Buried as it is among ads for motorcycles, sports jerseys and jewellery, a classified listing on websites Kijiji and Craigslist for “Pipe Organ Casavant Freres Opus 1034, Circa 1924” has attracted relatively few page views.
Developers who are converting a church in Toronto’s west end into condos are desperately seeking a new home for the pipe organ. They’re having a tough time – go figure.
The carefully crafted instrument, which was manufactured by Quebec’s Casavant Frères Ltee roughly 90 years ago, has 849 pipes that will have to be dismantled just to remove it, a process that will take weeks and cost more than $15,000. Reassembling and cleaning will be an additional $40,000 or so. And the current asking price is $20,000.
Still, there has been some interest. The condo developers, the Windmill Development Group, received a phone call from a music producer who thought about putting it in his studio. But he didn’t call back after learning that the pipes, which range from four to 16 feet in height, stretch as high as 25 feet once the façade and casing is included.
Indeed, the organ officially became homeless when the blossoming Seventh Day Adventist congregation that had made its home on Perth Avenue sold the site to move into a bigger space – with lower ceilings.
There was another call from an amateur historian who keeps random artifacts at his farm. And a company that didn’t know why the instrument was being put up for sale tried its luck to see if it could interest the developers in replacing the pipe organ with a more modern (and easy to relocate) digital one. But the most promising call thus far has come from a church organization that offered to disassemble and store the instrument until a church needed it.
“Hopefully, we just find someone who comes along and says, ‘We’re building a church and we’d love to have it,’” says Alex Speigel, who runs the Toronto office of Ottawa-based Windmill. “What do you do with an organ? It’s huge! So we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to find a new home for it.”
The company isn’t required to find a home for the instrument, but is trying to find new uses for as many of the church fixtures as possible. They’re hoping to house them all before construction begins, in roughly two months.
Mr. Speigel and his associates have put in calls to the company that built it, music professors, a number of organists and other musicians, most of whom politely said they’ll spread the word.
“We get some crank calls and some great calls; it’s a whole process,” Mr. Speigel says. “We’ve even got a guy at the Discovery Channel who said, ‘If you ever find a home for this, we want to do a special on just taking this whole thing apart.’”
Simon Couture, vice-president of Casavant Frères Ltee., says his firm has put a lot of effort into seeking a home for the instrument and is surprised one hasn’t been found yet.
He likens his efforts to pair up buyers and sellers of the company’s organs to being a matchmaker: “When the right instrument becomes available, you need to be ready.”
“We have worked very hard to find a home for it,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not a good pipe organ, it’s just a matter of what people are looking for at this stage.”
He noted that the company is in the midst of reinstalling a 1960s organ from a decommissioned church in Montreal into a parish in Mississauga. That parish wanted a larger one than the one Windmill is selling, and also made its decision before Mr. Couture knew this one was for sale.
“We see it as our duty, our mission, to find new homes for these Casavant organs,” he said. “It’s really sad that we seem to be unable to find a new home for this one.”
But Mr. Couture remains optimistic. And in the meantime, the instrument is getting some love – Mr. Speigel can occasionally be spotted putting his amateur piano techniques to use.
“It’s really amazing because there are two levels of keyboards and then there are all these pedals on the floor,” he says. “If nobody’s listening I can have a lot of fun.”