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Unveiling the St. James the Less Church Bell

During Homecoming Weekend we unveiled the new home of the St. James the Less church bell. St. James the Less church was a church in Compton that KHC students attended during their time there. The church was slated for demolition and thanks to the initiative by Margot (Graham) Heyerhoff, KHC'69, BCS will be the new home of the bell, stained-glass windows, door handles, and several pews (notably the ones in the prefects balcony). Margot shared a few words to mark the occasion:

There’s history—facts and dates as you can read on this panel behind me and then there is HISTORY—the more intriguing back story behind how it is that we are gathered here today to unveil this bell from St. James the Less church in Compton. That’s the story I would like to share with you.

When KHC closed in 1972 and amalgamated with BCS, not many items from the school came to this campus along with the girls. Up until then, the church was a parish church that also happened to be the official chapel for the school—KHC’s Chaplain was also the parish priest, the KHC girls made up the entire choir, and KHC students and staff provided most of the funds going into the collection plate every Sunday.

As an aside—we few Catholics at the school went to church in Compton village with Mlle Cailteux in a taxi and I recall us grinning and waving at the rest of the student body as they walked to St. James—in a blizzard!

So, when the school closed, you can imagine that it was also a great loss for the non-KHC-connected parishioners after 90 years of sharing their church.

In 1980, when I worked for the Alumni Association here at BCS, Headmaster John Cowans and I learned that the church building was suffering from age, was becoming expensive to maintain, and there were only six Anglican families left to care for it.  Also, services were only held monthly by a visiting minister.  We came up with the idea of perhaps moving the church to the BCS campus to be restored and turned into a museum and a home for the archives. One evening we went to visit the families at the church to discuss the idea. The families were not completely opposed to the idea but did not feel ready to give up their church and have it taken away.  This was completely understandable and the conversation ended there.

Fast forward to 2015—36 years after that meeting when we heard that indeed the families could not sustain their church any further. It had been deconsecrated and was to be sold. Greg Stevenson, Susan Cook, and I went to see the church. It was sadly beyond any chance of relocation and renovation this time around. It would probably not have been able to make the trip to Lennoxville and would easily cost over $1 million to restore. We did however ask the representative from the Diocese if we could have the bell, certain historically relevant and important stained glass windows, and some of the pews. This was a condition put into the eventual sales agreement with the buyer.

At around 7:30 am on a chilly autumn morning in 2015, a few of us met the new owner, a crew from BCS and a giant crane to remove the bell, six stained glass windows, and the pews which were crated and transported to my barn outside North Hatley to be hidden and kept safe until they could be restored.  The bell was restored in 2016 and one window has been repaired since then—you can see it today too!

I asked some young architect friends of mine if they could draw some designs for a support system to display the bell. They came up with four or five and the one you see today was chosen. It depicts an 'Open Book' inspired by the open book in the centre of the BCS crest. One ‘page' is solid and tells the history of the bell and the church. The other ‘page’ is hollow and holds the suspended bell.  The height and proportions were also carefully chosen as we wanted it to be high enough to be safe and visible but not so high that someone couldn’t jump up and touch the bell.

Our hope is that touching the bell might become a tradition—for example, something students might do for good luck before an exam.

I understand that this bell—175 years old this year—will ring on certain important occasions during the school year. It will continue to ring out in exactly the same tone as it did for all those years in Compton thanks to the donors whose names also appear on the ‘book’, several of them here today. I am honoured to unveil this bell as part of the newest chapter in the book of KHC and BCS—50 Years Together.

Thank you all!