Basilica bells on display for the first time in many years

Brian McInnis
Published on June 14, 2014

It has been close to six decades since the bells of St. Dunstan’s Basilica in Charlottetown have rung out for the faithful and in that time they have been stored in a crawl space in what is now SDU Place, but was once the home of the bishop and his priests.

The bells were on display for the public to see for the first time in many years as part of Charlottetown’s 1864 Week when the city celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference that helped pave the way for the formation of Canada. Part of that celebration Saturday was a tour called Doors Open that explained the history of Confederation buildings that are still standing and the bells were a part of that tour.

The 18 bells were cast by the Paccard Company in France and were blessed and consecrated and installed in the Basilica in March 18, 1928. At the time Bishop O’ Leary said, “they are the finest set of bells in North America.”

The were hanging in the north tower until 1976 when they were removed because of safety concerns due to the weight of the bells, said Donald Patton, chair of the Institute of Architectural Studies and Conservation, who was one of the volunteers explaining the history of the bells. In total the bells weigh five tons and the heaviest is 2,100 pounds.

Patton said that he understands that the bells were used right up until the time they were removed. The set of bells is a carillon so “the large one swings and the others were played by a keyboard,” Patton said.