'Like night and day': Restored Dominion-Chalmers pipe organ to ring out again

A towering pipe organ that once chimed throughout the former Dominion-Chalmers United Church will be played publicly today for the first time since undergoing a major restoration.

Organ has been reinstalled at new Carleton arts centre

Mara Brown, director of the CDCC (left), Ian Bevell, musical director of the Dominion-Chalmers congregation (centre), and organ restorer Sylvain Brisson of Orgues S. Brisson of Embrun (right) pose near the restored organ from the former Dominion-Chalmers United Church. (Giacamo Panico/CBC )

A towering pipe organ that once rang out in the former Dominion-Chalmers United Church will be played publicly today for the first time since undergoing a major restoration.

Installed in 1965, the pipe organ grew old with time and some of the buttons underneath the keyboard and paddle board became unreliable, according to Sylvain Brisson, organ restorer at Orgues S. Brisson. 

"It absolutely needed some work," Brisson told CBC Radio's In Town and Out on Saturday.

The organ has now been reinstalled at the former Centretown church, renamed the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Centre (CDCC) after Carleton University bought it last year and converted it into an arts and performing space.

This afternoon, people will be able to attend a public talk on the organ at the CDCC, followed by a concert.

Before restoration, the buttons beneath the keyboard were unreliable, according to organ restorer Sylvain Brisson. (Giacamo Panico/CBC )

Modernizing an ancient instrument 

Brisson, who has been restoring organs for 30 years, told In Town and Out that he dismantled every component of the instrument and took it to his workshop in Embrun, Ont., where it was restored, dismantled again, and transported back to Ottawa. 

The organ used to have approximately 400 to 500 cables that connected it to the sound board, he said. 

Now, only one cable runs from the back of the organ to the console. Brisson said this allows for the sound to travel faster, making the instrument more versatile and therefore easier for organists to use.   

He said that won't change the organ's sound since it still relies on wind, wind blowers and wind regulators. 

Refurbishing an old organ is not an easy business, Brisson added. 

"We have to work and be handy in woodworking, electricity, tuning of course. You have to be able to tune, you have to be able to do a number of things." he said. 

Sunday's lecture and concert at the former Dominion-Chalmers United Church, seen here in 2017, will get underway at 3 p.m. (Alistair Steele/CBC)

Needed 'tender love and care'

Mara Brown, director of the CDCC, said that when the church was acquired, the university made the decision to extend the stage to be able to accommodate orchestras and large performance groups.

That process involved removing the choir loft where the organ was, allowing the instrument to be refurbished.

"Pipe organs particularly of this size need a lot of tender love and care over time," she said. 

Brown said the CDCC was lucky to have Brisson restore the organ. 

"To be able to work with someone who is known in the field and is very experienced and talented in this field is a treasure for us," she said.

Ian Bevell gives the organ a test before the public show. (Giacamo Panico/CBC)

Easier to play 

Ian Bevell, musical director for the Dominion-Chalmers congregation, told In Town and Out the organ is much easier to play now after its refurbishing. 

"It's like night and day," he said.

To celebrate the return of the organ, the CDCC is hosting a concert Sunday starring Bevell along with Thomas Annand, James Calkin and Jennifer Loveless from the Royal Canadian College of Organists. 

The concert will be preceded by a special lecture by organist Frances Macdonnell on the history of the pipe organ.

Sunday's event will also mark the establishment of a fund dedicated to maintaining the organ over the years. It starts at 3 p.m.



To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.