Church bells ring for residential school survivors, reconciliation

Duty warden Till Heyde tolls the bell at Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa 22 times, marking the church’s #22days campaign for healing and reconciliation. Photo: Art Babych
Duty warden Till Heyde tolls the bell at Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa 22 times, marking the church’s #22days campaign for healing and reconciliation. Photo: Art Babych
Published May 31, 2015

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Those lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s song, Anthem, may have captured something of the spirit of church bells ringing across the country on May 31, marking the closing of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) . It also drew attention to a campaign among Anglican churches to continue to ring bells throughout the 22 days following the TRC close to raise awareness about healing and reconciliation and the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women in Canada.

The TRC encouraged churches to ring their bells at noon to “honour residential school survivors, recognize the formal close of the TRC” and to encourage all Canadians to “commit to working towards a reconciled future for all of Canada.”

The bells of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill rang as a public Walk for Reconciliation wended its way from a school in Gatineau, Que. to Ottawa City Hall.

At Christ Church Anglican Cathedral in Ottawa, duty warden Till Heyde tolled the ancient bell 22 times, marking the church’s #22days campaign. Installed in Christ Church Bytown in 1839, the bell was reinstalled in the bell tower of the new Christ Church in 1873, according to its dean, Shane Parker. The bell is normally rung for Sunday services, special services of the liturgical year, for funerals and events of national or civic importance, he said.

Meanwhile, St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Ottawa tolled its bell 1,181 times for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Church bells ring as Walk for Reconciliation participants pass by St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Video: Marites N. Sison

KAIROS Canada, a social justice organization that is supported by churches and faith-based groups, including the Anglican Church of Canada, explained on its website that “bells can multiple meanings, ringing out in celebration, grief or warning, but they always call us to pay attention.”

The Anglican Church of Canada has also been calling for the ringing of bells as a part of its campaign 22 Days, which runs from the start of the TRC’s closing event on May 31 to June 21, National Aboriginal Day of Prayer.

The idea for the campaign emerged out of a meeting of cathedral deans from the cities that have hosted the seven national TRC gatherings who believed that as public spaces-where the church intersects with the public square- cathedrals could help mark the close of the TRC and encourage Canadians to think about the next necessary steps toward reconciliation.

The deans asked Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church in Canada, and National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald to issue a national call to the church. When he presented the idea to the House of Bishops when they met in April, the idea was “heartily endorsed.” When diocese of Qu’Appelle Bishop Robert Hardwick described plans to ring the bells of the cathedral in Regina for murdered and missing women, the bishops quickly decided to make bell ringing a part of the 22 days campaign, and they all committed to ring the bells at the cathedrals in their dioceses.

The Rev. Jesse Dymond, online community co-ordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada, has been compiling a list of participating churches, and said that the cathedrals are now all planning to ring their bells each Wednesday at noon (local time) 1,181 times, once for each woman counted as missing or murdered, “so that the ringing begins in Newfoundland and sweeps the country, ending in Victoria.”

As of May 29, there were 50 churches on Dymond’s list stretching across the country from the Parish of Salt Spring on Salt Spring Island on the West Coast to Christ Church Cathedral in Whitehorse in the North and St. John’s Cathedral in St. John’s on the Atlantic. He has been updating his list frequently. The 22 Days campaign was intended to be adapted for different local contexts, and Dymond said churches are ringing their bells in different ways and times. “Some are ringing once, some the first and last days, some every day.”

Martina Baier from St. Alban’s in Ashcroft, B.C., answered the Journal’s Facebook question asking which churches would be ringing bells. “We will be ringing our bell 55 times each day for 22 days,” she said.

Archdeacon Brad Smith said that All Saint’s Church, Parish of Tyendinaga, in the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, is planning to ring the church bells 1,181 times at noon on Wednesdays, which he says will take about 98 minutes, ringing the bell every five seconds.

The primarily Mohawk congregation discussed concerns that it might disturb the church’s neighbours, but Smith said one person said, “Our problem is that we don’t disrupt and that’s why nobody cares.” Smith said he sent out a note to the neighbours to explain the reason for the bell ringing. “It is a little thing that we can do as a church with a bell to say we’re standing here in solidarity.” Smith added that he has invited school children from a nearby school to come and help him ring the bell.

Church bells will also be rung at Anglican churches across the deanery of the diocese of Algoma (Blind River to White River). Some churches will ring bells and offer midday prayers on Tuesdays at noon.

Editor’s note: Corrections have been made to the place name and installation date for the bell at Christ Church Bytown in Ottawa. Also, Bishop Robert Hardwick was misidentified as the diocesan bishop of Saskatoon. He is the bishop of Qu’Appelle.


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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