Leon Bell – A Life in Music

July 14, 2023

Leon Bell

June 30,1916 – March 9,2002


by Hannon Bell

Leon Bell trained as a pharmacist getting his designation at the University of Alberta. In Winnipeg he owned Bell Drugs (1950 – 1970) now the site of the Millennium Library and Norlyn Pharmacy (1956 – 1980) located on Hargrave Street just north of Portage Avenue. But Leon Bell was also a noted Winnipeg violinist, founding member of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) and a founder of Winnipeg`s multicultural festival – Folklorama.

Leon Bell was born in Elizabethgrad, Russia in 1916 and in the early 1920s he along with his parents, Isaac and Pinina and older brother Arthur, made the move to Buchanan, Saskatchewan, Canada.

At the age of 4, he discovered the magic of the violin and developed a natural talent and appreciation for the melodic instrument. This would become a lifelong passion.

Leon Bell`s great talent as a violin soloist quickly showed itself, and by the time he was 16, he was teaching others to play. In the late 1920s his family moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where Leon Bell became a significant force in the city`s musical fabric, eventually helping to form the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra where he played in the 1st violin section and acted as Secretary.

In 1945, Leon Bell moved to Winnipeg, where he became quickly known in the city`s music circles. He found it peculiar that Winnipeg did not have a symphony orchestra and through lobbying other musicians and community activity for support, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra (WSO) was born in 1948. Bell was one of the original founding members and played in its inaugural concert under the baton of conductor Walter Kaufmann.

After moving to Winnipeg, Leon Bell joined the Jewish Musical Club and became its President a year later. He was named Concert Master of the Jewish Community Orchestra, a position he held until 1970. He also performed on the Yiddish radio program as well as for many other Jewish organizations as well as the broader Winnipeg scene. He once noted, ” Winnipeg with its large Jewish community in the 1940s certainly inspired me and interested me in Jewish music”.

In the 1950s Leon Bell founded the Eagles Concert Band and acted as it`s conductor (1950-1960). In 1966, he formed the “LEON BELL STRINGS”, a group of strolling violinists who were much in demand, playing at many social and public events throughout Winnipeg. Bell was also involved with the St. James Pops Orchestra. Under his leadership the orchestra increased in size to 45 players and in 1983 changed its name to the Winnipeg Pops Orchestra. In his final years Bell still found time to practice and play his beloved violin, to the enjoyment of those who appreciated his immense talent.

For his many accomplishments in the musical and civic arenas he was honoured by the City of Winnipeg in 1994 with the naming of the Leon Bell Park in Whyte Ridge on Scurfield Boulevard and also Leon Bell Way in Fort Richmond.

Leon Bell was married to Rose Rabinovitch from 1948 to 2002 and was father to Hannon Cogan (1950) Nancy Susan (1952 – 2003) and Kenneth Eric (1956).

Leon Bell certainly lived a life in music!