I often get asked about the name of the gallery. And people often regret asking because they may be forced to listen to me talk for quite some time!
The name “14 Bells” is a nod to the north end of Halifax where the gallery is located and where I am happy to call home. There is a monument in the neighbourhood, perched up on a hill, called the Halifax Explosion Memorial Bell Tower. I can hear the bells chiming the hour from my home and walking to work (striking ten if I am running late..) There are fourteen bells in the tower.
The memorial is, of course, to honour of the victims and survivors of the Halifax explosion of December 6th, 1917. The tower was completed in 1985. It was built to house 10 bells that were donated to the nearby Kaye Street United Memorial Church by explosion survivor Barbara Orr. That church, dedicated in 1921, took the place of two other churches that had been destroyed by the blast. Explosion survivors formed most of its early congregation. The church steeple could not support the bells so the dedicated memorial was built. Later four bells were added.
Ms. Orr lost her family in the explosion and was, herself, thrown onto Fort Needham by the force of the explosion. In the short film below, Barbara Orr is one of the survivors who speaks to the late Janet Kitz, leading explosion author and historian. Kitz was instrumental in having the tower built. A copy of this film was included in the time capsule that was buried in 1985 and then opened in 2017. A new collection was buired at the centennial and I was honoured that an invitation to the gallery’s very first exhibition, “100 Years of Community” was included in the current capsule.
I am a bit obsessed with stories of the Halifax explosion and have read dozens of non-fiction and fiction accounts of the dark days after December 6, 1917. For a history buff it is such a privilege to live within this story. This is not ancient history. More than a few children and grandchildren of survivors have visited the gallery. The gallery is located in the Hydrostone Neighbourhood built by the Halifax Relief Commission to help house the thousands left homeless by the disaster.
In 2016, before the gallery had secured an address and had only a few artists lined up, I knew I wanted to set up in the north end and that I wanted to honour the history of the community. On a wintry walk through Fort Needham Park I contemplated the memorial. I counted the bells and the name was born. A good friend and neighbour (who happens to be a talented graphic designer) connected the shape of the tower and the number four and sketched out a logo on a napkin.
My name is Cheryl Bell so people assume that the name of the gallery is connected to my family. That was certainly not the intention, but when I count down from my dad to my youngest niece, there are 14 Bells. I guess it was meant to be.
I welcome the chance to share the story of the explosion and the memorial to visitors, so if you have a few minutes…….
Suggested Halifax Explosion Reading List
Too Many to Mourn by James G. Mahar