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The Rivers Bell – A landlocked ship’s bell that still managed to travel

Published in the The Rivers Banner, 8 September 2008

Published in the The Lookout – Navy News, 27 May 2016

Published on the Canadian Army Aviation web site – www.canadianarmyaviation.ca/aatts_mess_bar_bell.html

The Rivers Bell – A story of honour and thievery

A ship’s bell is an essential component of any ship. Usually made of brass with the ship’s name engraved on it, the ship’s bell is used to indicate time on board a ship and regulate the duty watches. They are also used in foggy conditions, are a prized possession and are often the only conclusive means of identifying shipwrecks.

The “Rivers Bell” has its own unique place in the history of ship’s bells. A strictly land-based bell, the Rivers bell was a gift from the Royal Canadian Navy to the Canadian Joint Air Training Centre at RCAF Station Rivers in November 1951. Year after year, the bell hung in the corner of the Officers’ Mess, cheerfully being rung to signal a promotion with “drinks all around” for all mess mates.

However, like most ship’s bells, which travel from port to port along with their respective ships, the Rivers Bell was not one to be tied down to one location either. One night in 1955, personnel from RCAF Station Moose Jaw took stole the Rivers Bell and took it with them back to their base, installing it in their Officers’ Mess.

The Base Commander at Rivers, Group Captain Jack Sproule, was none too happy about this turn of events. To rectify the situation G/C Sproule led a “rescue party”, to retrieve their bell, which they did one weekend in September 1955 during their own visit to Moose Jaw.

Once back, G/C Sproule “…ensured that such an incident would never happen again by having the bell secured so well, that when RCAF Station Rivers closed in 1971, LCOL Bill Svab, who designed the “security measures”, had to be consulted on its removal.”*

The Rivers Bell was then relocated to the Officers’ Mess at RCAF Station Portage La Prairie.

Although CFB Portage La Prairie closed in September 1992, 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School remains at the Portage site, providing primary pilot selection and training for all Air Force pilots. To this day, the Rivers Bell remains in the Officers’ Mess, where service members still ring it to celebrate Wing’s Graduation Parades.

*Source:  Sentinel magazine.


From: “John & Jo-Ann Dicker”

To: <bruce@militarybruce.com>

Sent: Wednesday, February 08, 2012 12:58 PM

Subject:  Canadian Military History by Bruce Forsyth: Centralia

Good afternoon Bruce:

Just a quick one to say how thrilled I was to read the recent article you wrote on the Rivers bell. I was stationed at Rivers from Apr 62 to Apr 66 so I missed all the “bell” excitement, but you certainly made me feel like I was right there at the time. Thank you for writing that article. It brought back so many fond memories of Rivers. If I had a nickel for every time I rang that bell (I was a very young, single Army Officer living-in during the four years I was there), I would be rich!

There was also a Bell Book that went with that bell (probably lost forever now) and it sat on the counter at the corner of the bar right under the bell. Whenever anyone rang the bell they were supposed to sign the book (most did to my recollection). Many times one of single living-in types would peek in the main bar (there was also a small room attached to the main bar that we called the “snake pit” that you were allowed to go into in your flying suit etc) just to see how many were in there and if there weren’t many, just ring the bell and sign the book: “I rang the bell, just for hell”. I would hazard to say that that Bell book holds a ton of history and great memories for anyone who served there or even attended a Course at Rivers over the years.

Thanks again Bruce for the excellent article.

Best regards.


Orleans ON


About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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