Samuel Russell Warren | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Samuel Russell Warren

Samuel Russell Warren. Organ builder, b Tiverton, RI, 29 Mar 1809, d Montreal 30 Jul 1882. Warren was the outstanding figure in Canadian organ building during the 19th century. After emigrating from the USA, he established himself as an organ builder in Montreal in 1836.

Warren, Samuel Russell

Samuel Russell Warren. Organ builder, b Tiverton, RI, 29 Mar 1809, d Montreal 30 Jul 1882. Warren was the outstanding figure in Canadian organ building during the 19th century. After emigrating from the USA, he established himself as an organ builder in Montreal in 1836. By his death in 1882, he had produced more than 350 pipe organs for use all over Canada and the USA.

Notable among his achievements is the introduction into Canada of harmonic flutes, free reeds, and orchestral stops. He was the first to adopt the Barker lever in Canada ca 1851 and the first to use hydraulic bellows in 1860-1 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Montreal. He patented several of his inventions, including an early patent for a piano and others for 'An Improved Miniature Organ,' 'An Improved Organ Windchest Slide,' and a 'Pneumatic Touch Lightener.' He even built some of his own pipework, assisted by his brothers, although he did import new pipework from suppliers in France and Germany as well.

Samuel Russell Warren was the son of a carpenter, Samuel Warren, and a descendant of Richard Warren, who sailed to North America on the Mayflower in 1620. His uncle was the Rhode Island architect Russell Warren, who was considered to be one of the principal builders in New England from 1828 to 1860, designing churches, banks, and public buildings. Samuel Russell had two brothers, Thomas D., also an organ builder, and William Henry, an organist.

Samuel Russell Warren worked sporadically for Thomas Appleton of Boston, where he received his training as an organ builder during the early 1830s. He is listed in Providence, RI, directories as a house carpenter 1826-8, as a musician 1830-2, and as an organ builder in 1836. He is reported to have built at least three pipe organs in the USA prior to his emigration to Montreal in 1836. These instruments were located in Charleston, SC (1830); Newport, RI (1834); and Providence, RI (1835).

After settling in Montreal, Warren built an organ for the parish church in Rigaud, Que, in 1836. The following year he entered into a partnership with George W. Mead under the name of Mead & Warren. This partnership, first announced in La Minerve 27 Jan 1837, was short-lived, however, and their association was dissolved a few months later. Together Mead & Warren built an organ for Sherrington, Que, a small two-manual instrument with 54-note keyboards and an 18-note pedalboard.

Warren next formed his own firm to build pipe organs and harmoniums, and eventually sold seraphims, accordions, and flutes as well.

In the Montreal Directory, 1842-5, Warren was listed as a manufacturer of Organs and Piano Fortes, with his workshop located on Dorchester St near St-Constant, next door to the English Hospital. During these years he built organs for the American Presbyterian Church, 1843; St George's, 1843; and St Thomas, 1845; all in Montreal. Other organs were built for Quebec churches in St-Ours, 1841; St-Isidore de Laprairie, 1842; Boucherville, 1846; and he made repairs to the instrument at Grondines, as well as to the organ at the Anglican church in Dunham, 1847. In 1848 he built organs for the Montreal General Hospital and for the Grey Nuns, the latter being dedicated on 8 Jun 1848.

By 1849 Warren was listed as a manufacturer of Church and Parlour Organs, Piano Fortes, Aeolophones, and Harmoniums, with a shop at 10 St-Joseph St. On 1 May 1857 he announced in La Patrie that he had enlarged his workshop which was now located at 18 & 20 St-Joseph St. At the same time he advertised his newly patented octave coupler and his introduction of the tuba stop into church organs. In 1867 his factory address was 32 St-Joseph St. The workshop remained there until 1871, when it was moved to Old St George's Church located at 51 St-Joseph St.

Notable organs that he built during this time were at Lotbinière, 1849; St Patrick's and Bonsecours in Montreal, 1850; St James' Cathedral in Toronto (said to be the largest organ in Canada at the time), St-Jean-Baptiste in Quebec City, and Kamouraska, 1853; St Stephen's Anglican Church, Chambly, 1855; St-Pierre-Apôtre and Notre-Dame in Montreal, 1858; St-Roch-de-l'Achigan, Trinity Church at Viger Square, Montreal (34 stops), and the Wesleyan Chapel, Montreal (33 stops), 1861; St-Jean-Baptiste de Rouville, 1862; St John the Evangelist, 1863; St James the Apostle, 1864; St-Enfant-Jésus du Mile-End, 1869; Trinity Anglican Church, Dorchester, NB (8 stops); and Chaboillez Square Church on Inspector St in Montreal, 1871.

Other large mechanical instruments that have since been destroyed or have been incorporated into newer instruments were built for Dominion Square Methodist Church (30 stops); Crescent St Presbyterian Church (39 stops); St Martin's Church (31 stops); Knox Presbyterian Church (22 stops); First Baptist Church (25 stops); Emmanuel Congregational Church (28 stops); and St Edward's Episcopal Church (16 stops), all in Montreal.

In an account of the installation of the new organ at the Wesleyan Chapel in Montreal in 1861, it was stated that Warren had built 25 organs for delivery to the USA and that 175 organs had been built for installation in Canada, 23 in the City of Montreal alone. By 1869, it was reported that Warren had installed his 350th instrument.

In 1857, when the Church of Notre-Dame in Montreal needed an organ for its newly completed sanctuary, Warren was selected to build the instrument. This mechanical-action organ was to be his chef-d'œuvre, consisting of four manuals with a compass of 56 notes for each keyboard, and a pedalboard with a compass of 2 1/2 octaves. There were to be 89 stops with a total of 4,694 pipes, the largest being the metal 32-ft pedal rank - flûte ouverte. The cost of the instrument was estimated at between £4,000 and £5,000.

The parish, alas, had no more than £800, but nevertheless, construction began in November 1857. When the inauguration took place 24 Jun 1858, only two manuals had been completed with part of the pedal division. In all there were only 18 stops installed, totalling 1,018 pipes. During the next few years some additions were made to the instrument, but it was never completed as originally planned due to the lack of funds. In February 1861 it was noted in the Montreal Herald: 'What stands in the way [of completing the instrument]? - surely not the want of funds? As the instrument now stands - naked, uncovered, incomplete, - it is a reproach to the church, without being any credit to the builder.'

Among many who voiced objection to the way the instrument had been left incomplete were Paul Letondal and Louis Mitchell, a former employee of Warren. A report into the construction of the organ in 1861 created more controversy, which lasted until 1864. In 1863 Warren published a 30-page document about the construction of the Notre-Dame organ in reply to the many insinuations and attacks that had been directed at him and his company.

During the controversy, a letter from Warren's employees appeared in La Minerve 29 Dec 1863, in which they affirmed that Warren was a generous employer, paying them even when there were periods of no work, and that everything that was used in the construction of their organs was bought in Canada, thus keeping jobs and money in Canada, unlike the other organ builders who bought their pipework and accessories from the USA. Among the signators was Joseph S. Coron, who went on to form his own organ building firm at a later date, but primarily tuned and repaired organs in the Montreal area during the 1880s.

After 1865, when Louis Mitchell and Charles Forté completed their reconstruction of the organ in the Quebec City Cathedral of Notre-Dame, a new generation of French-Canadian builders began to challenge Warren's domination in the field.

Of Warren's children, only Charles Sumner joined his father's firm. The business was registered 2 Nov 1866 under the name of S.R. Warren & Company, and the name was changed 17 Nov 1876 to S.R. Warren & Son. In 1878 the business was moved to Toronto. Organs built during these years were for: American Presbyterian Church, Montreal, 1873; Erskine Presbyterian Church, Montreal (32 stops), 1875; Metropolitan Methodist Church, Toronto, 1875; and St-Gabriel Church on Ste-Catherine St, Montreal, 1878-9. Sumner took over as the head of the firm when his father died at the age of 73 of heart disease. Samuel Russell Warren was buried in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal 2 Aug 1882.

During his lifetime, Warren demonstrated in his œuvre an increasing preference for the French organ. He was familiar with Clicquot's work and was able to quote knowledgably from Dom Bédos' organ building treatise of 1766, L'Art du facteur d'orgues. He was also in correspondence with Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, particularly in regard to the specification of the proposed Notre-Dame organ and the controversy surrounding the use of zinc in the bass registers of various ranks of pipes in that organ.

Of the more than 350 pipe organs that have been attributed to Samuel Russell Warren, there are but a handful still in existence. These can be found in Chambly, Frelighsburg, and Clarenceville, Que; Dorchester, NB; and Tignish, PEI. A four-stop Melodeon dating from ca 1865 can be seen at the Sharon Temple Museum, in the village of Sharon north of Toronto. In Montreal there are no extant unaltered organs built by him. Pipework and casework from early Warren instruments can, however, be found in numerous rebuilds of his instruments by other builders.

See also Thomas D. Warren and William Henry Warren (his brothers), and Samuel Prowse Warren, and Charles Sumner Warren (his sons).


Réponse au sujet de la construction, de l'examen des rapports et des certificats concernant la réception de l'orgue de l'église paroissiale de Montréal suivie de quelques mots sur l'orgue construit pour les RR. PP. Oblats à Montréal et accompagnée de remarques sur la construction des orgues et les causes des instruments défectueux (Montreal 1863)

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