With an Introduction by Fred Blair, Genealogist and Family Historian

The Cracked Bell Caper of 1900 is a part of Orillia history worth retelling.  On December 24, 1956, the Orillia Packet and Times published some recollections by either Alan or Heber Greene, both sons of the Rev. Canon Richard W.E. Greene, who was the incumbent at St. James’ Anglican Church, Orillia from 1888 to 1911.  Both sons became ministers as well and served in missions on the coast in British Columbia.  The author of the article did not identify himself but it was probably Alan, who had written other articles for the newspaper.  Part of that article has been transcribed here. 

“When I was a lad, there were only three bells that made an amazing discord on Sunday.  The deep notes of the Presbyterian bell suggested the solid character of the congregation gathered beneath it.  The far from musical toes of the Methodist bell suggested the halfway point of Methodism between the somber dignity of the Kirk and Anglicanism as it gathered under the spire of St. James’s.  But it is rather sad to recall the strange tone of the bell in St. James’s as it strove to strike a brave compelling note to its people.  The poor bell was cracked in an appalling tumble it had years ago, as it crashed through several floors into the basement of the church, and it still rings out in a note that defies a place in any scale of notes.

St. Jame’ Church Steeple (c. 1900)

“I was never proud of the bell, save on those occasions during the South African war when we Church of England boys and girls strove to outring the Methodist and Presbyterian bells in celebrating victories such as the relief of Mafeking and Ladysmith.  Schools were suddenly closed on those great days and half holidays taken for granted.  It left us youngsters free to celebrate as we saw fit, and we Anglican lads knew of a secret entrance into St. James’s unknown to the churchwardens, a trap door in the floor of the church big enough to allow a lad or girl getting through it from the wood-pile that very considerately reached close to the basement ceiling.  We rang the old bell so persistently that the neighbours rose in protest, and demanded of Mr. Frank Evans that these hilarious youths be locked out of the church …

“We youngsters hated to be out done by the Methodists.  It was a point of honor to outring anyone who dared to challenge the loyalty of the Church of England.  But Mr. Evans rose to his duty on that occasion, and with all the weight of his office, drove us out and locked the doors.

“In fifteen minutes, when we felt sure he was comfortably settled at home, we were back in the church and up in the tower again, and the old bell began to drive the nearby residents frantic once more.  An enraged warden rose from the depths of his armchair, and in language that sounded like a Papal Bull excommunicating us, headed for St. James’s once again.  We were on the lookout and saw him approaching the church at a speed far from dignified for one holding so exalted an ecclesiastical position, and the grim determination on his face alarmed us.  Our only escape was to climb higher, right up to the belfry where the bell hangs.  Soon we heard him circling round and round the spiral stairway, and through a knot hole we saw him enter that portion of the tower where the bell is rung with ropes.  He gazed around in bewilderment, until one of us unfortunately sneezed and the game was up …

Heber and Alan Greene in 1894

“We Greene boys felt that if anybody was in for it, we were.  I had an uncomfortable feeling and uncertainty as to what a churchwarden could do and I wondered what my father’s attitude would be, as he sought to stand by his warden.  But at any rate we were driven out of the church and there was peace, not only in South Africa, but also along Peter Street.”