The 1888 Ryder Organ

1888 George Ryder organ at St Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto1888 George Ryder organ at St Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto


George Horatio Ryder 1838-1922

George RyderGeorge Ryder (1838-1922). From a 1917 copy of The Diapason magazine. Courtesy The AndoverOrgan Co., Inc.George H. Ryder was born in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, on May 9, 1838, the son of Thomas Philander and Sarah Perry Albee Ryder. His father, a Harvard graduate, was a school teacher; however, there is little evidence that George received any formal education past the age of 14 when, in 1852, his father died of epilepsy.

Ryder was apprenticed with the celebrated Boston organ builders, E. & G.G. Hook. He remained with them for about 5 years, while establishing a reputation as a fine organist. He later worked for J. H. Wilcox Organ Builders and briefly formed an organ building partnership with Joel Butler, a Maine native. By 1870 he had formed his own company which built 185 organs between 1871 and 1896, many of which are still being played in churches from Maine to California and Canada.

Throughout his life, Ryder was a popular performer, playing inaugural recitals on many of his own instruments. He built a number of instruments for the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and took particular interest in the training of Conservatory students. The most famous Ryder apprentice was E.M. Skinner who, himself, became a famous organ builder.

Occasional bits of graffiti can be found in the form of “cat cartoons” penciled by Ryder himself inside some of his organs. After giving up his business in 1896, Ryder continued to consult and concertize, occasionally dabbling in organ building projects. By 1920 Ryder was hailed as “the oldest living organ builder in the country.” He died, just short of his 84th birthday on April 16, 1922. Ryder’s philosophy is best summarized in a letter to the Reading Chronicle in July, 1900: “I am content to do the best possible work after the most approved plans, in a modest, unassuming manner.”

This instrument is catalogued by the Organ Historical Society as his Op. 149. The organ is an interesting example of New England tonal design at the end of the 19th century, based upon characteristics of pipe organ sound which originated in Germany. This is evident in the clarity and individual character of the flutes, and in the forthright richness of the diapasons. The voicing of the reeds, too, suggests the brilliance of an earlier period, while still giving the warmth of contemporary ideals.

The organ was originally designed as a two-manual instrument of about twenty-seven ranks. The mechanical-action instrument was built for the New Richmond Methodist Church (constructed in 1889) on McCaul Street. The turn of the century brought an influx of European Jewish immigrants to the area. They purchased the church, and in 1906 the organ was moved to St. Stephen’s and installed here by the reputable Toronto firm of Breckles and Matthews. At that time, several additions were made, as well as certain changes necessary to accommodate the instrument to its new environment. In 1942, electro-pneumatic stop actions and pull downs were installed by organ builder Franklin Legge. The draw-knob console was moved to the north side of the chancel in the early 1960’s and a new blower was added in 1968. A 16’ trombone [30 notes ] from the former organ of St. Simon’s was added to the pedal organ and a small choir division containing a 8’ stopped flute and 2’ piccolo on a direct electric chest. (this has since been removed.)

In 1971, the organ was completely dismantled and cleaned by Mr. John Fyal. This involved the individual cleaning of over 1,700 pipes, releathering the double rise reservoir measuring 7 ft. x 7 ft. and installing tuning sleeves on the previously cone tuned pipes. The pitch was lowered to A440 and as a result, the original part of the instrument was tonally restored to its former grandeur and made mechanically sound.

St Stephens organ circa 1966The 1966 photo shows the Chancel and Sanctuary as they were then. The organ case remains in original configuration, and the console is just visible to the right by the door that led to the vestry and parish hall beyond. In 1988 the Electro-pneumatic pulldowns were replaced by direct action pulldown magnets which improved the response of the key action. Unfortunately the organ fell into disrepair from the late 1990’s to late 2008. It had become almost unplayable due to a number of relatively insignificant problems which were rectified in 2008 by then former organist and technician John Gardham. A summer recital series inaugurated the instrument again in the summer of 2008. Although there is still some remaining damage inflicted on the instrument in this period repairs are slowly being made and the organ continues to fill the church with glorious sounds. It is at present the oldest playing instrument in Toronto.


1928 Three manual Casavant Console
Slider Chests with electric pulldowns

Swell Organ Great Organ
Bourdon* 16’    
Open Diapason 8’ Open Diapason 8’
Stopped Diapason 8’ Melodia 8’
Aeoline 8’ Dulciana 8’
Voix Celeste 8’ Principal 4’
Violina 4’ Rohr Flute 4’
Harm Flute 4’ Twelfth 2 2/3
Flautina 2’ Fifteenth 2’
Mixture II Clarinet 8’
Oboe 8’ Trumpet* 8’
Cornopean 8’ Clarion* 4’
Pedal Organ Pistons
Bourdon 16’ Swell 5
Open Diapason* 8’ Great 4
Octave* 4’ Pedal 3
Trombone 16’ General (Toestuds) 3

Full compliment of couplers
 * Under repair

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