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Victoria’s First Carillonneur was a Glenlyon Teacher

Gryphon Gallery
Bells ring in honour of Mr. Bergink, a former teacher at GNS.

While visiting Victoria’s Inner Harbour you most likely have heard the chimes from the tower outside the RBC Museum. The Netherlands Centennial Carillon tower was a gift from British Columbia’s Dutch community to honour Canada’s 100th birthday in 1967. In the beginning at its summit it contained 47 bells that now automatically ring out on the hour throughout the year.

What you may not know is that on special occasions, a carillonneur plays a variety of songs to entertain the crowds below. You may have even stopped at the base of the tower to read a plaque dedicated to Herman Bergink. But did you know that Mr. Bergink taught Music and Choir at Glenlyon from 1964 to 1966?

There was nothing in the demeanour of this quiet Dutchman to suggest the horrifying experience through which he had gone during W.W.II. Born in Holland, he had learned to play the organ at age six, but further study was difficult because of the Depression and then the war. At 18 he was conscripted for a labour camp in Germany. Attempting to escape and cross the border back to Holland, he fell ill and was found to be suffering from appendicitis. He was treated in the hospital at his home but the German doctor tried to hasten his recovery and get him back to the camp. He was eventually summoned to return, but escaped to Amersfoot. Here, with the help of the Dutch underground, he obtained a new identity and a bookkeeping post.

He returned to his home after the liberation of Holland in 1945 and eventually married. In 1957 he immigrated to Canada with his wife and five children, becoming the organist and choirmaster at St. David’s-by-the-sea in Cordova Bay. It was during some of this time that he taught at Glenlyon.

In 1967, the Carillon Tower was gifted to Victoria with Queen Juliana of Holland placing the cornerstone for its construction. The following year, Herman Bergink was offered the position of first carillonneur. To play, he had to climb the 75 steps of the spiral staircase and then a 10-step ladder to sit at the clavier. There he would depress the clavier’s keys and pedals to sound the bells and play a song. 

In 1971, the province celebrated the 100th anniversary of the colony’s entry into the Canadian confederation. Mr. Bergink liked to tell a story about a meeting with Premier W.A.C. Bennett.

“Herman, how many bells does the Peace Tower in Ottawa have?” Mr. Bennett asked.

“Fifty-three bells, Mr. Premier,” he replied.

Mr. Bennett thought for a moment. “Can’t we get 54?” Magically the carillon wound up with 62 bells, making it the largest in the land!

Herman Bergink passed away in 1997 but the bells of the Carillon still ring out for him.