Memorable Manitobans: Leon Bell (1916-2002)
Musician, conductor, pharmacist.
Born at Russia in 1916, the son of Isaac and Pnina Bell, he accompanied his parents during their 1921 immigration to Canada and settled at Buchanan, Saskatchewan. He took up a violin at the age of 11. Following the family relocation to Edmonton, Alberta he became known in the local musical scene, helping to found the Edmonton Symphony. He was both the organization’s secretary and a musician in its first violin section. Simultaneously, he earned a pharmacy degree from the University of Alberta.
He moved to Winnipeg in 1945, where he met his future wife, Rose Rabinovitch (?-2005) in May 1946. The couple was married at on 8 February 1948 and had three children. He rapidly gained renowne in musical and pharmaceutical circles. He was an original member of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and formed and conducted the Eagles Concert Band in the 1950s. In 1966, he founded the Leon Bell Strings strolling violin group. He went on to be concertmaster and conductor of the Winnipeg Pops Orchestra, and conductor of the University of Manitoba concert band and St. James Pops Orchestra. An active musician to the end, he put on a concert in 2001 for dialysis patients at the Health Sciences Centre. His accomplishments are cited in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada and Our Musical Heritage. He also played professionally with a symphony in Saskatoon. While pursuing his musical passion, he also operated Norlyn Pharmacy and Bell Drugs, working as a pharmacist for over 30 years, and later continued in a part-time capacity up to 1997.
He was President of the Jewish Musical Club (1960-1962), Winnipeg Jewish Congress Council, and Winnipeg Lions Club (named Lion of the Year 1993-1994). A founding member of Folklorama, he was the inaugural recipient of the Mayor’s Voluntary Service Award for Arts and Humanities.
He died at Winnipeg on 9 March 2002 and is presumed interred with his wife at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery. He is commemorated with Leon Bell Park and Leon Bell Drive in Winnipeg.
“Jewish Musical Club officers,” Winnipeg Free Press, 6 February 1960, page 29.
“The Jewish Community orchestra,” Winnipeg Free Press, 23 June 1962, page 26.
“Musicians play for the love of it,” Winnipeg Free Press Weekly West Edition, 17 January 1988, page 3.
“Violinist shares musical healing,” Winnipeg Free Press, 3 October 1999, page A3.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 23 March 2002, page C13.
Obituary [Nancy Manusow], Winnipeg Free Press, 10 January 2004, page 28.
Obituary [Rose Bell], Winnipeg Free Press, 11 September 2005, page 10.
“Remembering Leon Bell,” Winnipeg Free Press, 1 October 2007, page A12.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 16 September 2014