The King's Organ

“Oh, it's just seraphic!” says the widow. “It's just the breath of incense and the pealing of the organ at the Cathedral at Montreal.

(William Thackery, The Newcomes, 1855)

The present Cathedral instrument is the fourth organ that has served the Christ Church congregation, although it is the third instrument in the present building. Following a fire in 1803, the congregation of Christ Church commissioned a new Georgian style church that was built on Notre Dame Street in the Old Town of Montreal. The church finally opened in 1814 and the then king, George III, gifted a new organ to the parish. The instrument was constructed by the London firm Thomas Elliot and was eventually installed in the building in 1816. Very little is known about this first instrument, other than the fact that it was widely praised for its tone. The organ was familiarly known as the ‘King’s Organ’ and, as far as we know, served the parish well until it, along with the rest of the building, was destroyed by fire (again) on 9 December 1856 shortly after the choir had finished their weekly rehearsal!

The 1859 Hill Organ

Thomas Elliot had, in 1825, joined forces with his son-in-law, William Hill, to form a partnership, Elliot and Hill, later to become the well-known William Hill & Son organ firm which to this day has numerous organs across the world. Following the destruction of the now Christ Church Cathedral on Notre Dame Street, the parish commissioned a new building on St Catherine, at the time well outside of the centre of the city, but which now sits at the heart of the core of downtown Montreal. In contrast to its Georgian predecessor, this gothic revival church was modelled on a number of English parish churches as was common in North America at the time. With the new building came a new organ, which was originally designed to replace the King’s Organ in its original state, although it is unknown to what extent this request was actually carried out. Records show that a new three-manual tracker instrument was installed by William Hill at a cost of £1,000 and that this was installed in the North Choir Aisle.

This instrument served the Cathedral for the best part of a century, although it is reported that even from an early stage the mechanical action proved to be difficult and unreliable, possibly as a result of the lack of local organ builders to maintain the instrument. The organ was adjusted and enlarged a number of times during its life, the first being made by William Hill in 1873, and in 1876 repairs were required 'on account of a heating apparatus having been introduced into the organ chamber, as well as by water from the roof.' A hydraulic pump was also fitted, the organ having been hand blown to this point, ad in the late 1890s Casavant Frères rebuilt the organ and electrified the action. Further stops were added by Hutchings of Boston in 1899, and a new enclosed Celestial Division was installed by Casavant, built in a floating case mounted high above the west arch of the crossing.

Manuals: CC to f (54 notes)


  1. Double Open Diapason 16
  2. Open Diapason 8
  3. Open Diapason 8
  4. Stopped Diapason 8
  5. Octave 4
  6. Twelfth 2 2/3
  7. Fifteenth 2
  8. Mixture II
  9. Sesquialtera III
  10. Posaune 8
  11. Trumpet 8

Swell (enclosed)

  1. Bourdon 16
  2. Open Diapason 8
  3. Stopped Diapason 8
  4. Octave 4
  5. Twelfth 2 2/3
  6. Mixture III
  7. Horn 8
  8. Oboe 8
  9. Vox Humana 8
  10. Clarion 4

    Swell to Great
    Swell to Choir
    Swell to Great Sub Octave
    Swell to Pedal
    Great to Pedal (right side)
    Great to Pedal (left side)
    Choir to Pedal
    Choir to Great
    Tremulant to Swell
    Tremulant to Choir



  1. Stopped Diapason 8
  2. Gamba 8
  3. Claribel 8
  4. Harmonic Flute 4
  5. Gemshorn 4
  6. Fifteenth 2
  7. Clarinet 8

Celestial (enclosed, playable on Swell or Choir)

  1. Gross Flute 8
  2. Gedackt 8
  3. Quintadena 8
  4. Salicional 8
  5. Voix Célestes 8
  6. Dolce 8
  7. Flûte d’amour 4
  8. Cornopean 8
  9. Chimes 20 tubes
  10. Pedal Bourdon 16

Pedal (CCC to F, 30 notes)

  1. First Open Diapason 16
  2. Second Open Diapason 16
  3. Bourdon 16
  4. Violone 16
  5. Violoncello 8
  6. Gedackt 8
  7. Flute 8
  8. Octave 8
  9. Fifteenth 4
  10. Trombone 16
  11. Tromba 8

The 1950 Hill, Norman & Beard Organ

It is reported that from at least as early as the 1920s this instrument was becoming increasingly unreliable and the then Director of Music, Dr Alfred Whitehead, attempted to persuade the Cathedral authorities to look into the possibility of replacing the failing organ. As well as various mechanical faults, the placing of the organ at the far liturgical East End of the Cathedral meant that it struggled to speak into the rest of the building thus providing insufficient support for the congregation in the Nave. In 1947, following the appointment of Dr Arthur Egerton as organist, the Cathedral entered into discussions with Messrs Hill, Norman & Beard of London, the successor firm to William Hill & Son, about the possibility of rebuilding and enlarging the existing instrument to make it more suitable for the Cathedral’s needs. Mr Herbert Norman, director of the firm, visited the Cathedral and was instructed that the main priorities for the rebuild should include retaining as much of the existing pipework as possible while ensuring that the instrument speaks more clearly into the main building. This was also to be achieved while maintaining as much, if not all, of the existing vista from the Nave to the High Altar, thus ruling out any large or bulky casework that might protrude into the building.

As it was deemed neither suitable or desirable to site the organ and choir in a West-End gallery plans were drawn up for a new four-manual organ located in the existing chamber on the North side of the chancel, with the remaining organ to be housed in a new case under the North arch of the crossing. The plans also included retaining the Celestial casework on the tower wall, although this division was to be revoiced and restructured to match the new instrument. The contract for this instrument was signed in October 1949 and work commenced in January the following year. The finished instrument was installed in the latter part of 1950 and was completed with alarming speed, by modern standards anyway, as the organ was formally dedicated by the then Governor of Canda, Viscount Alexander of Tunis, on 27 November that year. The specification was as follows:

Pedal (in old organ chamber speaking into transept, except no. 7)

  1. Resultant Bass 32 (12 individual quints)
  2. Open Wood 16
  3. Open Diapason (metal) 16
  4. Geigen (metal) 16
  5. Violone (metal) 16
  6. Bourdon 16
  7. Gedeckt 16 (in Celestial chamber)
  8. Principal (metal) 8
  9. Bass flute 8
  10. Violoncello (metal) 8
  11. Twelfth 5 1/3
  12. Fifteenth (metal) 4
  13. Choral Bass (wood) 4
  14. Mixture IV (19, 22, 26, 29)
  15. Trumpet 16 (from Swell)
  16. Trombone 16
  17. Clarion 8

Great Organ (in transept case)

  1. Contra Geigen 16
  2. Open Diapason 8
  3. Geigen Principal 8
  4. Chimney Flute 8
  5. Octave 4
  6. Principal 4
  7. Nason Flute 4
  8. Twelfth 2 2/3
  9. Fifteenth 2
  10. Harmonics IV (19, 22, 26, 29)
  11. Sesquialtera III (17, 19, 22)

Swell Organ (enclosed in transept case)

  1. Geigen Diapason 8
  2. Flûte Ouverte 8
  3. Viola da Gamba 8
  4. Voix Céleste 8
  5. Principal 4
  6. Lieblich Flute 4
  7. Super Octave 2
  8. Oboe 8
  9. Mixture V (17, 19, 22, 26, 29)
  10. Double Trumpet 16
  11. Trumpet 8
  12. Clarion 4
    Unison Off

Choir Organ (in old organ chamber, unenclosed)

  1. Viola 8
  2. Stopped Diapason 8
  3. Dulciana 8
  4. Gemshorn 4
  5. Koppelflöte 4
  6. Nazard 2 2/3
  7. Flageolet 2
  8. Tierce 1 3/5
  9. Larigot 1 1/3
  10. Septième 1 1/7
  11. Sifflote 1
  12. Cymbale III (29, 33, 36)
    Choir Off

Celestial Organ (enclosed in tower chamber, except the tubas)

  1. Rohr Gedeckt 8
  2. Viole 8
  3. Aeoline Céleste 8 (2 ranks)
  4. Gamba 4
  5. Lieblich Flute 4
  6. Quintadena 4
  7. Krummhorn 16 (ten. C)
  8. Trompette 8
    Unison Off
  9. Chimes
  10. Tuba (unenclosed) 8
  11. Octave Tuba (unenclosed) 4

The Present Instrument

Despite being widely praised as one of the finest organs in Canada at the time of its construction, and the heavy price-tag (almost $1m today), the Hill, Norman & Beard instrument had a surprisingly short lifespan of less than 30 years before the Cathedral’s congregation elected to commission a new instrument. As was the fashion in the latter part of the 20th Century, instead of constructing an English Romantic style instrument, the Cathedral instructed local organ builder Karl Wilhelm to build an instrument built along the principles employed in Northern European organs of the Eighteenth Century. A mechanical instrument, the organ was to be situated in a new West-End gallery that was built specifically for the instrument, and consisted of 42 stops and 63 ranks of pipes, playable from a three-manual attached console. The organ was built in 1979 and installed in the building for its inauguration the following year. In 1992 a 32’ Bombarde was added to complete the builder’s original tonal design for the instrument. The Principal pipes are made of 75% polished tin, while the flute pipes are of hammered tin-lead alloy. The manual accidentals are made of ebony while the natural keys are covered with bone. The casework is crafted of solid white oak, and the pipe shades are hand-carved of butternut wood.


  1. Prinzipal 16
  2. Subbass 16
  3. Subbass 8
  4. Oktavbass 8
  5. Choralbass 4
  6. Rauschpfeife IV
  7. Bombarde 32
  8. Posaune 16
  9. Trompete 8
  10. Clairon 4


  1. Gedackt 8
  2. Prinzipal 4
  3. Rohrflöte 4
  4. Nazard 2 2/3
  5. Doublette 2
  6. Terz 1 3/5
  7. Quinte 1 1/3
  8. Scharf III-IV
  9. Cromorne 8


  1. Bourdon 16
  2. Prinzipal 8
  3. Hohlflöte 8
  4. Oktave 4
  5. Spitzflöte 4
  6. Quinte 2 2/3
  7. Superoktave 2
  8. Cornet V
  9. Mixtur III-IV
  10. Zimbel II-III
  11. Trompete 8

Swell (enclosed)

  1. Dolkan 8
  2. Rohrflöte 8
  3. Celeste (TC) 8
  4. Prinzipal 4
  5. Holzflöte 4
  6. Waldflöte 2
  7. Mixtur IV
  8. Basson 16
  9. Trompette 8

Echo (playable on Swell)

  1. Bourdon 8
  2. Cornet IV
  3. Voix humaine 8