Log in

handbell musicians of canada lifetime achievement award recipients

Alison Elizabeth Wood received the Honourary Lifetime Achievement Award on November 22, 2020 during the virtual Joint Board meeting of newly elected HMC Board of Directors and HMC Interim Board of Directors. The award presentation citation for Alison Wood can be found here.

Handbell Guilds of Canada Lifetime Achievement Award Recipients

Fred A. Merrett, Clifford Plume, and Carol Petrie were the first three recipients of the Handbell Guilds of Canada Honourary Lifetime Achievement Award. Anne Hill, HGC Chair, and Alison Wood, HGC founding member, presented the awards at the final massed ringing concert performance of Ringing Link 2011. John Nelson, Sr. received the Honourary Lifetime Achievement Award 'Builder Category’ at the opening Gala of IHS 2016 Vancouver. Alison Wood, founding member of HGC, gave the speech and Patsy Andrews-Vert, Chair of HGC, presented the award which was accepted by John Nelson, Jr. in memory of his father.

The award presentation speeches for each of the recipients are below.


THE HANDBELL GUILDS OF CANADA recognize FRED A. MERRETT with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding lifetime contribution to handbell ringing in Canada and to the development of the national guild. As an educator, he was a pioneer - giving many their first exposure to handbells, writing manuals and “how-to” books on ringing, and teaching countless numbers of students and teachers to make music with bells. As a handbell composer, he was the first Canadian to be published, has over 140 compositions and arrangements in print, and several of those original compositions are favourites of handbell choirs all over the world. As an administrative leader, Fred Merrett worked for development of guilds in Canada, is a life member of three Canadian guilds, was present at the foundation of each of the Canadian guilds, worked toward the development of the national guild, served as President of the Alberta Guild, and promoted Canadian ringing in his many years of work on the Handbells in Education Committee in AGEHR in the U.S., and at the Korean and Edmonton International Symposia. For his lifetime of contribution to the promotion and development of music in general, and handbells in particular, the first ever Handbell Guilds of Canada Lifetime Achievement Award is awarded to Mr. Fred A. Merrett.


THE HANDBELL GUILDS OF CANADA recognize CLIFFORD PLUME with the Lifetime Achievement Award for his outstanding contribution to the development of the national guild, his perception, perseverance and personal sacrifice in ensuring its financial stability, and his success in solidifying the reputation of the Handbell Guilds in Canada for its leadership in the handbell world. Under the leadership of his wife, Joan Plume, Mr. Plume helped host the very successful Eleventh International Symposium in Toronto in 2004, took time off work to do so, put personal finances on the line, and developed a fund to ensure seed money and policies would be in place for future Symposia. For his foresight and determination in ensuring financial stability and continued growth of the Handbell Guilds of Canada, we recognize the late Cliff Plume with the Handbell Guilds of Canada Lifetime Achievement Award and ask his wife, Joan Plume to accept it in his memory.


THE HANDBELL GUILDS OF CANADA recognize CAROL PETRIE with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding lifetime contribution to handbell ringing in Canada, and to the development of the national guild. Carol gave her life to music education and was instrumental in the formation of the Saskatchewan Guild of English Handbell Ringers. She supported all handbell events in Canada, provided a solid foundation for bell use in Saskatoon schools, travelled in many parts of the world with her team, served as a conductor and clinician throughout Canada, Scotland, and the U.S., and was a conductor for the International Handbell Symposium in 1992. Carol Petrie pushed for the formation of a national guild when very few people thought it would ever be possible, and was certainly a driving force in the development of the Handbell Guilds of Canada. For dedication and commitment to the development of handbell programs and the development of the national guild in Canada, we recognize the late Carol Petrie with the Handbell Guilds of Canada Lifetime Achievement Award and ask Cara Wilson to accept it in her memory.


This evening it is my distinct honour and great pleasure to be able to present the Handbell Guilds of Canada Lifetime Achievement ‘Builder Category’ award. This award is being presented posthumously to one of our Canadian handbell pioneers, JOHN NELSON SR. of Calgary, Alberta. I would like to welcome tonight John’s son, John Nelson Jr., and his daughter-in-law, Debby, who have graciously agreed to come to Vancouver to accept this award on behalf of John Nelson, Sr.

The Handbell Guilds of Canada Lifetime Achievement award is presented to those who, through their tireless efforts, helped in the founding of the Handbell Guilds of Canada. Although technically John Sr. was not involved with the foundation of the entity we call The Handbell Guilds of Canada, in reality he did just that. It was John Nelson Sr.’s work, effort, and vision that were responsible for the proliferation of handbell sets and ringing in Western Canada in the sixties and seventies, and he had the dream of a national guild before anyone else did.

Early in the 1960’s, John became a sales associate for Schulmerich Carillons at a time when they were the only bell manufacturers in North America. After selling a carillon to the University of Alberta and the Alberta Legislature, he became interested in the sets of handbells that the American company was developing. He sold a few sets to churches in the area, and it was in his own church that he and a Music Superintendent in Calgary Schools saw the potential of handbells as a tool to teach music. John went right to the grass roots, the schools, especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and convinced them that they could not have quality music education programs without handbells. This took tenacity and patience, I can assure you, but by 1976 there were over 100 sets in the schools of Alberta’s two largest cities. John used to tell the story of one of the first Schulmerich corporate sales meetings he attended. At this meeting, one-by-one the reps stood up, introduced themselves, named the region they served, and tried to impress with how many sets of bells they had sold that year. Many stood up, introduced themselves and said that they had sold 2, 3, or maybe 5 sets. Not to be out done, John stood up, introduced himself and quietly stated that he had sold 56 sets. I’m sure all eyes were on John at that point and I’m also sure that he is still chuckling to himself.

John dreamt of the day that Canada would have a handbell guild and take its place in the handbell world. To that end, he invited Donald Allured to Calgary in1983 and offered a workshop to the church ringers and teachers, many of whom had not had much in the way of formal training. The participants, who came from British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, learned how to aim for excellence, and at every break John and Don discussed how to form a guild with the participants. Canada is a huge country and the few places with bells were hundreds of miles away from each other. Each tended to have a unique character that represented a certain region. By the end of the day, though, John had contracted Don Allured to a Festival a year later, and promised there would be a Canadian guild by then.

Within a few weeks John had found Board members, and at one all-day meeting, bylaws were written, and all Alberta’s requirements for forming a Society were met. John was determined that no time would be wasted and, rather than putting it off when the realization that the necessary witness was forgotten, the school janitor was asked to witness the event and documents. The first Canadian Guild, the Alberta Guild, was formed in 1983 with John as its first President. Saskatchewan ringers were also at that meeting, and followed suit shortly after.

John Sr. had many other credits to his name:

  • he spearheaded and ran Alberta’s first Festival in Calgary in 1984 and organized a Handbell Festival right here in Vancouver at the time of EXPO 86;
  • he saw the need to bring expertise into Canada and invited Donald Allured to Edmonton in the early 80’s to lead workshops;
  • I personally remember him coming to many Handbell Camps at the International Music Camp, on the Manitoba/North Dakota Border, to repair bells for a few days during the week;
  • he was present, tools in hand, at almost every handbell event in Western Canada and at the International Music Camps for almost fifty years, encouraging participants to bring their bells for him to fix, free of charge;
  • shortly after his retirement at the age of 88, Schulmerich named Nelson its top salesman in North America. That did not stop him from attending the 2011 Ringing Link in Calgary, where he insisted upon schlepping cases of bells up and down stairs whenever a move happened. He was 90 by then.

John Sr.’s love of handbells was not an individual passion. The Nelson family became involved and applied their very individual strengths and talents to handbells. John’s wife, Carol, directed many fine handbell choirs and set the bar very high in the performance of handbell repertoire. John Jr., you have had the opportunity to conduct many handbell festivals and massed ringing events, using some of your knowledge passed on to you by your father. Music, and specifically handbells, is a Nelson family affair.

To quote Emmy Okazawa-Bortolin “John Nelson Sr. was the reason all of us in Western Canada are even ringing as he was responsible for introducing bells in AB and the rest of Canada. He was responsible for the sale of so many hundreds of sets of bells and carillons. Although not necessarily as well-known as a ringer or director, he was always present at festivals across AB and Canada with his expertise on bell maintenance.”

John Nelson Jr. and Debby, I ask you to come forward to receive the Handbell Guilds of Canada Lifetime Achievement ‘Builder Category’ Award in your father’s honour.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software