Organ builder remembered for his talents and generosity
'He was a brilliant man, and I can say in all sincerity his ability was exceeded only by his generosity'
A Cape Breton historical committee is mourning the loss of a man who was instrumental in breathing life back into the oldest church on the island.
Jean-Francois Mailhot was a pipe organ builder, technician, tuner and voicer originally from Shawinigan, Que. After moving to Sydney, N.S., he began to lend his skills to restore several organs across Cape Breton.
On Feb. 2, Mailhot died in a car accident in North Sydney. He was 62 years old.
He's being fondly remembered by members of the heritage committee in charge of restoring St. George's Anglican Church in Sydney.
"He was a brilliant man, and I can say in all sincerity his ability was exceeded only by his generosity," said Jim McNeil, an organist and member of the committee.
Gifting his talents
Mailhot restored the church's century-old organ — a feat the committee view as a gift.
"I think he brought a gift to us that we never would have had, it was a surprise gift, we never expected to do anything with the organ, we were just focusing on things like keeping the roof from leaking," said Michelle Gardiner, chair of the heritage committee.
Mailhot refused to accept most of the payment the committee offered him.
Gardiner said having the pipe organ working means visitors to the 18th-century church can sit down and play, and others can enjoy hearing the stone building filled with music once more.
McNeil said besides helping St. George's, Mailhot was also responsible for fixing and protecting pipe organs throughout Cape Breton Regional Municipality.
But it's not just his talents McNeil misses.
"The loss is two-fold. One is his friendship because I cherish that, I spent a lot of time with him," said McNeil.
Mailhot also shared his musical talents with the Fortress of Louisbourg after he took a position as a Parks Canada animator.
Mailhot took on the role of 18th-century musician — playing and maintaining the fortress's hurdy-gurdy and harpsichord instruments.
The heritage committee is hosting a celebration of life for Mailhot at St. George's Anglican Church. Gardiner said they felt it was only fitting considering the gifts Mailhot shared with them.
The service takes place at 4 p.m. today.