90-year-old pipe organ, free to a good home: Hamilton church hopes to find congregation in need

Binkley United Church in Hamilton is closing and hopes its search to find a new home for the pipe organ that's been producing "gorgeous" sounds there for decades will end on a high note. It's willing to give it away at no cost to the right congregation, which would have to pay its own moving costs.

'It would be a travesty to have it sit there and be hit by the wrecker's ball,' organist says

The congregation at Binkley United Church in Hamilton is searching for a new home for its pipe organ. (Supplied by Ron Dossenbach)

The view from behind the triple keyboards of the pipe organ at Binkley United Church is reminiscent of an airplane cockpit, with knobs, gauges and pedals — not to mention roughly 1,216 pipes.

Now all of this could be yours, at no charge.

The Hamilton church is closing and its building is slated for demolition. The congregation is joining with another in the city and the organ, which dates back some 90 years, needs a new home. It's accepting serious offers until midnight June 7.

Norene Anderson, the final organist to play the organ at Binkley, described it as "lovely," adding it will be hard to say goodbye to the instrument she's enjoyed for so long.

Anderson is quick to admit she only has her Grade 3 piano, but she started out with a pump organ and found herself fascinated. She really knew how to make the pipe organ at Binkley sing.

"Everybody loves it if I really crank it up," she said with a laugh.

There hasn't been much of an excuse to crank it up over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anderson said it's been difficult to visit the church, knowing the organ won't be there for long, but the alternative is much worse.

"It's a real heartstring tug," she said. At the same time, "it would be a travesty to have it sit there and be hit by the wrecker's ball."

When Ron Dossenbach found out the Binkley organ needed a new congregation, he drove from Windsor in southwestern Ontario and spent several hours "snooping around" to suss out the kind of shape the Casavant Opus 1439 was in.

Watch | Ron Dossenbach takes the Binkley organ through its paces:

A semi-retired organ builder, Dossenbach has been involved in tuning, repairing and removing several of the massive instruments over the past decade or so.

"You kind of feel like you're doing something good if you can save an organ from destruction," he said.

In recent years, Dossenbach said he's noticed church attendance, not to mention interest in organs, start to fade.

He recalled playing a wedding two years ago where a woman in her 50s told him she'd never heard a pipe organ played.

"I was shocked and then, at the same time, I realized this is about right," he said. "That's evidence the organ culture is really in decline."

While some organs suffer from poor construction or fixes over the years, Dossenbach said Binkley's has had "virtually no changes" since it was first installed in 1931.

'Big fat' pipes and others the size of a pencil

The organ started out at Morrison Street United Church in Niagara Falls, Ont., with an original price tag of $7,900. It moved to Hamilton in 1992 after being sold for $60,000, not including the cost of transportation and "revoicing."

Dossenbach said the instrument has two large wind chests that likely weigh in at a ton each, estimating the entire organ weighs upwards of seven tons.

That includes the more than 1,000 pipes.

"The biggest one is a big, fat wooden one over eight feet tall and the smallest ones are like pencils," said Dossenbach, adding some of those pipes aren't "much stronger than a cardboard roll of Christmas paper" and will bend if not treated gently.

Social media posts about the organ have carried notes of hope for a new home far and wide — requests and questions have come from around the world, said Anderson.

Others have been much closer to Hamilton, including what she described as a "serious inquiry" from a church in St. Catharines.

The instrument has largely gone unchanged since it was first installed in Niagara Falls. Ont., in 1931 and sounds 'gorgeous,' according to semi-retired organ builder Ron Dossenbach. (Supplied by Ron Dossenbach)

The organist said her hope is simple. "I just want a good home for this beautiful ... organ."

While the organ itself is free, Dossenbach said moving such a hefty instrument, making some minor updates and setting it back up could run into "six figures."

Still, despite its age, the organ sounds "gorgeous" he said, adding it's got a lot to offer.

"I would love to be in a church ... using this organ," said Dossenbach. "It's good for decades if we take care of a few little repairs."