The Peace Tower carillon

The beautiful music and quarter-hourly Westminster chimes that had emanated from the Peace Tower for almost 100 years fell silent on February 23, 2022. Parts of the tower’s carillon, such as several bells and clappers, and the Dominion Carillonneur’s keyboard, have been removed as part of the ongoing complex restoration and modernization of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A carillon, an instrument composed of a minimum of 23 bells, is played from a large keyboard and is similar to an organ.

A partial aerial view of the Peace Tower with a cityscape background.
A person working with massive bells, surrounded by pipes and metal wires.

The Peace Tower carillon requires repairs and cleaning to address several decades of wear and tear. World-leading carillon restoration specialists from Royal Eijsbouts, a company in the Netherlands, removed 22 of the 53 bells, almost all the clappers, the keyboard and all of the mechanisms. The conservation work will improve sound quality and the carillon’s playability. All of these changes are being done as part of the major rehabilitation work on the Centre Block.

The carillon in the Peace Tower.

The removal process was intricate and labour intensive. Specialists from Royal Eijsbouts worked over 600 hours on site to complete the carillon disassembly. One of the first and most demanding steps of the process involved removing the bell mechanisms in order for workers to access the small space in the Peace Tower belfry. Along with the removed bells and clappers, the keyboard pedals, internal connections and keys were numbered, documented and catalogued. This will facilitate the work of specialists when the carillon components are ready to be reinstalled in the Peace Tower.

A low-angled view of a worker handling a massive bell in a confined environment and surrounded by pipes.
Two masked workers in safety vests working on the carillon.
The gloved hands of a worker removing a small bell.

Preliminary assessments confirmed that the carillon bells are in good condition and will be cleaned using a sandblasting process. The smaller bells that were removed will be cleaned in the Royal Eijsbouts workshop, and the remaining bigger ones will be cleaned on site in the Peace Tower. Original clappers will be cleaned, reshaped and repaired, but more recent ones will need to be refabricated to align more closely with the design and weight of the original clappers. The keyboard will also benefit from new parts, such as pedals, tumblers and hardware.

Two workers in safety vests crouching as they handle a large bell on the floor.
A masked worker in a safety vest crouching over a computer in a dark construction area.

A member of the carillon specialists team scanned the bells that are remaining in place to produce highly detailed digital models of the carillon. These can serve as archival references of the current physical dimensions, condition and construction of the carillon, as well as the current sound profile of each bell, creating a sort of visual and audible time capsule of the carillon.

The carillon is essentially a large instrument spread over several levels in the Peace Tower, containing hundreds of components. The Dominion Carillonneur needs to be able to perform daily recitals with ease and to play a wide range of different types of music, such as “O Canada,” “Imagine” by John Lennon and “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)” from Star Wars!

A close-up of 2 giant grey bells, with a worker in a safety vest in the background.
A worker in a hard hat and safety vest removing giant bell parts from the ceiling.

The team used a system of clamps, pulleys and wires to lift the bells and clappers. Platforms and trolleys were built to move material from the upper levels of the Peace Tower down to the ground floor. There, material was carefully crated and shipped to the Netherlands for repair and refurbishment.

A close-up shot of a large wooden cargo box with writing on it, next to another shot of 2 of these boxes on a skid.

The carillon is a unique and valuable feature of the Peace Tower and Centre Block. The Dominion Carillonneur will play recitals again, and the clock will chime every 15 minutes. Conservation work on the carillon is an important part of the overall Centre Block rehabilitation project: one that resonates, literally and figuratively, with those who have heard the bells ring.

Check out this video about the carillon removal for a sense of what it would feel like to be inside the Peace Tower. For more information about the entire project, visit the Centre Block project.

You can also consult Our stories to read more articles about interesting Public Services and Procurement Canada people, projects and services.

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