The Bells of St. John’s, Part 2
St. John’s West Toronto Church’s 10-bell carillon remained a distinctive feature of its Humberside home, and of the city, for many years. In 1931, when St. John’s parish celebrated its 50th anniversary, The Globe newspaper's Oct 30, 1931 article noted that its “carillon of ten bells, rung for the first time in 1924, calls the people of St John’s each Sunday to worship and is much appreciated by residents of the whole section.” And as was reported in the Dec 16, 1935 Globe article, St. John’s was among a relatively small group of Toronto churches and notable buildings to have a carillon. They included St. James Cathedral, Metropolitan United Church, Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Soldier’s Tower at the University of Toronto, St. John the Baptist Anglican (Woodbine), St. Anne’s (Gladstone), and St. Michael’s Cathedral. However, by the 1990s, the bells had fallen silent.
The popularity of St. John’s bells reached a peak in 1974. The Bloor West Villager newspaper included a feature, “Bells Are Ringing!” that had a photo of St. John’s belltower with news that “Carillon bells will fill the air as West Toronto’s only carillon will celebrate its anniversary of installation at St. John’s Anglican Church, West Toronto, this September.” Special concerts were scheduled each Sunday at noon during this “Festival of the Bells.”
Some 25-years later, St. John’s Vestry Report for 1999 noted that after several years on “the roller-coaster,” the church was in a stable place. However, there were “hidden debts with deferred, unavoidable repairs,” including the organ console, the bells in the tower, the roof, and the painting of the interior and exterior of the church. Five years later, although the interior walls had been given a distinctively colourful makeover, the bells still demanded attention. Their support structure had been deteriorating, with rusting of the mechanism and in the bolts holding the bells in place to the point that one or more of the larger bells could suddenly fall.
During 2004, the Wardens and property committee sought out a safe and cost-effective remedy to the deteriorating bells support structure, calling in North America’s premier bell founder, the Verdun Company, to conduct an analysis. In April 2004, it estimated a cost of $150,000 to restore the bells, which was beyond the means of St. John’s. Otherwise, the firm recommended St. John’s sell the bells. However, the Trusts Committee of the Diocesan Council denied St. John’s motion to sell the bells to an outside party, pointing to their diocesan heritage. In September, the diocese committed to paying for retaining the bells and restoring the tower to a safe condition. However, there was some debate around the idea of securing and storing the bells in place in St. John’s tower. Although an engineering feasibility study was done, which pointed to the costs involved in securing the bells in place, in January 2005, the diocese issued a cheque to St. John’s for $36,882.00 to pay for the bells and to store them in place. But the diocese had not received the engineer’s study, which had emphasized the hazard of delaying action.
Concerned for the safety of all who used the building, especially the daycare, the Wardens urged prompt action by the diocese to facilitate the prompt removal of the bells. Further delay and mounting concerns around safety and liability would force the closure of the belltower and elevator, rendering the church no longer wheelchair accessible. As a temporary measure, the bells were strapped, but a long-term solution was needed. In the meantime, the value of the bells had increased with the exchange rate since the original offer in U.S. funds to buy them was made. Finally, by May 2005, after further negotiations, the diocese agreed to facilitate the removal of the bells for storage elsewhere in anticipation of their potential use by another church, and to provide St. John’s with a final compensation of $39,000.00.
The September 2005 issue of The Anglican newspaper included an article, “Bells Removed From Tower.” As was emphasized by St. John’s Incumbent, Gary van der Meer, the congregation wrestled with the question: “Is removing the bell a success of a failure? Being the church is about so much more than having a pretty building. St. John’s is a beautiful church, but our priority is ministry and commitment to the community” The sale of the bells was a sad, but sound sacrifice that provided St. John’s with boosted financial resources to support its mission.
Contact Christopher Rutty – email@example.com – with your historical contributions in support of the SJWT-100th, and to volunteer to help out with Doors Open Toronto, as well other special activities and events being planned to celebrate St. John’s 100 years on Humberside.
To learn more about St. John’s rich history, visit: sjwt.ca/100th
SJWT-100th TEAM MEETING: Tues. April 25 @7:30
The next meeting of the SJWT-100th Team will be on Tuesday, April 25 at 7:30 via Zoom. All are welcome. The main focus will be on preparations for Doors Open.
Here’s the Zoom link,