Past and present

The years of the First World War ‘were the most glorious if the most terrible that this University has ever known’, said university president Robert Falconer after the war.  During the war, University grounds were used for training of various types of combatants, from riflemen to airmen. Over 6,000 students, alumni, faculty and staff of the University of Toronto enlisted to serve in the Great War. 628 of them didn’t come back. The best known of them was Dr. John McCrae, who wrote of the world-famous poem In Flanders Fields during the Second Battle of Ypres.

Two weeks after the end of the hostilities, graduates met to discuss the opportunity of erecting a memorial for the fallen. At that meeting, a woman, who remained anonymous, proposed to erect ‘a tower with a chime of bells’. This idea was adopted, together with a scholarship fund for new students who would enter university, replacing the students who had fallen. Each of the original 23 bells was purchased with donations by alumni groups of faculties, colleges, regions, military units, and in some cases, in individual memoriam. The Soldiers’ Tower Carillon was dedicated on 6 October 1927, the first day of the Centenary Celebration of the University of Toronto. The inaugural recital was played by Canadian Percival Price, Dominion Carillonneur at the Peace Tower in Ottawa.

After the Second World War, in which the university lost 557 members, 19 additional bells were donated in 1953 to their memory. Unfortunately, these bells did not match the original bells and were removed. In 1975, Petit & Fritsen cast 28 replacement bells to form the current 4-octave instrument of 51 bells, which was rededicated on 7 May 1976. The carillon today hosts a small student program and can be heard at the university’s Remembrance Day ceremonies, convocations, summer recital series, as well as throughout the year.

Facts and figures

Number of bells 51
Total weight of the bells unknown
Weight of the bourdon 2494 kg
Pitch of bourdon b flat, connected to B flat in the keyboard
Bell-founders 23 Gillett & Johnston (1927), 28 Petit & Fritsen (1975)
Manual playing system mechanical baton-type keyboard
Automatic playing system none
Carillonneurs Michael Hart and Roy Lee
Regular recitals throughout the year but not at regular times
Summer concerts yes; schedule varies from year to year
Accessibility of the tower by appointment only

Significant inscription

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Opening lines of In Flanders Fields, carved in the base of the Soldiers’ Tower

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