Richard Coates

Richard Coates. Bandmaster, music teacher, organ builder, painter, sawmill operator, b Thornton Dale, Yorkshire, England, 30 Nov 1778, d Aldborough Township, southwest of London, Ont, 29 Jan 1868. Little is known about Coates' youth.

Coates, Richard

Richard Coates. Bandmaster, music teacher, organ builder, painter, sawmill operator, b Thornton Dale, Yorkshire, England, 30 Nov 1778, d Aldborough Township, southwest of London, Ont, 29 Jan 1868. Little is known about Coates' youth. His mother is supposed to have been a relative of the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). As a young man Coates played in a British army band and is said to have served as a bandmaster at the battle of Waterloo. He moved to Canada in 1817 and after a year in Quebec City settled in York (Toronto). He painted oil portraits and became associated with the Children of Peace (though not necessarily as a member of the sect), painting the pictures 'Peace' and 'Plenty' for their temple at Sharon, building several organs, and coaching their choir and band. Coates was reported by William Lyon Mackenzie to be the 'concert horn' player in 1829 in the small Sharon orchestra (Sketches of Canada and the United States, London 1833).

The first of Coates' three Sharon organs was built ca 1820. Preserved at Sharon and restored to playing condition in 1979, it became probably the oldest organ still in use in Ontario, and certainly the oldest surviving organ built in Ontario. According to Geoffrey Payzant it was not restored prior to that date because of the delicate condition - and the historical significance - of the original barrels, which were fashioned from a soft wood. It was felt unwise to risk operating them until replicas had been made. It can be heard on the recording Music at Sharon (1981, Melbourne SMLP-4041/RCI 554) Coates' second organ, like the first a barrel-operated rather than a keyboard organ, was not preserved. The third Sharon organ, Coates' largest, was built in 1848 and has a keyboard. From 1831 to about 1861 Coates operated a sawmill and a thrashing mill east of Oakville, Ont. Though he was prosperous for some time, the depression of the early 1860s caused his last move, to a farm in Aldborough Township, near what became the village of Rodney. Of seven organs he is said to have built, one has been preserved by a descendant, Paul Shippey of Chatham, Ont, and two survive at Sharon. His last organ, built when he was 79, was used at St Jude's Church in Oakville until about 1899. No account survives of the other two organs.

See also Barrel organs.


Further Reading

  • Harper, J.R. A People's Art (Toronto 1974)

    DCB, vol 9