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Peace Tower carilloneur 'rings the bells for Canada'

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Just a few days before Christmas in 1956, CBC Radio reporter Jerry Meyers is out of breath after climbing the stairs of Ottawa's Peace Tower to talk to Robert Donnell. As "Dominion carilloneur," Donnell's job is to play the Peace Tower's carillon -- a musical instrument of sorts, featuring 53 large bells. In this interview, Donnell tells Assignment listeners what a carillon is, how it's played and what the job of Dominion carilloneur entails.
• Construction on the Peace Tower lasted from 1919 until 1927. When dedicating the building site in 1917, Prime Minister Robert Borden declared that it would be a "memorial to the debt of our forefathers and to the valour of those Canadians who, in the Great War, fought for the liberties of Canada, of the Empire, and of humanity."
  • The tower stands 92.2 metres tall, and its clock is visible from most of downtown Ottawa and across the river in Gatineau, Que.

• The Peace Tower has become something of a symbol for Ottawa and Canada: its image appears on the $20 and $50 bills, as well as on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

• The Peace Tower carillon bells vary widely in size, from 4.5 kilograms to 10,160 kilograms. The carillon is played similarly to a piano, but on a much larger scale -- when the carilloneur hits the keys on a keyboard with his or her fists, the corresponding bells are struck.

• Donnell was carilloneur at the Peace Tower from 1939 to 1975. Since the tower's carillon opened in 1927, there have only been five Dominion carilloneurs: Percival Price (1927 to 1939), Donnell, Emilien Allard (1975 to 1976), Gordon Slater (1977 to 2008) and Andrea McCrady (2008 to present).

Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: Dec. 21, 1956
Guest(s): Robert Donnell
Host: Maria Barrett
Interviewer: Jerry Meyers
Duration: 3:43

Last updated: June 12, 2013

Page consulted on November 6, 2014

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