Politics

Canada's Dominion Carillonneur becomes a citizen on Canada Day

Dr. Andrea McCrady laughs when she's asked why she has wanted to become a Canadian citizen for years. "I'm so excited! Who wouldn't want to become a Canadian. Its a great country."

Dr. Andrea McCrady has played the Peace Tower bells for past 8 years - but this year will be special

Dr. Andrea McCrady, Dominion Carillonneur of Canada since 2008, will become a Canadian citizen on July 1 - after she plays O Canada on the Peace Tower carillon for Canada 150 celebrations. (House of Commons)

On each of the past eight Canada Days, Dr. Andrea McCrady has played O Canada on Parliament Hill's famous Peace Tower bells.

This year, the Dominion Carillonneur followed up her performance with something she's dreamed about for years: she marched down the steps of the tower and become a Canadian citizen.

McCrady, an American, was chosen as one of 20 people who took their citizenship oath during a special afternoon ceremony on Parliament Hill July 1 to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Canada's Dominion Carillonneur, Andrea McCrady, celebrates her new Canadian citizenship during a ceremony on Parliament Hill on Canada Day. 0:38

McCrady laughs when she's asked why she has wanted to become a Canadian citizen for years.

"Who wouldn't want to become a Canadian? It's a great country!"

She adds dryly, "It was perhaps an issue, 'that damn Yankee was playing the bells of the Peace Tower.'"

Peace Tower performer

McCrady's workplace is a tiny room high up in the Peace Tower of the Centre Block. There, she plays the 53 bells of the carillon keyboard.

McCrady took part in an international competition when she was picked for the job in 2008.

"I was so glad to get this fabulous position, and from the get-go I dreamed of playing O Canada on Canada Day and then coming down out of the [Peace] Tower and swearing in as a new citizen."

The bells of Centre Block's Peace Tower, seen in a drone shot above Parliament Hill in May, have been called the "voice of the nation." (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

McCrady grew up in Pittsburgh, Pa. but has a long relationship with Canada. Her father loved to cross the border and fish in Ontario. She would often travel with him and learned to paddle a canoe in Canada.

Having a foot in both countries, she ventures a response when asked what the difference is between Canadians and Americans. McCrady lives in a waterfront community near Ottawa.

"I think the thing I find the biggest difference is the communal spirit," she said. "Something happens and your neighbours are there for you. You might not even know your neighbours before that. We had a terrible flood this spring — everyone pitched in."

McCrady retired from family medicine, went back to school in 2006 and received her bachelor of music in carillon performance. After starting her job as the Dominion Carillonneur she began teaching a course she created for aspiring carillonneurs through Carleton University.

"I love this instrument so much I wanted to pass it on to the next generation." 

'Voice of the nation'

This July 1 not only marks a big milestone for Canada but it is also the 90th anniversary of the Peace Tower and its carillon.

McCrady said the late prime minister Mackenzie King described the Peace Tower bells as the "voice of the nation," so she felt she needed to become a Canadian citizen to fulfil that role.

McCrady sits at the Peace Tower carillon in December, 2014. This will be her ninth Canada Day playing the carillon on Parliament Hill. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"It was such a prolonged process first for permanent residency, then for citizenship, it didn't look like it was going to happen. Then, lo and behold, for the best of all possible Canada Days, Canada's 150th, I get to do it!"

As McCrady pounded out O Canada, or Ode to Newfoundland or Gilles Vigneault's Mon pays from her hideaway in the Peace Tower this year, she did it with a smile on her face, as one of Canada's newest, proudest recruits.