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A Story of Two Bells

The question of how communities go about making decisions is central to our work at Acadia Partners and SERC. Gouldsboro is faced with a decision about two bells. This decision is a good example–and a good jumping off point–to use in some broader thinking about how communities make decisions. But, first, I need to tell you about the bells, and about hurricanes and shipwrecks. It is a story that stretches back 140 years.

On September 1, 1864 the SS Queen Victoria carried Canadian delegates to the port of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for a meeting to discuss the possibility of a British North American Union between Canada and the Maritime provinces. On Saturday, September 3 the representatives of the Canadian provinces invited the other delegates to a champagne and oyster luncheon on board the Victoria.  George Brown was at the luncheon, and wrote a letter to his wife that included the following description of the luncheon:

…whether as the result of our eloquence or of the goodness of our champagne, the ice became completely broken, the tongues of the delegates wagged merrily, and the banns of matrimony between all the Provinces of BNA having been formally proclaimed and all manner of persons duly warned their [sic] and then to speak or forever after to hold their tongues — no man appeared to forbid the banns and the union was thereupon formally completed and proclaimed!.

The Charlottetown meeting was followed by another meeting in Quebec City later in 1864 and by debates and conferences over the next two years. The British North America Act was approved in 1867, leading to the creation of the Dominion of Canada on July 1, 1867.

The SS Queen Victoria did not survive to witness the creation of the confederation. In 1866, while sailing off the coast of North Carolina, the Victoria ran into a hurricane and started taking on water. Fortunately, a brigantine built in Gouldsboro, under the command of Captain Rufus Allen of Gouldsboro, was able to come to the rescue of the crew, saving all hands. As the Victoria was sinking, the Victoria’s captain ordered the crew to remove the 75 pound bronze bell, carrying it through the hurricane winds to the Gouldsboro ship. He presented the bell to Captain Allen as an expression of thanks.

When he retired from sailing in 1875, Captain Allen gave the bell to the town of Gouldsboro, where it served until the 1950s as the school bell in Gouldsboro’s grammer school in Prospect Harbor. When Gouldsboro moved to what was then the new school on Pond Road, the bell was taken down from the bell tower and placed in the entry hall to the Women’s Club.

Years passed. A group of citizens, wondering about the history of the elegant old bell sitting in the Women’s Club, learned of its connection to the early days of the Canadian confederation. So, they called up officials on Prince Edward Island and asked them if they would like to have the bell back. The Canadians said that they would be happy to have the bell and sent a helicopter carrying Canadian officials to pick it up.

Unfortunately, the people arranging the return of the Victoria’s bell had done so without consulting with the leadership of the Gouldsboro Women’s Club. When the Canadians arrived, the Women’s Club met and voted against returning the bell. So, the Canadian officials returned empty-handed. The bell itself was moved from the women’s club to a safe in the town office.

More years passed. A few years ago, Gouldsboro resident and innkeeper Ben Walter learned of the history of the bell and decided to raise the money to create a replica which could be presented to the Canadians. By a remarkable coincidence, Prospect Harbor is now the home U.S. Bells, of one of the few bell foundries within the United States. Dick Fisher, owner of U.S. Bells, spent the last two years learning the techniques and assembling the tools required to create a lost-wax replica of the original bell–a much larger bell than the ones normally made in the foundry. On Sunday, October 16, U.S. Bells hosted an open house to celebrate the creation of the new bell. The replica is a beautiful bell, just like the original.

Which is how Gouldsboro came to have two 75 pound bronze bells, each inscribed with the name of the SS Queen Victoria. Gouldsboro is now also the owner of a decision: Which bell should go back to Canada?

For me, this decision process stimulates questions about the how we make decisions in small communities such as ours. The questions are important, since there is every reason to believe that towns up and down this part of the coast will be facing numerous important decisions over the coming years, as growth issues change, economic issues become even more challenging, and natural resources issues become more prominent. 

I will explore some of these questions about decision-making in other postings over the next few days. A number of these questions seem to me to be candidates for research projects that we might undertake, with the help of college and university researchers, here at the Schoodic Education and Research Center.

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