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Alexander Graham Bell to be celebrated this month

Arts and EntertainmentAlexander Graham Bell to be celebrated this month

The City of Brantford and the Bell Homestead National Historic Site are gearing up to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the invention of the telephone from Friday, July 26 through to Sunday, July 28, 2024.  

Brian Wood, Curator of the Bell Homestead NHS, said the “Thanks Mr. Bell” series will feature a host of free, family-friendly events that will take place at both the homestead and Harmony Square. 

“Friday, July 26 is the actual anniversary date so the kickoff event will be happening in Harmony Square. We’ve been calling it a ‘Tribute to the Telephone’ and so we’ll have the Avalon Music Academy of Brantford performing that evening,” said Wood. “That will start at 7:00 p.m. and should run until about 8:30 p.m. We’ll also have the two mayors there, Mayor Bailey and Mayor Davis as well as David McKee, our Town Crier. Because Harmony Square is located close to where the telegraph office was where Mr. Bell made his three tests for the telephone, I’ll be giving a little bit of historical information to the audience that night.”

Kristin Vollick and Dan McDonald play the Bodhrán and Celtic Harp during the Candlelight Christmas Celebration tour of the Bell Homestead on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

On Saturday, the celebration continues with an afternoon of events over at the Bell Homestead. 

“We’ll be hosting the 150th garden party here from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. It will be, amongst other things, the official opening of our new telephone exhibition gallery, “Life on the Line: The Evolution of the Bell Telephone” in the Henderson home,” said Wood. “The ribbon cutting for that is at 1:15 p.m. and we will again have the two mayors here, as well as one of Mr. Bell’s great granddaughters, Elsie Myers Martin. In the afternoon, we’re going to have some great musical entertainment and then the big highlight is not only opening the telephone exhibition gallery, but Elsie, who is also a choreographer and dancer in her own right, has choreographed an interpretive dance that she’s called ‘Nature had the Answer: An Ode to the Telephone’ and she’ll be performing at 1:30 p.m.and 2:30 p.m.”

Guests can also expect plenty of musical entertainment provided by the Telephone City Music Society and AILM+Celtic Musicians, as well as a special presentation of “Helen, Annie and Alec,” from Brant Theatre Workshop (written by Sharyl Hudeson). The show, which starts at 7:30 p.m. will explore the friendship between Helen Keller and Alexander Graham Bell. Canadian actor, John Tench, known for his portrayal of Dr. Bell in the CBC series “Murdoch Mysteries,” will be reprising his role for the production.

“Of course, there’ll be refreshments and one of the main beverages we’re serving is Mr. Bell’s favorite, raspberry vinegar,” said Wood. “It’s a bubbly kind of raspberry lemonade that he really enjoyed, that they used to make at his home in Nova Scotia.

4-H member Isabel Hernandez, explains one of the many findings on Alexander Graham Bell’s bedroom bookshelf during a tour at the Bell Homestead’s Eliza’s Mother’s Day Brunch on Sunday, May 14, 2023.

To end the weekend celebration, Sunday’s big event is the Telephone Trail Track Challenge, an18-kilometre route from Brantford to Paris. The track is the distance of the world’s first long distance telephone call. 

“We’ll be starting at Harmony Square and the trek will end at the Paris Museum and Historical Society at the Syl Apps Community Centre. Registration will run 8:30 to 9:20 a.m. and at 9:15 our two mayors will bring their greetings. Our Brantford town crier will also be representing the transmitting end of the call, and Larry Davis, the County of Brant town crier, will be at the receiving end of the call in Paris,” said Wood. “Along the trail we’ll be making five different stops along the way, all of which will have water, washroom facilities and a telephone trivia question. At the end point, we’ll have several refreshments and the Paris museum will have a display of what they have in their collection from the long distance call.”

For those who are unable to walk, run or bike the full distance, a shuttle bus will be available from 11:00 am. to 3:00 p.m. The shuttle will be making stops at each of the rest stops in case anyone chooses to bus the rest of the way.

4-H Ontario members gather in the parlor room for a pretend tea party during the tour for Bell Homestead’s Eliza’s Mother’s Day Brunch on Sunday, May 14, 2023.

Wood said that when it came to planning for the big weekend, he wanted to make sure it was different from the 100th anniversary in 1974.

“For the100th, the homestead was the main focus here at the museum so I really wanted to put a focus on the Henderson home which was more the commercial side of the telephone,” said Wood. “Our telephone exhibit gallery in that building hadn’t changed in 40 years, so we’ve gone in and we’ve done a full renovation of the back of the house. It’s been expanded and it’s a modern gallery so we’ve got more space to exhibit different models of telephones, and more of an opportunity to interpret how the telephone evolved. I really wanted to focus on the sentimental connections that people have to the telephone and not so much on how it functioned in a particular time period.”

Overall, Wood said that he and the team are looking forward to the exciting weekend. 

“We’ll never get to celebrate the 150th anniversary again in our lifetime,” he said. “It’s fun because it’s happening in the summer and so our summer students that we have working with us also get to be a part of it and they’re excited,” he said. “It’s funny because, at first I was kind of like, ‘oh, we have to organize another anniversary,’ but then I was like, ‘oh wait a minute, this is going to be so much fun…let’s do what we can to have fun with this, and at the same time create some great memories.”

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