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Trolley bells return to Marda Loop after 75 years

The Marda Loop trolley bells will chime on the hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Daytime visitors to Marda Loop will, as of Oct. 12, will be getting an auditory trip back in time to the neighbourhood’s historic roots.

Call and Response, a new public art installation by architect Jamie Clark, composer Lindsay Clark, and mastered by Juno-award-winner Vic Florencia, has brought back the chime of trolley bells to the four-way stop at 34 Avenue and 20 Street SW.

The art, which hangs from the second floor of the newly finished Martel Block, will pay homage to the historic No. 7 Trolley Loop from which Marda Loop takes part of its name.

“When looking at a community like Marda Loop, is that as Calgary continues to grow, one of the challenges that is faced is that there’s a loss of memory of that things that define the community fall by the wayside,” said Jamie Clark.

“Our challenge in building this building was including a public sculpture that would trigger that memory.”

He said that visually the design of the bells comes from bells that were used on the trolley cars.

“We challenged ourselves in designing this sculpture is not for it just to be a static object, but that it had the sound component because sound is such an important trigger for memory,” Jamie said.

“What I hope Calgarians take away from this, and specifically residents of Marda Loop, is history exists in a museum, yes, and it exists in the archives. But we can bring that history back out onto the streets, and this is a sound that has not been heard on the street corner for 75 years.”

Changing thoughts about bells on vehicles

Composer Lindsay Clark said that the melodic symphony of the bells is distinctly different than what modern ears associate with bells on vehicles.

“In the modern era of streetcar, a bell is a warning and it’s supposed to be kind of jarring to get you to move out of the way or off the tracks. But in the first half of the 20th Century, streetcar bells were downright pleasant,” she said.

“Much to my surprise, you could actually compose motifs and little melodies out of them.”

She said that in researching the sound of streetcar bells, she realized that she wanted to ensure that the elders of the Marda Loop community would once again have that warm happy feeling that came with the historic sound. That research led to her to performances by the San Francisco Trolley Bell Competition.

“They do this annually in San Francisco, and the streetcar drivers there will compete to make the craziest patterns and melodies you can on just a bell. So that was a huge source of delight to me as I was researching this,” Lindsay said.

She said that she hoped that the work would remind people about the importance of community connection, particularly after the pandemic.

“I hope that when people hear these motifs, it just reminds them of the ties that bind us to our community and to each other into the broader world,” Lindsay said.

Sharing a part of Marda Loop history

That sentiment was echoed by the Marda Loop BIA, which saw their Executive Director Bob van Wegen and members of the BIA board hear the sounds for the first time.

“I think in Marda Loop, the history here, the many deep layers of history here aren’t as obvious here as they are in say in an area like Inglewood. It’s something that we want to highlight. Many of our customers are local, they’re from the area, and they’re curious about the history,” said van Wegen.

“I think being able to tell the story of the history of Marda Loop really helps to enrich the whole Marda Loop experience.”

He said that ever since the Martel Block completed construction, there was a lot of interest in the building. Now, with the sounds, it was likely to become a gathering place for Calgarians.

“I think we’re going to put a plaque on the building that describes the streetcar and the bells. I do think that this is going to be a place people say ‘I’ll meet you at the streetcar bells,'” he said.

The bells play daily, on the hour, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.