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Chinese Bell 

The Chinese Temple Bell was “mounted” by October 24, 1904, at Circle Drive and Beacon Hill Drive (near Douglas Street and Simcoe). A substantial structure was erected to support the great weight of the bell, including a roof to partially shelter it. The bell remained a curiosity in the Park until 1989, when it was moved to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

A pamphlet written by Barry Till, published by the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1992, traces the history of the bell. It was looted from a Chinese Temple during the Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901) by British troops and presented to the City of Victoria by Lt. W.B. Macdonald of H.M.S. Pique. Cast between 1641 and 1642, the iron bell weighed 479 kgs. (954 lbs) and was 1.36 metres tall. Like all large Chinese bells, the Park bell had no clapper. Ringing a bell in China involved swinging a wooden ramrod suspended horizontally by ropes like a battering ram. There was no ramrod provided in the Park, so generations of children banged the bell with coins, rocks and sticks. Inscriptions on the bell list the names of some 300 villagers of Funing City (now in Hebei Province) who paid for it to be donated to the White Robe Buddhist Convent. (Barry Till, Relic From a Distant Temple: Victoria’s Chinese Bell, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1992)

Till described an ill-advised effort of the Park Department to protect the bell in the 1930's involving scraping off rust and coating the bell with red lead and varnish. By the late 1980's, it was clear the bell should be kept indoors to protect it both from the weather and vandalism. A “conservation cleaning” was carefully undertaken so as not to damage the dragon and lotus flowers relief decorations. A special sealant was applied to stop rust and preserve it indefinitely. (Till, p. 5)

Archival photos of the Chinese Bell in the Park show two cannons, one on each side of the bell, in an area bare of trees and shrubs. The structure erected for the bell now stands empty south of the Burns Memorial, surrounded by large trees and shrubs. A gigantic flower basket hung in place of the bell during summer months until the drought of 2002 ended the tradition.

In January, City Council approved $650 to move the Chinese Temple Bell to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The bell was being destroyed by weather and vandals in the outdoor location in Beacon Hill Park. Another option--building a thermostatically controlled house around the bell--was considered and rejected in December, 1988.

The bell was cast between 1641 and 1642, looted from Funing county in Yunnan province during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900, and hung in Beacon Hill Park in 1904.

In a report to the City, Barry Till, curator of Asian art said he saw people banging on the bell with coins, keys, stones and branches. At one point a cutting torch created a large gap and cracks developed from that space. Vandals swung the bell high and hard against the pillars of the pavilion. “Cracks have already started developing in it and there is a potential for metal fatigue. It’s time we did something.” Till said restoring the bell might cost $8,000. The bell would be placed in a protected display location at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria; the City would apply for a heritage grant to do the work. (Times Colonist, January 6, 1989)

On January 23, 1989, after hanging for eighty-five years at the junction of Lookout Road and Circle Drive, the 479 kg. (954 lb.) bell was carefully lowered onto a platform (see photo) and moved to the Art Gallery.

According to a booklet written by Barry Till, the heavy corrosion and paint residue was later removed, the iron stabilized and covered with a coating of mirathane, with funds provided by the B.C. Heritage Trust. (Barry Till, Relic From a Distant Temple--Victoria’s Chinese Bell. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1992.)

[In 2004, the roof structure and a concrete pad with the date “1904" remain at the bell’s old location in Beacon Hill Park. Until 2002, when water restrictions ended the tradition, a gigantic hanging flower basket hung in the bell’s place as well there is a picnic table (2023).