Lye Organ Company | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Lye Organ Company

Lye Organ Company. Edward Lye (b Somerset, England, 1828 or 1829, d Toronto, 9 Nov 1919) became a cabinetmaker in England, and this training appears to have led naturally to the construction of organs.

Lye Organ Company

Lye Organ Company. Edward Lye (b Somerset, England, 1828 or 1829, d Toronto, 9 Nov 1919) became a cabinetmaker in England, and this training appears to have led naturally to the construction of organs. His cases, frames, chests, and wooden pipes are a testimony to his understanding of and skill with wood.

Lye, his wife, and infant son Edward, Jr, moved to Toronto in 1856. There he secured work with Jacques and Hay, the furniture makers, and remained with this company until 1868 while he established himself and capitalized his organ-building concern. He is listed in the Toronto Directory as an organ builder in 1862-3, so for a few years he held his job while he started his own business. As they reached their teens, several of Lye's sons joined him in the company, which came to be known as Edward Lye and Sons (Edward J., Arthur H., Herbert H., and Walter L.). Another son, John G., at one time was the firm's bookkeeper.

After working from his home and then renting space at 195 Yonge Street, Lye in 1875 bought premises at the corner of St Nicholas and St Alban (now Wellesley) streets. Here he built several houses and his organ workshops; the property was finally sold in 1939. Lye's output can only be estimated, as no contracts covering the period 1862-80 have been found. Some 225 contracts from 1881 to 1933 are extant. Most of Lye's organs were robust, well-built two-manual tracker instruments, tailored to prevailing conditions and the client's means. His tonal design shows a sound knowledge of the principle of reinforcing foundation tone by the addition of appropriate upperwork.

Lye built organs for over 60 churches and other clients in Toronto. The firm also sent instruments to Fortune, Nfld; Charlottetown and Summerside, PEI; Annapolis Royal, NS; Clarenceville and St John, Que; Winnipeg, Man; Port Simpson and Marpole, BC; and many places in Ontario. An organ is reputed to have gone to Dawson in the Yukon. The major Toronto contract was that of Holy Trinity Church (1883). The case and the four stops of the small organ made by John Thomas were retained, moved from the north transept to the chancel, and incorporated in a large new three-manual tracker instrument of 28 stops. Lye supplied organs to the Anglican cathedrals in Sault Ste-Marie and Kenora, Ont, the chapel of the University of Trinity College, Toronto (1884), the TCM (1889), Bishop Strachan School (1900), and Albert College (1901). He also sent an organ to the 1892 Toronto Exhibition (CNE).

Dozens of Lye's organs are still in regular use, many as he built them. These include St Thomas, Millbrook (1889), St Mark, Barriefield (1901), Christ Church, Baillieboro (1903), and St-Marc, Ottawa (1913), all in Ontario. Many others survive in rebuilds.

Although the firm turned out no less than eight organs in 1930, and three in each of 1931, 1932, and 1933, the Depression forced the remaining Lyes to restructure it as The Lye Organ Company. This new company drew its impetus from William Lye, a son of Walter Lewis Lye. Together with his brothers Norman and Murray, William Lye continued the tradition of the old company, but also introduced new technology. The new company started out at the St Nicholas Street factory, but in 1939 moved to Stephenson Avenue and Main, then in 1944 went to Cornell House (now a museum in Thomson Memorial Park) on Markham Road. An example of the new company's larger work is the three-manual organ in St John's Church, Port Hope. The last Lye pipe organ was built in 1954 for the United Church in Locust Hill. With several years of orders on his books, William Lye stopped building organs to take out a more profitable Baldwin agency. He continued to do repair work until 1982.

The Lyes contributed to the Toronto musical scene in many other ways. Edward, Sr, played the tower chimes at St James' Cathedral 1867-91, as did Walter 1888-1958, and Walter's son, Murray, 1958-9. William deputized for Walter over the years. (See also Bells, Chimes.) Edward, Jr, sang in the choir at Holy Trinity Church. Arthur assisted with the organ at Holy Trinity, and sometimes played opening recitals on the firm's new organs. Herbert was a member of the Arlidge Flute Quartet, the Toronto Flute Club, and the Imperial Concert Band. He also played the bells at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church.