Better know a Canadian functionary: the Dominion Carillonneur

In 1916 the Parliament of Canada burned down. When they rebuilt it they added the Peace Tower (officially the Tower of Victory and Peace), a giant clock tower dedicated to Canada’s war dead. Its exterior was done by 1922, but the interior took more time, and was inaugurated on the 60th anniversary of Confederation on 1 July 1927. The new tower was equipped with a carillon, which is an array of bells (53 of them in the Peace Tower) connected to a sort of keyboard-like thing to play them with. Parliament then hired a person to play concerts on the bells, a position named the Dominion Carillonneur.

The Dominion Carillonneur is the sole position in the Canadian government which still contains the name “Dominion”, and has no other name. (The one other office with “Dominion”, the Dominion Hydrographer, is often referred to by its alternate title, the Director of the Canadian Hydrographic Service.)

The Dominion Carillonneurs have been:

Frank Percival Price (1901-85), 1927-39. Born in Toronto, Price studied music in Austria, Switzerland and Belgium, then became the first professional carillonneur outside Europe in 1921 when he was hired to play the bells of the massive neo-gothic Metropolitan Wesleyan Methodist Church (now the Metropolitan United Church) in the Garden District of Toronto. Being the only professional carillonneur in the country, and indeed in the New World, he was a natural candidate as the inaugural Dominion Carillonneur. In the time he served, he composed a number of works for carillon and some without, the most notable being his Saint Lawrence Symphony of 1934. He quit as Dominion Carillonneur in 1939 and spent the next 33 years as a professor of music at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Robert Donnell (1910-86), 1939-75. Born in Toronto, Donnell studied music at the Toronto Conservatory of Music, and learned the carillon in Guelph, at the University of Toronto, as an assistant to Percival Price in the Peace Tower, and in Belgium. Donnell succeeded Price as Dominion Carillonneur in 1939 and stayed until 1975, when he went on to play the Rainbow Tower Carillon in Niagara Falls. Donnell also composed the music to “This Canada of Ours”, a patriotic song with moderate popularity in the mid-20th century.

Émilien Allard (1915-77), 1975-77. Allard was born in Montreal and grew up in Grand-Mère, QC, where he learned his first instrument, the clarinet. He studied music at Université Laval and the Conservatoire National de Musique in Montreal, served in the air force in WWII (where he played clarinet in the RCAF Band) and then studied the carillon in Belgium, with additional musical training at the Conservatoire de Paris. He served as the carillonneur of St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal from 1955 to 1975, leaving to take the post of Dominion Carillonneur, which he held until he died two years later.

Gordon Frederick Slater (1950-now), 1977-2008. Born in Toronto, Slater studied piano and double bassoon at U of T and the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto. He learned the carillon from his father, James B. Slater, the carillonneur of the Metropolitan United Church in Toronto. Gordon Slater apprenticed to a number of carillonneurs, including Robert Donnell in the Peace Tower, and spent much of the 1970s building and repairing pipe organs at a factory in Toronto.

Dr. Andrea McCrady MD (1953-now), 2008-now. Dr. McCrady was born in Pittsburgh and travelled to Holland, Belgium and France to learn the carillon while studying at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. She then earned a medical degree from McGill (where she played the bells of St. Joseph’s Oratory part-time) and completed her medical residency in Toronto (where she played at the CNE) before setting up a family practice in Spokane, WA, for 18 years. She retired from medicine in 2006 and earned a BA in music from the University of Denver and was soon after hired as Dominion Carillonneur. Dr. McCrady also sings in the National Arts Centre Festival Chorus.

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