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Church bells bring inspiration, hope to Banff residents

“I rang the bells after last week’s church service and and a few people said: ‘I really need that.’ I am trying to keep my hopes up and I would like to give people a happy moment in their day.”

BANFF — The hills are alive with the sound of music.

As the tourist town grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, Heather Jordan, the pianist at St. George’s-In-The-Pines Anglican Church, is bringing joy to residents as she rings the church bells every day at 1 p.m..

Throughout time, music has brought people together and Jordan hopes the sound of bells filling Banff’s quiet streets can help lessen the anxiety brought on by the global pandemic – if only for a moment.

“It’s something that could make people feel hopeful – and it’s beautiful to listen to,” she she said.

“I rang the bells after last week’s church service and a few people said: ‘I really need that.’ I am trying to keep my hopes up and I would like to give people a happy moment in their day.”

As a musician and music teacher, Jordan has watched her income whittle away as part of the global COVID-19 pandemic, though she continues to offer online lessons.

“What I also lost is a regular schedule, something that gives you a sense of ‘there’s my day,’ ” she said.

“We’re all in the same boat and I thought it would help me feel normal and maybe help everyone else if I ring the bells at 1 p.m. every day.”

St.-George’s-In-The-Pines, Banff’s oldest active church with Anglican services being held as early as 1887, is currently closed to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, but is still holding services online - through Facebook Live and Zoom instead of in person.

This church is currently one of only two churches in Canada to have a set of 11 peal bells.

Dr. Robert Brett, who built Banff’s first sanitarium, donated the peal bells in 1927, the largest weighing half a ton. The bells were cast by John Taylor and Company Bellfounders in Loughborough, England, and were shipped to Banff via the Panama Canal. 

The bells were the first of their kind to be installed in Canada, according to historical records. They do not swing and are attached to steel beams and struck by clappers controlled by baton levers on a clavier within the steeple.

On these bells, Jordan has played O Canada, Amazing Grace, and the Beatles’ Let It Be, among others.

“These bells are really special,” said Jordan, adding that she plans to try a few new tunes.

“It’s a very public way to make mistakes, so please forgive me in advance,” she laughed.

To have that hopeful moment in the day, Jordan encourages people to leave their windows open, sing along and go out onto a patio or balcony to share in the experience.

“If we can all feel like we are doing something together, and mark our days, it might make us feel OK,” she said.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.

For Mayor Karen Sorensen, the daily sound of the bells filling the streets has given her inspiration and helped lift her spirits during these devastating times. In Banff, thousands of residents have lost their jobs.

“Today she performed four pieces as I stood alone on the street in the sunshine … I cried throughout the entire performance,” she said.

“I love this community and how each [of us] are giving what they can offer.”

Jordan said it can be hard for people without physical touch, or even seeing friends.

“I’m just one of many people who are trying to find ways to reach out to each other,” she said.

Located at the corner of Banff Avenue and Buffalo Street, St. George’s-In-The-Pines church services are currently suspended during the COVID-19 crisis.

The local landmark, which has been legally designated as a municipal heritage resource, has had many distinguished guests over the years.

In 1897, The Duke and Duchess of York attended services; in 1901, the future Queen Mary worshipped there, followed by Edward, Prince of Wales in 1926.

In 1939, King George VI and the future Queen Elizabeth II attended services, where they presented the church with sterling silver altar candlesticks as a memento.

The Duke of Athlone and Princess Alice visited in 1941, Lord and Lady Alexander of Tunis worshipped there in 1951, followed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1954. Princess Margaret attended service in 1958. The first vicar of the church was Rev. F.G. Christmas.

Meanwhile, Alberta reported 226 cases of the new coronavirus, which includes 31 newly confirmed cases as of Saturday (March 21). There are now two confirmed cases in the Canmore area, with Banff still reporting none, according to geospatial data from the provincial government's website. 

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