Nova Scotia

Organ builder remembered for his talents and generosity

Jean-Francois Mailhot was an organ builder and 18th-century animator at the Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton. He's being remembered by the community for his talent with instruments and his kindness.

'He was a brilliant man, and I can say in all sincerity his ability was exceeded only by his generosity'

Jean Francois Mailhot, right, was a trained organ builder who also repaired the instruments. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

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.

Jim McNeil, Michelle Gardiner and Anne Lewis are members of St. George's Anglican Church's heritage committee, which is hosting a celebration of life for Mailhot. (Brittany Wentzell/CBC)

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.

About the Author

Brittany Wentzell

Current Affairs Reporter/Editor

Brittany Wentzell is based in Sydney, N.S., as a reporter for Information Morning Cape Breton. She has covered a wide range of issues including education, forestry and municipal government. Story ideas? Send them to brittany.wentzell@cbc.ca

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