Skip to content

Expert flown in to give Duncan church’s 120-year-old pipe organ a tune up

Instrument has been at Duncan United Church since 1933
Organ technician and builder Jason Barnsley is cleaning and tuning up the pipe organ at Duncan United Church this week. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Connie Masson, the music director at Duncan United Church, can’t wait to play the church’s pipe organ at services this Sunday.

The large pipe organ, which has 541 pipes of varying sizes, is undergoing a thorough cleaning and tune up this week, the first it has had in decades.

The old pipe organ, which was built in 1902, has a long history.


It was originally used to accompany silent films at the Variety Theatre in Victoria before being sold to an individual for $750 in 1933, and the man donated it to the Duncan United Church where it has been in use ever since.

Organ technician and builder Jason Barnsley, one of the few people in western Canada capable of doing the work, had to be flown in from Calgary for the job, which should take approximately five days to complete.

“You have to be a combination leather worker, an electrician, a cabinet-level woodworker, and a metallurgist with musical skills to do the work Jason does,” Masson said in the church while Barnsley slowly and meticulously disassembled the pipes for cleaning on Monday.

“We had to book Jason several months in advance.”


Barnsley, who was born in Saskatchewan, said he went to the U.S. to learn how to play a pipe organ and realized that he had better learn how to tune and fix them as well, so he spent seven years as an apprentice with an American company that specialized in the field before heading out on his own.

He is currently responsible for pipe organ work in western Canada, from Saskatoon to Victoria, and his territory is expected to grow as more people in the trade retire, with few stepping up to learn the skills to replace them.

“This type of pipe organ should be thoroughly cleaned every 40 years, and the re-leathering of the stops in the pipes should be done about every 100 years, and we’ll be doing all this this week,” Barnsley said.

“I was looking forward to visiting Duncan for this job as my great-grandparents retired here in the 1960s and my family used to visit Duncan fairly regularly when I was a kid. It seems I’ve come full circle.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Connie Mason, the music director at Duncan United Church, sits in front of some of the 541 pipes from the church’s pipe organ as they were being prepared to be cleaned this week. (Robert Barron/Citizen)

Robert Barron

About the Author: Robert Barron

Since 2016, I've had had the pleasure of working with our dedicated staff and community in the Cowichan Valley.
Read more