A ring­ing en­dorse­ment for the mu­sic of the car­il­lon


To this day, Gor­don Slater vividly re­mem­bers the man whistling while he swept.

Slater, the for­mer do­min­ion car­il­lon­neur of Canada, walked by a main­te­nance em­ployee shortly af­ter one of his daily per­for­mances atop the Peace Tower in Ot­tawa. The sweeper was, per­haps un­be­knownst to him, whistling one of the tunes Slater had just played.

“I ac­tu­ally reached this man and touched him with­out him even know­ing,” he said. “To this day, I cher­ish that con­tact with a mem­ber of the au­di­ence.”

Slater shared sev­eral mem­o­rable mo­ments from his 31-year run in the pres­ti­gious po­si­tion with the Ro­tary Club of Strat­ford Thurs­day af­ter­noon.

Two years into Slater’s role, for­mer prime min­is­ter John Diefen­baker died. Dur­ing the state fu­neral, Slater’s as­sis­tant – and fu­ture wife – Elsa was on the ground giv­ing cues through a two-way ra­dio.

“The syn­chro­niza­tion of the car­il­lon mu­sic with the ter­res­trial ac­tiv­i­ties was flaw­less,” he said to the Ro­tar­i­ans at the Ki­wa­nis Com­mu­nity Cen­tre. “It was later de­clared the tower had eyes.”

Af­ter Pierre Trudeau died in 2000, Slater was in­structed to toll the largest of the 53 bells 80 times in trib­ute to each year of the for­mer prime min­is­ter’s life.

Slater also recorded the first long­play­ing record of the tower’s car­il­lon, called Bells & Brass as it fea­tured the Cana­dian Brass. But his por­tion had to be taped at 4 a.m. to avoid the sound of city traf­fic.

The 66-year-old Toronto na­tive is one of four car­il­lon­neurs in the city this week play­ing a mo­bile ver­sion of the in­stru­ment as part of Strat­ford Sum­mer Mu­sic’s lineup. He was first drawn to it as his fa­ther played at the Metropoli­tan United Church in Toronto. That’s where he was in­spired by its abil­ity to play mu­sic for hun­dreds of peo­ple with­out a loud­speaker.

“Fab­u­lous,” he said of his first time play­ing at age seven. “The bells can be played loudly or softly, be­cause the key­board al­lows that just as a pi­ano’s key­board al­lows that.”

But the au­thor­ity to con­trol the in­stru­ment’s voice comes with re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“The do­min­ion car­il­lon­neur of Canada is re­spon­si­ble for en­sur­ing that the sound of the Peace Tower Car­il­lon al­ways re­flects the dig­nity of Par­lia­ment and the as­pi­ra­tions of Cana­di­ans,” he said.

It was in­stalled for Canada’s di­a­mond ju­bilee in 1927, the coun­try’s third at the time. The most re­cent ver­sion was in­stalled at the Cana­dian Na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion in Toronto in 1974.

“We proud Canucks can now count 11 car­il­lons from sea to sea to sea,” he said.

This Satur­day is go­ing to be a busy one in Har­ring­ton. The Ox­ford County vil­lage is cel­e­brat­ing its Har­ring­ton 150 Her­itage Fes­ti­val with a num­ber of fam­i­lyfriendly events through­out the af­ter­noon and early evening. The Har­ring­ton and Area Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion will be host­ing tours of the vil­lage’s his­toric grist mill, as well as of­fer­ing demon­stra­tions of spin­ning, black­smithing, quilt­ing and an­tique farm equip­ment. The Satur­day fes­ti­val will also fea­ture an ex­hibit of indige­nous ar­ti­facts, High­land danc­ing, square danc­ing, buskers, horse-drawn car­riage rides and self­0guided walk­ing ceme­tery tours. The his­tor­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tion has also posted dozens of sings that high­light spots of his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est, in­clud­ing the wish­ing well that grew out of a lo­cal oil-well scam. As part of the Satur­day fes­tiv­i­ties, the lo­cal branch of the Ox­ford County li­brary and the Up­per Thames River Con­ser­va­tion Au­thor­ity are chal­leng­ing vis­i­tors to a fam­ily scav­enger hunt. To mark the sesqui­cen­ten­nial and the vil­lage’s own sto­ried his­tory, there is also a speaker se­ries at the lo­cal Pres­by­te­rian church, an old barn and the for­mer school­house, with each venue of­fer­ing a dif­fer­ent topic of in­ter­est. For vis­it­ing food­ies, Knox Pres­by­te­rian Church us host­ing a lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. that boasts 10-cent ice cream cones while the Tav­i­s­tock As­sis­tance Pro­gram is hold­ing an all-day bar­be­cue. Satur­day’s fun cul­mi­nates with the Har­ring­ton 150 con­cert, fea­tur­ing the renowned Strat­ford-based folk trio Trent Sev­ern. For tick­ets, go to www. eztix.com/trent­sev­ern or phone 519-475-4834. Con­cert tick­ets are $25 for adults or $15 for youth aged 18 or un­der. Chil­dren aged 10 or un­der are free if ac­com­pa­nied by an adult. Held in the stun­ning nat­u­ral set­ting of the Har­ring­ton Con­ser­va­tion Area, the con­cert’s “doors” open at 6:15 p.m. while per­for­mances are slated to start at 7 p.m.


For­mer do­min­ion car­il­lon­neur of Canada Gor­don Slater speaks to the Ro­tary Club of Strat­ford on Thurs­day, Slater is one of four car­il­lon­neurs per­form­ing in the city this week as part of Strat­ford Sum­mer Mu­sic.

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