La cloche du collège et son histoire
The History of the Vanier College Bell

In the spire high above the Vanier College library (formerly the chapel of Collège Basile Moreau), hides a bell built in France in 1905. Are you interested in learning more about this treasure? Let us meet Marie Anne Adolphe Justine.

Above is a view of our F Building roof looking towards the front of the College. Take a close look (below) and observe the lower portion of our spire: you will notice four slanted vents, behind which is located the bell. The vents serve to transmit the sound while protecting the bell against the elements. Next we take you on a trip to the base of the spire…

Access to the spire and the bell is security restricted and difficult at best and requires some adventurous climbing and squeezing through some very small spaces.

Once at base level (above right) the view is both spectacular and nerve-jangling. Creeping along the low angular ceiling we arrive at the steel base (support structure for the spire and bell). In the sequence below notice the electric timer board to the left of the base (red steel) and the close up photo of the timer itself (right). Note that originally the trigger mechanism could also be activated manually from a location near the main entrance (821 Ste. Croix). The electric timer was deactivated in 1970 making it impossible to ring the bell other than manually.

So where is the bell? If you crawl between the steel beams and look up… you will see the following …

As expected, we note the bell's clapper as the primary (but not exclusive) source of sound. In the photograph below we note a second source of sound, a hammer (which was independently motor-activated to strike the outer surface of the bell) located on the east side of the bell. Consequently, the bell can produce two distinct notes.

The bell was cast in bronze by Cornille-Harvard, a specialty workshop which originates back to the Middle Ages (still in operation) located in the town of Villedieu-les-Poêles in Normandy (south-west of Paris) France.

It was installed in the original chapel of the Mother House in 1905 and remained there until 1956, when the original chapel was demolished and replaced with a much larger chapel (now serving as the main library of Vanier). In 1958, the bell was installed high above the new chapel under cover of the spire where it remains to this day.

Some controversy has recently surfaced regarding the inscriptions on the bell. First and foremost, she has a name 'Marie-Anne-Adolphe-Justine'. While 1905 is confirmed by all sources as the year of her christening and formal installation in the original chapel, the actual month is November (not July as inscribed on the bell.) Further, Mgr. Paul Bruchési, Archbishop of Montreal, did not preside over the ceremony - also inscribed on the bell. The ceremony was actually presided over by Mgr. Racicot, delegated by the Archbishop. It is believed that the inscriptions differ from the actual due to some unexpected event(s) which prevented the ceremony from being held as planned on the inscribed month with Mgr. Bruchési in attendance. (A detailed description of the actual ceremony is available on request this page's author, L. P. Belle-Isle at 'raisins@sympatico.ca')

The bell, as it appeared in 1905 during its inauguration and blessing

You will most likely notice (below) the many embossed inscriptions and designs on the bell's surface. Though damaged by water (rain & snow) over the years, they remain legible. Current plans call for cleaning its outer surface and to install a plastic cover over the bell to minimize further deterioration.

Quiz One:
True or false: 'Horse manure is used in the fabrication of a bell?' Answer is provided in Addendum - C.

Recently, the inscriptions on the bell were transcribed - a copy of which is provided as Addendum - A near the end of this presentation. Now back to the spire … Here are 2 photos of the bell as she appears today:

Facing east

Facing west

An initial cleaning was applied to a small section on the west side of the bell to view the image there more clearly. Results can be seen below.

Before cleaning

After cleaning

The bell viewed from above

In the photo above, we note the 'headstock' and clamps which grasps the bell and keeps it straight when pivoted by the wheel (shown below on the right) connected to an electric motor. By itself the bell is said to weight 800 lbs. Note the ladder on the left and the light filtering on both sides (from the spire's slanted vents).

Situated above the bell is a small platform through which the ladder provides access midway up the spire…

High above the platform (shown above) approximately midway up the spire, the ladder ends near a wooden doorway. The purpose of the small door (shown below) was to allow access to the outer surface of the spire up to the cross for servicing of the neon lighting circuit which illuminated the cross. (See spire & bell schematic overview in Addendum-B)

Opening up this wooden doorway - midway up the spire - leads to some remarkable views of areas surrounding Vanier.

Looking east from the wooden doorway. The N Building is visible at the left.

Looking downwards from the wooden doorway - C wing & amphitheatre

View from below (roof top of C-wing) looking up the spire with midway door open - notice the pegs leading from the door upwards to the cross. Below we see a close-up of the first of the 24 pegs and the relative height against the church's right tower and our E-wing.

Looking upwards to the cross from the doorway, we notice the right arm of the cross - extending over the spire's top. (below)

Below, during a recent trip up to the spire, a large bird (believed to be a hawk) was photographed while perched on the tip of the cross's right arm

Above, we see discarded parts found near the door leading up to the cross - they originally were part of the neon lighting system of the cross (a sample schematic appears below.)

A schematic layout of a neon lighting sign showing relative location of
transformer and mounting parts, cable, tubing, and (2) resisting housings.

Note, that the lighting system is no longer functional (since early 80s) due to a change in
the federal aviation regulations which no longer require that the cross be illuminated.

Some of you may ask 'why not bring the bell down and have it on display?' In answer, the problem is not so much the bell's weight (880 lbs), but more so its location and the surrounding and support structure. In the original location in the old chapel where it had been installed in 1905, the bell was actually taken down on 19th June 1956 using a system of pulleys - as shown in the photograph below - during the demolition of the old chapel to make place for the construction of the new chapel (currently serving mostly as the Vanier College Library.)

Notice the bell's shadow on the old chapel's front wall as it is lowered by cables.

Back to the current location, it is impossible to bring down bell other than first removing the entire spire and having a crane pluck the bell out from its perch. Have a look at the following photograph when the spire was being installed after the bell had been positioned on the support base - while the roof of the new chapel was under construction in 1957 (high above the main entrance at 821 Ste. Croix.)

Quiz Two
What is the relationship between bells and clocks?
Quiz Three
Do you know the location of the world's largest functional bell and how much it weighs?
Quiz Four
Who was 'Marie-Sophie-Émilie'?

Answers provided in Addendum - C

Addendum - A
(Inscriptions stamped on the BELL)

(East side of the bell)

Marie Anne Adolphe Justine
J'ai été bénite le 30 juillet 1905 et offerte par Sœur Marie-de-Ste-Anne née Eugénie Robitaille à la congrégation des Sœurs de Ste-Croix et Des Sept-Douleurs congrégation fondée en 1841 à la Ste-Croix-du-Mans par le très révérend père Basile Moreau et Léocadie Gascoin en religion Sœur Marie-des-Sept-Douleurs établie en Canada à St. Laurent comté Jacques Cartier le 27 mai 1847 - elle comprend actuellement 420 religieuses professes, 75 novices, 12 postulantes, 34 établissements, 12,506 élèves

(West side of the bell)

Monseigneur Paul Bruchési, Archevêque de Montréal
Monsieur le Chanoine W. C. Martin, Archidiocèse Supérieur Écclésiastique
Monsieur l'abbée P. M. Moulin, Aumonier Administration Générale
Révérende Mère Marie de St. Gabriel, Supérieure Générale
Mère Marie de St. André, Assistante Générale
Mère Marie de St. Julien, Deuxième Assistante Générale
Mère Marie de Ste. Euphrasie, Secrétaire Générale
Mère Marie de St-Romuald, Économe Générale
Cornille-Havard à VilleDieu, France - J. A. Langlais à Québec

Addendum - B
(Spire & Bell Schematic)

Addendum - C

Answer to Quiz One

Yes it is true, horse manure was and is still used during the molding process: it serves as a pasting agent for the main mauling compound (sand or clay is commonly used) and is said to increase the compound's resistance to heat. (For additional information go to "en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bell_(instrument)" or "www.russianbells.com/founding/bellmaking.html")

Answer to Quiz Two

Bells are associated with clocks, indicating the hour by ringing - as well as to announce certain events. More interesting is that the word clock comes from the Latin word cloca, meaning bell.

Answer to Quiz Three

The largest (immobile) functioning bell, the 'Great Mingun Bell' is located in Mingun, Myanmar and weighs 90 tons (200,000 lbs). While, the largest functioning swinging bell, the 'World Peace Bell' is located in Newport, Kentucky (USA) and weighs 66,000 lbs. (see web link.)

Answer to Quiz Four

Marie-Sophie-Émilie is a relatively small bell made of brass. Blessed in 1847, she served as the congregation's main bell until the arrival in 1905 of the much larger bell, Marie-Anne-Adolphe-Justine currently located in the spire above the college library.

More on Marie-Sophie-Émilie

The original bell, christened Marie-Sophie-Èmilie, served high above
the original mother house (Maison Sainte-Marie) from 1847 until 1872.

Marie-Sophie-Émilie resided in the spire of the old F Building known then as Académie Sainte-Marie, (above), between 1872 and 1905 when she was replaced the much larger bell Marie-Anne-Adolphe-Justine. In 1905 she was moved indoors and served until 1969 to announce various spiritual activities.

Note, that this much smaller bell was on loan to the Christian Pavilion during Expo '67.
As shown above, Marie-Sophie-Émilie currently resides on display in the Sisters museum.

All of the text in this page as well as most of the photographs were contributed by
Louis Phillip Belle-Isle
, a primary researcher for the History of Vanier Campus website.