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 Royal Canadian Air Force 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 it upon themselves to "liberate" the Rivers bell, transporting it across the prairie to their mess back in Moose Jaw and installing it on a "theft proof" steel beam mount.
The base commander, 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 the bell one weekend in September 1955. Mingling with the Sunday morning church crowd, the rescuers succeeded in penetrating the officers' mess, disabled the phones and secured the mess occupants, including the orderly officer. With hack saws and a bit of muscle power, the rescuers succeeded in retrieving their bell.
The bell was tossed over the nearest perimeter fence, stored in the trunk of a car, and ferried back to RCAF Station Rivers. Once back, G/C Sproul stored so securely, that when RCAF Station Rivers closed in 1971, Lieutenant-Colonel 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 graduation parades.