The History of St. Augustine’s Choir by David Paines


The winter of 1863 was cold, very cold, when they started construction of a new edifice to the Glory of God in Dundas. Father John O'Reilly had a vision to build a new church that would not only satisfy the needs of his small congregation but reach out to an ever expanding family of God. He built a church of magnificent proportions, Gothic in style, and had the foresight to provide for a large stepped gallery overlooking the rear of the nave and supported laterally by two immense oak beams that rested on buttresses on the exterior of the church structure. The next twenty years demonstrated the hardiness of those early parishioners. The church was poorly heated, if at all, and early morning mass was often at 5.30 am with an evening vespers becoming a regular occurrence. Street lighting (gas) had been a feature in Dundas since 1850, and was certainly piped up Sydenham Street by 1880. But there is no indication that the church interior was also equipped with gas lighting. Candles and lanterns would have been the only other sources of illumination. There were no pews to kneel at and seating was provided with whatever chairs were available. The floor in the gallery was of stark wooden planks, although it would later receive a linoleum overlay. Singing as a choir would have been a brave undertaking but at least, with no furnishings or other trappings in the church to deaden the sound, the acoustics would have been superb. There is no record of musical or choral activity during this period and we must presume that if the proper of the mass were to be sung, it would have been in Gregorian chant, unaccompanied by any instrument.

St. Augustine's Church Choir c. 1895

  • Back Row: M. Morrison, Ann Dwyer, M. Cahill, Nellie Duggan, Marg McManamy.
  • 2nd. Row: Julia Hourigan, Gretta Hourigan, Agnes Galagan.
  • 3rd. Row: Cecile Brown, Maggie Coleman, Jessie Brown, Mr. Brown, Maggie McLaughlin, Lily Brown, M. Smith.
  • Front Row: G. Brown, Eliz. McLaughlin, P. Gallagher, Kate Brown, C. Cahill.

In May 1883, the blessing of the altar by the Rev. Dean O'Reilly introduced the first known occurrence of music in the church, a performance of Mozart's Twelfth Mass which required both soloists and an orchestral accompaniment. As there was a large influx of visitors from Hamilton for this occasion, we must assume that the musicians also came from that city. About this time, coal fired hot water radiators and pews were introduced into the church. Luxury indeed. And not long after this event, we have a photographic record (c. 1895) of possibly the first St. Augustine's Parish Choir. Twenty members strong, including a member of the McManamy family (Margaret), a family who were to be represented in the choir until 1963. The only music in use at that time that has been retained to this day is a copy of Peters' Catholic Harp, which has a copyright date of 1891, and which includes a practical course in vocal instruction, a short method of teaching Gregorian chant, and a selection of masses, motets, offertories, litanies, hymns for benediction and vespers.

Life in the church of St. Augustine's was about to change in dramatic fashion. In 1898, electric power started to be manufactured at Websters Falls by the Dundas Electric Light Company and the first electric lights were introduced into Dundas in 1899. No later than 1905, the church was wired for electric power and lighting. The first organ was purchased from the D.W Karn Company of Woodstock, Ontario and installed and set to work in 1905. D.W. Karn was the most prominent manufacturer of organs at the turn of the century and their instruments were featured in churches from coast to coast. Up until this time, organs had had a mechanical action (tracker). However the new advanced technology, Tubular Pneumatic Action, was being introduced. This made use of the organ's wind pressure instead of finger pressure to open the pipe air valve and this new action was included in the organ specifications for the church. Some 170 lead pipes ran from the keyboard to the pipe chests.

Unfortunately, the organ was underpowered, using a 1.5HP blower and this may have been due to early power limitations in the church. A magnificent facade of non-playing pipes reached up to the apex of the gallery and to accommodate the positioning of the console, one of the primary lateral support beams was cut away to support the lead pipes. This was repaired in 1992 when it became apparent that the structural integrity of the gallery had been placed in jeopardy As the population of Dundas grew from 2,875 in 1863 to 3,515 in 1905, the number of masses said weekly grew. On Christmas day in 1904, three masses were said, at 7.30 am, 8.30 am and a sung high mass at 10.30 am.

By 1928, a new choir director had been appointed, Mrs B.G. Sullivan. She directed the choir through the war years until she died in 1961. She was a grand lady and a passionate football fan and it was fitting that she should be called from this earth while attending the Grey Cup at Ivor Wynne Stadium. It was Mrs Sullivan, together with her son Joe (who became organist at St Andrew's Cathedral, Grand Rapids, Michigan) who instigated the next organ update, which occurred in 1949. They had been in contact with Alan Jackson, a prominent Toronto organist who had started a new career as an organ builder in Eaton's organ workrooms in Toronto. The updating of the organ consisted of rebuilding the tubular pneumatic pipe chests into electro-pneumatic chests, stripping out all of the lead pipes and providing a new console containing electric contacts. The cost of this update was about $3000 and to support this, an organ fund was initiated. As a part of the update, the facade of pipes on the original D.W. Karn organ were severely cut back to permit the stained glass window, that had been installed in 1917, to be viewed. The gallery pews were replaced by a set of semi-circular pews to allow the organist/director better control of the choir. During her tenure, the choir was often 20 members strong and well balanced tonally, singing a wide variety of Latin anthems and motets. The primary hymnbook at the time was the St. Gregory Hymn Book and the St Basils Hymn Book.



The second century started with a new choir director. David Paines, and a new organist, fittingly one of the McNamany family (Marilyn Greathead). The Proper of the Mass was still sung in Latin, congregational singing was non-existent and should any hymn need to be sung in English, it was taken from the New St Basils Hymn Book which had been purchased for choir-use only. By 1963, a new organist was playing for the choir. Nadine Litwin was then a student at Parkside High School. With the choir well re-established, a tape recording was made that year of a segment of "The Life of a Year" by Robert Dvorak and this recording became part of a gift from the Town of Dundas to the town of Kaga in Japan. In 1972, there was yet another change of organists Nadine left the choir to start a career as an accompanist with the National Ballet of Canada and she was replaced by her sister, Audrey, a student at McMaster University.

The change over from Latin to English commenced in 1973. There had been no prior preparation of suitable music in the vernacular and for a while, compromise was the order of the day. Several masses became available, notably "The Good Shepherd Mass" by Stephen Somerville and the "St. Francis of Assisi Mass" by Singenberger. Additional masses were transposed from Latin to English and new music composed. The missalettes that were being used at that time also supported a limited amount of congregational singing.. Eventually, following the arrival of Father Murphy as Pastor in 1976, the first edition of the Catholic Book of Worship (CBW) was made available to the choir and the congregation. This first version of the CBW was used until 1980 when CBWII was purchased. The copies of CBWI were donated to parishes in Northern Ontario.

In 1983, work began on another upgrade to the organ. After almost 80 years of operation, the leather valves in the windchest had begun to deteriorate badly and some ranks of pipes were no longer usable. Following an extensive study of available alternatives, a contract was let with the Principal Pipe Organ Company of Woodstock, Ontario for an electric valve action modification that allowed the retention of a majority of the existing pipes, the addition of a number of new pipes, a new blower and wind system and an upgrade to the organ console. The existing facade of non-speaking pipes was further cut back and replaced with speaking pipes All of the new material, including new pipes, was manufactured in England and shipped to Canada. Dedication of the organ took place on May 11, 1984 with a recital by the celebrated English organist. Ian Sadler. Another recital was given later that year by Mr. Sadler for professional recording reasons.

In 1978, Eric Johnson took over the reigns as the organist and he remained with the choir until 1995. In 1988, Father Synnott became the Pastor. The sound system in the church was upgraded and for the first time, the gallery was equipped with its own independent sound system. By 1989, the role of choir cantor was introduced. The choir was beginning to grow in size and to expand its activities beyond the confines of the church. Each year, the churches of Dundas would join for an ecumenical service and the choirs would provide a combined background of music. Choir gowns were purchased that allowed the choir to be formally dressed on solemn occasions and when they represented St Augustine's outside the confines of the church. The choir entertained the residents at St. Joseph's Villa and undertook a variety of social engagements in the Parish Hall.

Christmas 1990 was memorable. The church and the gallery were invaded by an army of CBC technicians and their cameras, lighting and sound equipment to record midnight mass for rebroadcast on the 30th December. The host for the evening was Carl Nordover from the CBC. A documentary preceded the mass with a short presentation given by our own Michael van Gendt. The choir pews were moved to assist in the presentation of the singing and you could tell from the smiles on our faces that we were petrified. Left behind at the end of the day were the spotlights, which are now installed in the gallery and the sanctuary, and the audio cables, which are now in use in the gallery. The broadcast was repeated at Christmas in 1991 for all who missed it the first time around.

In 1992, further upgrades were made to the organ. The console was moved to its present position at the side of the choir and new pipes were added to the Oboe rank to replace some of the older pipes whose reeds were deteriorating. As well various sets of Mixture pipe ranks were added. The gallery floor was repaired and new lateral pews were installed to replace the semicircular version of the previous configuration. In 1995, John Taylor became the choir organist and the choir rapidly grew to its present size of 33 singers. The music became more contemporary and the Catholic Book of Worship III was purchased for choir use. A program of training new cantors was begun by assigning new voices to sing along with the more experienced cantors. Musical programs celebrating the run up to the millennium were given in the church in 1997 and 1998 during the Advent season. In 1999, the new version of the Glory and Praise Hymnal was introduced into the church and this hymnal has provided yet another resource of contemporary church music. In April 2000, the choir has been invited to sing at St. Eugene's to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary as a parish and in June, we shall join other diocesan choirs to sing at the Millennium celebrations at Copps Coliseum.

ROLL OF HONOUR 1900-2000

Parishioners who have been active with the Parish Choir over the last century are listed below. The list is not complete and any additions or corrections will be gratefully received and recorded

Rose Antoski Dennis Aussem Joe Aussem Rachel Beda Joan Bellaire Anne Marie Berriman Betty Blair Norma te Boekhorst Hedy Breckenridge Erine Brocklington Cecile Brown Dinah Brown G.Brown Jessie Brown Kate Brown Lily Brown Mr Brown George Burgess C.Cahill M.Cahill Sharron Canning Elizabeth Carr Louise Chalupka Marie Citynski Cathy Le Clair Reg Le Clair Maggie Coleman Peter Conlon Cathy Cummins Ita Denver Nan Doyle Louise Drieman Nellie Duggan Ann Dwyer Jackie Ferretti


Kathleen Ferrie Tom Ferrie Cap Fleming Maresa Foden Agnes Galagan P.Gallagher Nancy Gaulton Michael van Gendt Marianne Gillis Louise Goddard Cyril Gonzales Marilyn Greathead Barbara Gumbert Rene Hall Alice Harrington Mary Harvey Patricia Haters Elmu Herce Michael Hickey Deanna Higgins Debbie Holmes Julia Hourigan Gretta Hourigan John House Ann Jansen Eric Johnson Ria Kaandorp Jean Kirk Susan Kirk Joyce Kuntz J M. Kuntz Adele Lacey Vicki Langweider


Joan St. Leger Audrey Litwin Nadine Litwin F.Lobo Phyllis Lomas Susan Lomas Art MacLean Angela Marrone Serena Marrone Bob Maton Wil Maurer Margaret McCauley Kim McDonald Mary McGmnn Elizabeth McLaughlin Maggie McLaughlin Maggie MeNamany Marg McNamany Marilyn McNamany Diana Miller Darlyne Mills Mary Morelli M.Morrison Felix Mourinuee Lynda Neubauer Helen de Nobriga Jim Nicol Mary Nunn Mary Oldfield Frances Oliver Rosemary Oliver Jillian Oullette Anne Dackombe Paines David Paines

Pauline Paines, Andrew Pala, Juliana Pala, Michael Pala, Marilyn Passant, Sharon Picone, Gail Podd, Gertrude Press, Linus Press, Pat Quinn, Al Sandford, Mary Sandford, Mary Schreurs, Trudy van Schyndel, Simon  van Schyndel, Teresa Sheehan, M.J. Smith, Vi Sorci, Em de Souza, Dolorina de Souza, Margaret Stevens, Bart Stockford, John Stockford, Bart Sullivan, Joe  Sullivan, Mrs Sullivan, John Taylor, Trudy Taylor, Chris Taylor, Yvonne Taylor, Stienna Thomas, Joe Thompson, Alana Traficante, Lynn Watson