The Bells of Parliament

The overlapping noise of MPs arguing during Question Period is the annoying soundtrack of Parliament. But the decibels of debate can all-too easily drown out some more soothing sounds. So, next time you’re near or on the Parliament Hill, listen for the sounds of bells. You’ll hear them outside and inside the iconic Parliament buildings.

The stalwart backdrop of countless protests and Instagram photos, the Peace Tower of Centre Block – re-built after the fire of 1916 – stands tall for Canada. It’s also a great flagpole. And it houses a range of cast-iron bells playing a number of tunes for a number of reasons. For decades, the daily performances by a resident carillonneur have resonated with millions of visitors. And need to know the time? Either look up at the massive clock – a gift from the UK to Canada in 1927 – or just open your ears. Of course, it helps if you know what the Westminster Quarters, the famous pattern of chimes that signal quarters of hours, are trying to tell you. 

Moving inside, bells ring to summon MPs to the House of Commons and Senators to the Senate to vote. If democracy has a sound, it’s those bells. COVID-19 has silenced them temporarily. But a pandemic doesn’t stop Parliament, it only makes it virtual. So don’t worry, the bells will toll again.

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