Monday, July 1, 2013

A Dominion Reed Organ Diversion

St. Thomas' Anglican Church, Ullswater/Bent River Ontario
About fifteen minutes east of Rosseau, Ontario, on Dee Bank Road, just off of Hwy 141, sits a little Anglican Church that has long been a favourite of mine, St. Thomas'  Anglican Church Ullswater/Bent River.  It is part of the parish of St. Stephen, which includes St. Thomas' Church, Orrville (my parents' home church), Church of the Redeemer, Rosseau, St. Thomas' Church, Ullswater/Bent River, and Christ Church, Windermere.  I first encountered St. Thomas' Ullswater/Bent River during my time as a Divinity student.  I spent two wonderful summers with the rector, my good friend, the Rev. C. Peter Simmons, and each Sunday we did the circuit of three of the four churches.  During that time I had the opportunity to preach at this wonderful church and since ordination have presided at the altar on numerous occasions.

This church is a delightful, small country church with a Sunday summer attendance of about 20-25, and it feels very full when there are that many people there!  It meets year round and is supported by a faithful group of parishioners who love and care for it. 

The Church sign. My friend the Rev. Peter Simmons is the Rector
The bright, simple interior of the church.
I am told that the Church is actually a log structure that was shingled over sometime during the twentieth century.  The interior has been panelled as well. Although I am not a fan of covering up the historical character of a place of worship, it has a lively, bright feel to it, which makes it a very pleasant place to worship. The ceiling is "domed" which allows for quite robust acoutics in such small building. But wait... look!  What do we see up front on the epistle side of the church?  Is that a reed organ?! 

Why yes, it is!  In addition to the modern electric organ (located on the Gospel side of the church) is an old Dominion Reed Organ.  I noticed this treasure when I first preached at St. Thomas' some years ago, and although I was intrigued, I had little knowledge of reed organs in those days.  Last summer, I decided to take a closer look...

The Dominion Organ Company of Bowmanville, Ontario, was an important Canadian manufacturer of Reed Organs.  Rodney Jantzi has recently restored a Dominion organ and information about the Dominion Company can be found here. To view Rodney's Dominion Orchestral reed organ restoration project, click here.

A view of the Dominion logo on the bass side of the stop board.
When I asked one of the organists (can you believe this little church has three organists?!  Oh, how they are blessed!) about the organ, I was told that it was completely refurbished a few years ago, and electrified.  Ouch.  I think their idea of "refurbished" might be a fair distance from what we call "restored."  I wondered if the bellows system had been completely removed.  I sat down and pumped and it made some music, if you can call it that, for the Churchman is not the most accomplished organist that ever lived!  But it became clear that the bellows were still there, if a bit leaky, as it required some vigourous pumping to keep the sound going.  I pulled out the various stops and found that there was pretty much only one registration working.  I'm not sure if the stop knobs were detached, or if the linkages were broken, or if this was all part of the "refurbishment!"  Several of the stop-faces were missing.   For some reason, I didn't take a picture of all the stop knobs.  Nor did I list what they were.  I guess I didn't have a pen and paper handy or something.  Duh. From the photos, I believe there are ten stops, as follows: 1) missing, 2) missing, 3) Bass Coupler, 4) Vox Humana, 5) Forte, 6) Treble Coupler, 7) missing, 8) Vox Angelica 8', 9) Echo 8', 10) missing.

Stop knobs... bass side
Stop knobs,  moving up the keyboard.

A look at the organ from another angle shows it to be a fairly simple but handsome case, not anywhere near as ornate as my Mason and Hamlin.  I expect it did good service in this little church for many generations.  One of the other organists told me that she played it once when the power went out, but that she wore herself out pumping it.

If this organ is supposed to be "electrified", what happened to the "on" switch?
If it had been electrifed, I thought maybe I could find an "on" switch somewhere that would allow me to see what happens under power.  Incidentally, Dad told me that in the church in Orrville, they used to have a reed organ and he remembers when he was a boy that his dad electrified it with a vacuum cleaner motor when the old spinster organist who was in her nineties could no longer play it.   That organ is long gone, but in looking for the "on" switch on this one, it became clear that it had gone missing!

The back of the organ ... a taped up pipe!
... And looking at the back of the organ, there is a pipe, presumably the suction source for the electrifcation refurbishment.  It is taped up with masking tape.
I didn't have a screwdriver with me or I would have tried to get a look inside.  The back was fastened pretty tightly.  I thought I'd take a look underneath the keyboard, but first I snapped a shot of the pedals and the two knee levers.

...and then a look underneath the keyboard to find No. 3326. Is this the action number or the serial number?
And another number stamped on the back, 58564.

Well, not being able to get inside, that's about all I could make of it last summer.  Perhaps this summer, I'll bring a screwdriver with me and take a look and see just what is (or is not) going on in there.  Could this be another restoration project after we get the M and H done?  Only time will tell.  I can say one thing for sure, I would love to see this little organ restored and the people of St. Thomas' Ullswater/Bent River singing their hymns of praise to its tones once again!
However, before I close off, there are a couple of other little interesting gems in this church worth pointing out...

The first is this beautifully carved lectern.  There is no pulpit in this church, so the lessons are read and sermons preached from this same lectern.  I have preached from it on numerous occasions, but being on the opposite side, I had never taken notice of the carved crest on the front...

Is that the coat of arms of my alma mater, Trinity College, Toronto?!  I believe it is! What on earth would it being doing on the front of this lectern out in the country in the Diocese of Algoma?

Perhaps the memorial plaque will tell the story...

Derwyn Trevor Owen (1876-1947) was successively, the Bishop of Niagara (1925-1932), the Bishop of Toronto (1932-1947), and the sixth Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada (1934-1947). David Derwyn Owen, B.A. Captain of the Queen's Own Rifles, who "died of wounds in Normandy, August 17th, 1944" was likely a relative of the late bishop, perhaps his son?  I knew two of Archbishop Owen's grandsons fairly well.  It should be easy enough to identify him with a bit of research.
Was this lectern once resident in Trinity College? 
Also in this little church we find this very interesting bishop's chair.
The left half of the crest looks like the cresf of the Diocese of Toronto.

Which makes sense, as upon closer inspection we see that the chair is a memorial to Archbishop Owen who "worshipped here for many summers."

It just goes to show that we ought to take the time to slow down and inspect our surroundings.  When I think of all the times I have been in this church and not noticed these little details, it astounds me that I missed them.  Then again, in multi-point rural ministry, one rushes in just on time as the service begins and then rushes out to head off to the next church, not event taking time to remove one's vestments!  It took a special trip to investigate the Dominion Reed Organ to notice these other important features of this fine little church. I'm glad I took the time to drive out there and explore the familiar!

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