Peace Tower bells will ring through start of Centre Block construction


While construction workers take over Centre Block for the next 10 years, Dr. Andrea McCrady will climb up the Peace Tower, wearing a hard hat and steel toe boots, to play on.


The official parliamentary carillonneur will be soon be one of the only current employees inside the building, which is about to be a frenzy of construction work for the next 10 years as it undergoes much-needed restoration.

The building is nearly 100 years old, its electrical system is near the end of its lifespan, its inner steel frame is starting to rust, its heating system is outdated — and officials won’t know exactly what they need to do or what it will cost until the building is emptied.

McCrady said she adamantly advocated for the tower to not go silent.

“When I heard that Centre Block was going to close for a decade, I said, ‘Well the Peace Tower carillon​ cannot be silent for a decade,'” McCrady told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning. 

“If the flag master could put up the flag, I can come up the Tower and play.”

Bells will toll till at least 2021

A carillon is one of the biggest musical instruments in the world and is typically housed inside a bell tower.

The instrument consists of at least 23 bronze bells; the one inside the Peace Tower has 53. 

McCrady became the official carillonneur​ in 2008 after she left a career in medicine to pursue music. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up until I got here,” she said. 

“I love this job, it’s a thrill everyday and a great honour.”

A drone photo of Centre Block’s Peace Tower above Parliament Hill, May 2017. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

While construction goes on around her, McCrady will continue to go about two-thirds of the way up the Peace Tower to a tiny room with no windows.

There, she plays the carillon’s keyboard, making the music heard around Parliament Hill every day.

She said she’s been told she can keep playing until at least 2021 and the construction planners want to make sure the bells will be ringable on July 1, 2027 — the 100th anniversary of the Peace Tower and its bells being inaugurated.

Artifacts, mementoes moving

Portraits have been taken off the walls and members of parliament and staff are quietly relocating to the newly renovated West Block, which will be site of the new House of Commons as of January.

The Library of Parliament, which survived the 1916 fire that destroyed the rest of the building, will also close down because the construction in the surrounding area will make it impossible for people to visit or work there.

Johanna Mizgala, the curator who is responsible for making sure the art, ceremonial objects and heritage furniture are moved safely into the new building, said it’s difficult to leave such a beloved space.

Johanna Mizgala, curator of the House of Commons Heritage Collection, is getting ready to leave Centre Block soon restoration efforts begin. (Robyn Bresnahan/CBC))

“You can’t help but feel sad when you have to say goodbye to something, and ten years is a very long time,” she told Ottawa Morning. 

“[But] it will also be an opportunity for this building to get some of its care it deserves.”