Organ and Organists

"The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin church, for it is the traditional musical instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendor to the church’s ceremonies and can most effectively elevate people’s spirits to God and things above."
—Documents of Vatican II, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.


Presenters: David Moret and Monica Rist, Organists, St. Joseph’s Basilica

The Casavant Pipe Organ was one of the first furnishings to be ordered for the upper Cathedral. The contract for it was signed in Edmonton by Msgr. Joseph Malone on December 6, 1961. Hugh Bancroft, who was then the organist at All Saints Cathedral in Edmonton, where Casavant had installed an organ in 1959, served as consultant on the project. He worked closely with Casavant’s Tonal Director, Lawrence I. Phelps, on establishing the organ’s specifications.

The organ was completely assembled, tested and tuned in Quebec. It was then taken apart and shipped to Edmonton where it was reassembled, tuned and voiced by Robert Blanchard and his son from Winnipeg. The installation and rough tuning of the organ was complete by the beginning of March 1963.

The organ underwent extensive repairs in 1980, having received smoke and water damage in the Basilica fire.

The organ is dedicated to the memory of all from the Archdiocese of Edmonton who gave up their lives in both World Wars. It was a joint fundraising project between the parish and archdiocese which is recognized on a bronze plaque in the Narthex of the Basilica.

The organ was installed in two cases. The organ has 4 keyboards (three manuals and pedals), 40 stops, controlling 58 ranks of pipes, consisting of 3,154 pipes made of metal or wood. The tallest pipe is approximately 18 feet in length, while the shortest one is smaller than a pencil. Air for the organ is supplied by a blower which is located 60 feet below the choir loft.

The Basilica organ is a versatile instrument, capable of accompanying the singing of soloists, choirs, and congregations; as well as being a fine solo instrument. It has been heard in numerous recitals, some of which have been broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The cost for the organ in 1963 was $50,000. Today, its replacement value is well over $1,000,000.

On the north side of the console of the organ, there is a plaque commemorating the service and dedication of John Wetherill, who was organist at the Basilica for 38 years, from 1969 to 2008. John was not only a fine organist, but also helped maintain and tune the organ. He was also responsible for having guard rails installed, which have been appreciated by anyone who has ever done any tuning.

To demonstrate some of the organ’s capabilities, Monica Rist will play a work by Philip Kreckel (1897 - 1964). He was an American organist who studied with Max Reger in Germany. He then returned to the U.S. and was organist of St. Boniface Catholic church in Rochester, New York for 55 years. His Choral Improvisation on "O Sanctissima" starts out on the softest sounds of the flute stop, builds up to the sound of the full principal chorus, and then subsides quietly.