How did handbell ringing begin in Canada?
Various individuals and groups have been credited with the introduction of handbells to North America in the mid-1800’s. The most interesting and colourful story is that in 1844 the great showman, P.T. Barnum, arranged for the Lancashire Ringers from England to tour the US. Handbells did not resurface in North American news again until 1923 when a handbell choir, the Beacon Hill Ringers, was organized in Boston by Mrs. Margaret Shurcliff. The popularity of handbell ringing grew in the USA and by 1954 the American Guild of English Handbell Ringers was formed.
Handbells were introduced into Canada at a much slower rate. Three sets of handbells are known to have existed in Canada before the 1960s. These were in Regina, Saskatchewan; Brantford, Ontario; and Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1962, Schulmerich Carillons' district manager for western Canada, John S. Nelson Sr, arranged for his church, First Baptist in Calgary, to purchase a two-octave set of Schulmerich handbells. Under the direction of his wife, Carol, the first handbell choir to play Schulmerich handbells in Canada performed in 1963. Other handbell choirs formed about the same time: Robertson-Wesley United Church (Edmonton, Alberta, 1964); First Baptist Church (Moncton, Nova Scotia, 1964); Brunswick Street Baptist Church (Fredericton, New Brunswick 1966), and Tec Voc High School (Winnipeg, Manitoba,1966). Knox Metropolitan United Church in Edmonton, Alberta and Grace Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alberta also purchased Whitechapel handbells from England around the same time.
The first set of Malmark handbells was brought to Canada in 1985 by Robertson-Wesley United Church in Edmonton, Alberta.