Return of Bell Rings Good News for Alma Alumnae

Ian McCallum
St. Thomas Times-Journal
January 7, 2013

It will never ring again to stir sleepy students or summon legions of exuberant young women to the dining hall, however the return of a truly iconic form of primitive communication is being welcomed by the Alma College community.

It has been some time since this corner has focused on the former school for girls, but the invitation to join Donna Robertson, past-president of the Alma College International Alumnae; Stephen Francom, Elgin County Archives manager; and Mike Baker, Elgin County Museum curator, to provide details on the return to St. Thomas of the Alma College bell proved too tempting to resist.

The bell disappeared some years ago, likely commandeered by a former Alma student in order to provide a safe home as the college faced the spectre of demolition by neglect. As we understand, the bell ended up in the U.S., where it languished for some time before returning to St. Thomas under equally hazy circumstances.

In October of this year, the owners of the Alma College property, George and Jill Zubick of London, received a call from a St. Thomas resident wishing to return the much-travelled bell to them.

"It was exciting," Jill told us this week. "I didn't know where the bell was. I don't think it was taken for destruction. It is very, very precious to the alumnae. It was hanging from the top floor, it was rung for everything."

Knowing the value of the bell, the Zubicks knew they had only one option. "It was never our bell. It belongs to the archives, the alumnae, the city. We wanted to make sure it was preserved. And secondly, if we ever have something at Alma, that it would take its rightful place back. Even if it is just for people to see."

The appearance of the bell after its lengthy adventure was welcomed by Robertson, Francom and Baker, who have developed an energetic partnership to collect and display Alma artifacts.

"We’re pretty appreciative of having a safe place to put everything, instead of going from one person’s basement to another person’s garage," advised Robertson. "We’re always looking for opportunities to put the material on exhibit," added Baker. "We got a nice donation from the alumnae to put the bell in to some kind of shape for semi-regular viewing."

"That’s just one example of the symbiotic relationship that exists between the Alumnae, the archives and the museum," Francom pointed out. "Over the years they’ve given us money with no strings attached, which we direct to the general reserve which we keep for the care and maintenance of the Alma collection."

In addition to scouring the land for Alma artifacts, Robertson is continually on the prowl for alumnae, seeking info to be added to their database of over 6,000 contacts.

And, for the third year, the alumnae will award a scholarship to a St. Thomas high school student. In this case, to a St. Joseph's High school student.

The alumnae association's annual reunion will be held this June in London, with get-togethers planned in July near Toronto for 70's and 80's alumnae and September in Toronto for 50's and 60's. For more info on the alumnae association, join the Alma College Facebook group, or visit the website at

Now, if we could just get some movement on preservation of the chapel and music building, not to mention clean-up of the grounds which remain under a heritage designation, there truly would be cause for celebration. Which prompts the question: What about the city's minimum property standards bylaw?