works on all aspects of the carillon, including the practice carillon, also dating from 1927, located in Parliament’s East Block building. The keyboard is similar to that in the Peace Tower, but when the player strikes the keys with her fists and feet, rather than pulling a wire and ringing a bell, the strike causes a hammer to hit a metal bar tuned to the pitch of the corresponding bell.
There are only 11 carillons in Canada, and three of them are out of service because they are difficult to maintain. There is a lack of carillon technicians in Canada who specialize in this unusual instrument. Both Andrea and Tom are doing their part to keep this art form alive. Andrea teaches music students how to play the instrument at Carleton University in Ottawa, and Tom recently took the time to go down to Mercersburg, Pennsylvania to dismantle the practice instrument for shipping to the university. He even helped set it up in its new home and repaired bent or broken pieces.
Tom’s interest in the carillon has led him to meet other people who work with carillons. He spent part of his vacation time last year visiting the John Taylor & Co. bell foundry in Leicestershire to see where carillon bells are made and also travelled to York Minster Cathedral in England to see the carillon in one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe.
I enjoy meeting people,” says Tom. “
I’m not an artsy guy,” he says, “
but I’m learning.”
Maintenance of the carillon is not Tom’s only responsibility on the Hill. His duties include tending to the centennial flame that burns in front of the Parliament Buildings and climbing 393 stairs to change the Canadian flag that flies atop the Peace Tower.
So next time you hear beautiful sounds coming from the Peace Tower, remember that dedicated PWGSC employees like Tom Sutton make it all possible!
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