Twice a day in Courtenay, the sound of bells emanate from The Old Church Theatre at Eighth and Harmston.
But the bells aren’t actually bells. The sound is coming from a carillon that was used in the Canadian Martyrs Roman Catholic Church before it became a theatre.
“These are all electronic bells,” said Charlie Schellinck, the son of the late Hank Schellinck, who used to monitor and maintain the carillon. “There’s no bells up in the tower. It’s just speakers. This is a tube machine, there’s no circuit boards.”
The Schellinck family regularly attended the church when Charlie was growing up in Courtenay. As a child, he recalls his father tinkering with the machine when it needed to be cleaned and dusted. Come daylight savings time, or in the case of a power outage, Hank would manually change the clock programs.
The carillon used to sound at 8 a.m. at the start of mass, then at noon and again at 6 p.m. On Sundays for mass, it would ring at 8 a.m., 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. At Christmas, Hank would program a tape to play carols in bells.
“Through osmosis, I would have learned how to do that, too,” Charlie said. “It’s all chain-driven. You put in little pins, and then the pins play different songs or bell sequences.”
When the church closed, one of the items left behind was the carillon, which had sat idle for years. At first it worked, but then it stopped functioning. Faced with the opening of a play, the society contacted Charlie, hoping he could revive the machine. With help from an electrician friend, he cleaned some of the contacts and had the carillon up and running.
“We’ve got it programmed to run at noon and six,” Charlie said.
The Canadian Martyrs Roman Catholic Church was constructed in 1938. The Old Church Theatre Society formed in 1992 to purchase the building, and to preserve it from destruction. A major renovation ensured. Among other things, sound and lighting booths were installed.
Courtenay council designated the building a heritage site in 1997.