Edward Lye & Sons Organ Company

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Edward Lye & Sons Organ Company

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  • Lye Organ Company
  • Lye Organ and Piano Studio

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The Edward Lye & Sons Organ Company was a family-owned business based in Toronto that manufactured, installed, and refurbished pipe organs across Canada from 1864 to 1982.

Edward Roome Lye (1829-1919) was born in Crewkerne, Somerset, England and, at age 14, was apprenticed under his father, a cabinet maker. Around 1840, his family moved to St. Helier on the Channel Island of Jersey where Lye began training with a local organ builder and married Rachel Mary Steen LaMatre (1829-1908).

Edward Lye moved to London to work for a number of English organ building firms before emigrating shortly afterward in 1856 to Toronto along with a number of his immediate relations, including his newborn son, Edward John. Working as a joiner and cabinet maker with a variety of furniture manufacturers, predominantly the prestigious firm of Jacques and Hay, Lye also operated a part-time business as an organ refurbisher in 1863 and, the next year, established the firm of Edward Lye and Sons Organ Company, making the company the second oldest family organ business after Casavant Frères. In 1867, he began working full-time as an organ builder at a number of locations in downtown Toronto before establishing his home and factory at 18-22 St. Alban Street (now the northwest corner of Nicholas and Wellesley West Streets). By now, the Lye household consisted of eight children; four of his seven sons (Arthur H, Edward J, Herbert H, and Walter J.) joined him in the family business while a fifth (John G.) became their bookkeeper. By 1873, the firm had a sales showroom at 195 Yonge Street (just north of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre) where they became known for their dual manual, tracker-action organs.

The number of organs built by the family is unknown as only 223 contracts survive for the 1881-1948 period but over 60 were erected in Toronto alone. Hundreds of instruments were installed across Ontario and as far afield as Fortune, Newfoundland and Port Simpson, British Columbia. Some of the more notable organs were built in the Anglican cathedrals in Sault Ste-Marie (1901) and Kenora (1917?), Belleville's Albert College (1901), and Toronto's Trinity College Chapel (1884), Toronto Conservatory of Music (1889), and Bishop Strachan School (1900). Dozens of Lye's original or rebuilt instruments remain in regular use across the province.

After their father's death in 1919, the sons carried on the business but, by the Depression, only Arthur and Walter Lye remained active in it. A lack of orders and financial difficulties forced the firm to switch to producing electro-pneumatic organs in 1930, then to cease manufacturing in 1934 and close shortly afterward. Walter Lye and his son, William, reorganized and open as the Lye Organ Company, and were joined shortly afterwards by William's brothers, Norman and Murray Lye. With the sale of the St. Alban Street property, they re-located the factory and craftsmen to 276 Main Street at the corner of Stephenson Avenue in Toronto's east end.

The coming of World War II was another setback for the company. Orders for new organs grew meagre; supplies of wood, metal, and fine veneers were severely rationed; and several of the staff, including Murray Lye, went into the armed forces. For the duration, the company focused on servicing and refurbishing existing organs. In 1944, the firm relocated further east to Markham Road as the Lye Organ and Piano Studio. The building used is now the 1858 Cornell House which has been relocated to Scarborough's Thompson Memorial Park at Brimley Road and Lawrence Avenue East.

After the war, with the growing shortage of skilled craftsmen and the switch to electronic organs, the last Lye pipe organ was built in 1954 for the United Church in Locust Hill, Ontario. The firm became agents for the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company while William Lye continued repairing and reconditioning organs until his retirement in 1982 at age 71.

The Lye family enriched Toronto's musical scene in many other ways. Edward Sr. rang the tower chimes at St James' Cathedral during 1867-1891, as did his son, Walter (1888-1958) and grandson, Murray (1958-1959) with each generation ringing in the New Year over 96 years. Edward Jr. sang in the Holy Trinity Church choir while Arthur assisted on the organ, as well as playing inaugural concerts on the firm's newest creations. Herbert was a member of the Arlidge Flute Quartet, the Toronto Flute Club, and the Imperial Concert Band, as well as playing the bells at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church.


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Archives of Ontario

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Added Apr/82




[Sources: Archives of Ontario, fonds F 4620; Encyclopaedia of Music in Canada (Second Edition)]

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