Bells ring out in honour of master carillonneur

John Nelson - Carillon
John Nelson, the gentlemen who first sold Mount Royal its carillon, meets with former president David Marshall, PhD, around the time of the University's centennial celebrations in 2010.

The familiar chime of Mount Royal University's carillon carried special meaning earlier this month when the man who brought the bell sounds to campus was laid to rest.

On Jan. 2, Mount Royal commemorated the life and legacy of John Nelson, 94, with a special carillon recital that recognized his many contributions to the community.

Nelson, a longtime salesman with Schulmerich Bells, first sold Mount Royal its iconic carillon in 1969 and updated the sound system four decades later as part of the University's centennial celebrations.

In the broader community, Nelson was remembered as the "father of handbell ringing" in Canada. He is credited with bringing handbells to Alberta schools and installing carillons in many churches and other notable buildings across the province, including the Alberta Legislature.

Kenna Burima, an alumna of the Conservatory of Mount Royal University, played the carillon for 20 minutes while Nelson's funeral service was held at First Baptist Church. The musical collection included classical pieces from artists such Bach, Chopin and Mozart.

Playing the tribute performance struck a personal chord with Burima, who attended Mount Royal from 1998 to 2000 - especially as she readied to play the Calgary Tower carillon as part of the High Performance Rodeo.

"Thousands of people hear these bells every day without knowing where the sounds are coming from," she said. "It reminds you that there's a bit of magic left it the world.

"It's almost as though the music is coming down from the heavens."

Mount Royal is among the country's only campuses with a digital carillon.

Housed in the 60-foot high George Kerby Memorial Tower, its signature sound can be heard daily across the Lincoln Park campus. Some claim the carillon can be heard over a six-kilometre radius, making its broadcast a significant part of Mount Royal's cultural identity.

Jan. 6, 2016 - Bryan Weismiller