St. George's, Owen Sound is a beautiful English-style parish church built in 1881 with a 142 foot high steeple. Owen Sound is a small city on picturesque Georgian Bay and St. George’s hosts many musical events throughout each year. The pipe organ was originally a 2 manual Casavant built in 1914. It's broad, mellow, yet rich tone was typical of Casavants of the early 20th century and, even though a number of ranks had been added in recent years, the original tonal character was still evident and now forms the basis for the greatly expanded Phoenix organ.
The rector of St. George's at the time, Father Ed Wagner, and former organist and choirmaster, Jim Seaborn, worked with Phoenix staff to come up with an organ specification that is absolutely unique and impressive.
With a total of 7 divisions, this could easily have been a 4 manual or 5 manual instrument but every attempt was made to keep the console a low profile for typical Anglican service use. It was kept to 3 manuals and French terraced console design was chosen because they can be built lower than typical American-style consoles and are also reminiscent of the Casavant consoles of the early 20th century. Also keeping with this period is the elegant style of drawstops made by Harris Precision of California. The keyboards have become the envy of several top organists. The simulated tracker touch is excellent and they are very attractive. Made in Germany, they have hornbeam naturals and rosewood sharps.
Some of the problems with the pipe organ included a very poor and uncomfortable tab console built in the 1960s, an overall sound that was too small for the size of the church, limited variety of solo stops, and most important of all, lack of tonal egress. The pipes are housed in two cases located deep in the south transept and it had been decided not to change this position despite its poor advantage. The improvement was to be made with the addition of Phoenix sampled stops and by placing the new divisions (Echo, Antiphonal, Solo and Positive) at carefully selected positions in the church. With such a long nave, the pipe organ just did not successfully reach members of the congregation seated near the back of the church and the new Antiphonal organ addresses that problem very well. With its quiet yet effective addition to any level of main organ coming from the front of the church, it is uncanny how it fills the bill. The new Positive comes from the north transcept which is directly across the nave from the main pipe cases. High in the nave rafters are the Echo speakers which consists of a few choice stops added to the Swell division.
The Great was left almost ‘as is’. Even though it is relatively small it has a good variety of tone and a satisfying broad sounding ensemble. Its one and only Mixture is only 2 ranks but the octave coupler makes it quite adequate to form a full principal chorus to underpin an organ of this size. The Swell 8’ Trumpet was considered more suitable for the Great and changes were made by Don Pole of Pole and Kingham Pipe Organs to make this possible. In the Swell a whole new sampled reed chorus was added except for the 8’ Oboe and a Plein Jeu IV to add brightness and richness that was originally lacking. The Pedal was rounded out with a few sampled stop additions. The two new 32’ stops add a ‘feel’ to this organ that can be felt throughout the church.
Voicing of this organ is very conservative compared to that of most Phoenix organs. This was done in order to uphold the work of Casavant and to perfectly blend with what already existed. The results speak for themselves.
A thrilling dedication recital was performed by one of Canada’s foremost concert organists, John Tuttle, to an audience that packed the church.