Our Casavant Organ

In the early stages of drawing up the blueprints for Ascension of Our Lord Church, selecting an organ was one of the priorities.

Casavant Organ

Early Parish records show that the Wardens and Father McDonagh contacted the St Hyacinthe company of Casavant Frères, to discuss building an instrument to suit the architectural and accoustical qualities of this new church. The original contract with Casavant Frères was for $29,000. This was a huge amount of money when you consider that a four bedroom house in Westmount could be built for $5,000 at the time.

The instrument is a Casavant, Opus 1344. It has 4 manuals and pedal, 56 stops and 61 ranks, there are more than 3,884 pipes measuring from a few inches to over thirty two feet in length. It is still an electro-pneumatic action organ with every feature Casavant could build into an organ at the time. Of particular interest was the Solo section with a number of exceptional pipes that give this instrument a particular sound. In 1930, it was considered one of the largest church pipe organ’s in Canada.

On January 13, 1930 the inaugural concert was played by Quebec born Lynwood Farnham. At the time he was organist at New York’s Church of the Holy Communion.

Lynwood Farnham

Pietro Yon

On November 17, 1930, the Parish held a second concert, this time, featuring Pietro Yon, the titular organist of New York’s St.Patrick’s Cathedral. Just a few years earlier, he had been named the honorary organist of the Basilica of Saint Peter in the Vatican.

In 1927, the wardens hired the first organist Joseph Elie Savaria. The Choirmaster was Joseph Arsène Brassard who directed the choirs at the Parish for the next 28 years.

The first choir with J.E Savaria on left of Monsignor McDonagh and Joseph Brassard on the right
First Choir

During 1950 and 1951 the parish held a number of organ recitals, sponsored by the Conrad Letendre Group, which featured the elite of Montreal’s organists Gaston Arel, Raymond Daveluy, Kenneth Gilbert and Bernard Lagacé.

Lucienne L'Heureux-Arel

In 1967, Father Edward Lapointe, with Father Peter Timmins, were determined to encourage and maintain the traditional music of the church.

The titular organist of the time was Lucienne L’Heureux-Arel, she worked with a choir-master and the parish hired professional soloists to develop a mixed choir.

Several concerts for organ, choral and instrumental music were produced at that time.

Considered by many the most energetic of the titular organists to play on the Ascension organ, Phillips Motley was choir-master and organist for the parish from 1972 until his retirement in 1990.

He gave an average of four concerts a year in the church, sometimes with guest instrumental soloists. He also performed at least twice a year with the church choir.

He also arranged recitals in the church by his student organists.

Phillips Motley

Alain Baumgarten of Casavant Frères
When there is no room for a vertical pipe, you add an elbow.When there is no room for a vertical pipe, you add an elbow.
Photo showing how small the work area is.

During the summer of 1972, the organ was cleaned and releathered by François Caron, who was the Montreal representative of Casavant Frères Ltée at the time.

In 1989, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the parish, the organ was once again completely restored by the same company, at a cost of approximately $86,000. The major part of the renovations was the releathering of all the pouchboards, stop actions and expression motors.

SSLL switching was installed and the pedalboard was re-shoed. The instrument was also revoiced to make it brighter and louder. The re-dedication of the organ took place on April 9, 1989.

One week later, Phillips Motley, who was, at the time, the music director at the church, played the inaugural recital.


Showing how small the work area is.

With the retirement of Phillips Motley, the organ bench was empty. In 1991, the board of the Fabrique hired Phillip Schauss. He played at weekly church services as well as directing the choir.

In 2002 he was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, a rare genetic neurological disorder which has no cure.

Organ repair

Phillip retired from his position at Ascension in 2003, but he met with the board and convinced them to host benefit concerts for the Quebec Huntington society. The parish choir and many of Philip’s friends participated.

A grand piano was brought in for the concerts, the parish choir, a brass quintet and even Peter Pringle, one of the foremost theramin players in North America gave of their time. The proceeds collected were donated to the Quebec Huntington Society.

David Szanto joined the parish as Organist and Choir Director in 2003.

David Szanto

Organ restoration

In 2007 the Parish started an ambitious five year restoration project. The wear and tear on this instrument breathing in the urban pollutants requires constant care to keep it in top shape.

This project is now complete, future generations will be able to continue to enjoy the music from what is considered one of Quebec’s largest and most majestic instruments.

Organ repair

Choir Directors and Organists at Ascension of Our Lord

Joseph Brassard
J.E Savaria
Lucienne L’Heureux-Arel
B. Poliquin
Phillips Motley
Choirmaster & Organist
Philip Schauss
Music Director & Organist
David Szanto
Music Director & Organist


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