Pipe Organs in Newfoundland and Labrador 

...a Personal Odyssey by David Peters 

 

Preface

After many ears practising dentistry and playing church organ, the time came to move on to other things on my agenda. Three on the list, near the top, unrelated it seemed, were: 1/ climbing Gros Morne Mountain, Newfoundland’s highest peak, because I had to do that once; 2/ locating all the pipe organs in Newfoundland, because they were an irresistible attraction, and 3/ visiting the Falkland Islands, because since my school days that place and Newfoundland seemed to have too many uncanny similarities to ignore.

The invitation of Royal Canadian College of Organist’s Archivist to compile a listing of all the pipe organs in Newfoundland and Labrador was a most welcomed, enjoyable, strenuous and rewarding challenge. My best effort has been made, but my limited abilities have probably left unfortunate errors of commission and omission.

My own ground rules were to include all pipe organs in the province located in public places, and any others (four it turns out) which, although not Newfoundland pipe organs, may add interest and colour to the narrative. They are George Street Church, St. John’s; St Stephen’s Church, Greenspond; the Cathedrale de Ste Pierre et Miquelon; and Christ Church Cathedral, Falkland Islands.

Forty-five of the organs catalogued were visited over the past ten months, and in Newfoundland, that required 5,000 kms of travel over road and water. The two organs that were not visited were in Labrador, but the organ in the Basilica in Labrador City is totally identical to the one in Coley’s Point, and the Moravian Mission organ was described in such affectionate detail by my friend. Dr. Tom Gordon, that I feel I have actually been there..

No attempt has been made to enter organ lofts to assess technical details involved in the construction and maintenance of the King of Instruments. Rather, the concern is to present organs as they look, as they sound, as they are a joy to play and of the historic role they play in our religious heritage. We haven’t been unaware of the human interest stories, and the lives of those who build and maintain them, those who play and hear them, and of those who dig deeply to pay for them.

And, of course, the magnificence of any organ is largely dependent on the acoustical properties of the building in which it resides.

People are extraordinarily kind and accommodating. Churches were beautiful and well kept, and most of the organs, largely depending on age, are I reasonable working order, better than they seemed to be in years past. Two or three are not playable, but for extremely valid historic reasons they should be restored rather than ignored.

The impact of the project on me is not without its lighter side. I get asked many varied questions, polite and otherwise. My grandchildren, on my most recent birthday card, suggested that I was the only grandfather they knew "that would (and could) climb Everest to find an organ," and by strange coincidence this nearly happened. Before the show is over you can judge for yourself!

Last January, I visited Stanley, Falkland Islands, on a cruise ship, and on the tour of Christ Church Cathedral there I was invited to play the organ, with mountain climbing shoes and all. The tune which came to me was "Will Your Anchor Hold", singularly appropriate for that stormy island.

About two months later, a certificate authenticating the visit arrived, indicating our proximity to the South Pole, arguably the second most inaccessible place on earth.

Enjoy.