Ringing and Tolling the Bell:
The bell can either be rung for happy occasions and the call to church service, or tolled for funeral services and sad occasions. To ring the bell the rope goes around a large pulley to the axis of rotation of the bell. The striker inside the bell stays in a vertical position and the side of the bell runs into the striker when the bell rope is pulled. To toll the bell there is another striker mounted to the floor of the bell tower. When its rope is pulled the striker moves and runs into the side of the bell, creating a much more sombre tone.
On November 11th, 2018, the Hillcrest bell was tolled one hundred times to commemorate the end of World War I. Starting at 4:44 pm just as the sun was setting, all across Canada bells of churches and Legions tolled their bells. If one could hover above Canada in space on that day, one would hear a continuous tolling of bells as the shadow of night swept from East to West across the country. John LeLacheur, David White and Harry Annear were all slim and supple enough to climb the narrow stairs and help with this remembrance.
The Bell Tower at Hillcrest has an interesting history. It was cut in half horizontally in order to avoid power lines for the Big Move in 1971. Angus Martin had been the bell ringer for decades when the church was in Valleyfield and continued this volunteer position until well into the 1980s when ill health required him to give up this much loved role. The next bell ringer was Donald Nicholson. The rope goes all the way to the basement these days but in Angus and Donald's day, they had to climb several steps up the narrow stairs. Paul Smith, Elmer VanderAa, Thomas Annear, and John Meerburg all took turns ringing and tolling the bell. Thane LeLacheur tolled the bell for the funeral of Angus Martin.
Lightning Strikes: Hillcrest United, like Jerusalem in the Holy Land, was 'builded upon a hill'. Thus being closer to the heavens than other structures in Montague the Beautiful, it is no surprise that on February 15, 1991 at 7:30 pm the steeple was struck by lightning. The Rev. Paul Vavasour was in his office at the other corner of the building and didn't even know that it was hit. The ornamental ball on top of the steeple which had been turned by Lorne Wigginton in 1971 was split in half. Many shingles were also blown off. The ball was repaired and is on display in the Church Office. "Whereas for over 20 years it was sat upon by seagulls, now it is only occasionally sat upon by people discussing the weather, and life and such things with the church administrative assistant." - from the 25th Hillcrest Anniversary Booklet by Burrows/VanderAa published in 1996
Keir MacLeod's repaired the damage and turned a new filial. The old one has been getting around the building. It now has a place of honour just outside the choir room.
The Bell Wheel: The bell tower was moved as one of five sections in 1971. Paul Smith was part of the team that reattached it in its new home. When the tower was repaired in 2016 (it had a torched membrane put on the roof) Paul Smith also made a new pulley and wheel for the bell to replace the original. He used yellow birch from his home property and spent over forty hours building the replacement. The old bell wheel is in the utility shed. Perhaps Paul's special interest in the bell stems from the fact that Sir Andrew Macphail's mother Catherine is a relative of his. Long may the bell ring!
The Three Bells: There is also this story of the bells. When Union happened in 1925, the United Church congregation took over the former Presbyterian Church on Main Street and became known as Trinity United Church. The remaining Presbyterians built a new church north of the bridge in its present location. The bell was left with Trinity. When Trinity was demolished in1989, the bell came to Hillcrest and is now mounted out front on a metal stand. The first bell in the Valleyfield church was donated by Sir Andrew MacPhail. Unfortunately the bell cracked, so Sir Andrew mounted it in the yard of his house, where it still stands. The new replacement bell for Valleyfield supposedly arrived via the Montague River on the last freight boat trip made to Montague. When the church was moved in 1971, the bell came with it.