Our magnificent Casavant organ turned 90 on September 26, 2016. The process for building this organ began in 1923, when the Right Reverend J. F. Stanley was supervising the decoration of the interior of the cathedral. St. Peter’s organist, Dr. Louis Balogh, proposed a large three manual instrument from the Casavant organ company in Ste. Hyacinthe, Quebec, to replace the two-manual instrument built in 1886. The contract was signed in September 1925, at a cost of $22,320 ($300,783 in 2016 dollars).
The new Casavant organ was played at its first Mass to open Catholic Centennial Week on September 26, 1926. A Jubilee Souvenir program was printed for this event, containing the music for “Missa S. Michaelis Archangeli” composed by Dr. Balogh, photographs of the cathedral choirs, of the organ console, and a list of its specifications. It was the finest organ in Western Ontario at that time. Today, its replacement value would be close to $1,000,000.
In 2016, the organ sounds much as it did in 1926, even though its mechanical parts have been modernized. Major repairs were done in 1971-73 including a new $10,833 console within the original wood case. Again, in 1981-83, major cleaning of pipes and some repairs were carried out for $17,509. A new solid state switching system was installed in 1995, for $24,000. In 2005, $25,000 was spent for a solid state combination system.
During the 1970’s, the Knoch organ company advised the parish that the instrument needed new pipework to improve the sound for 17th century baroque music. Thankfully, this was not done, as such a change would have completely altered the sound of the instrument. Our Cathedral organ is a unique work of art, and has been allowed to remain a statement of its time period. Particularly, the Vox humana stop and the Cor anglais stop are unique to this organ. The former is a reed stop with a half-length pipe, and imitates the human voice. The latter has the haunting voice of an oboe, except lower in register and colour. Our organ has a full rich sound because of the many 8’ pipes that reinforce the melody line of our liturgical music. There are over 3000 pipes behind the façade pipes. It still remains one of the finest organs in Western Ontario, ably suited to both liturgical celebrations and concert performances.
We are always tuning and making small repairs to the organ.Currently we are replacing leather used in the valves that allow air into the pipes. Over time, leather dries and cracks causing dead notes. Donations for maintaining the organ are always welcome, and put to good use.
As we celebrate this anniversary, we can be proud of how our cathedral rectors, organists, choir directors, and parishioners have lovingly cared for our Casavant organ. It has contributed to so many Masses, diocesan celebrations like ordinations, and public concerts. I am blessed to have played it for the last 16 years. With your support this organ will last as long as St. Peter’s is standing.
Dr. Ronald Fox, Organist, St. Peter’s Cathedral
September 25, 2016