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Ragtime Music in Canada


Chapter 1: The Introduction of Ragtime into Canada from the United States


By Ted Tjaden

[return to Table of Contents] [go to Chapter 2]


The history of music in Canada reflects the tri-cultural influences that initially shaped our country. First Nations people, the French, and the British have all made unique contributions to the musical heritage of our country. The influence of each culture on this heritage, however, has varied over time with aboriginal music perhaps being the least understood by most Canadians (reflecting, in part, systemic discrimination against First Nations people in this country). With the French being the dominant early culture, French music played an important early role in Canadian music with British immigrants also bringing with them to Canada their musical heritage. Before discussing the adoption of ragtime music from the States in the early 1900's, it may therefore help to have a basic understanding of the pre-ragtime state of music in Canada before that time. This is followed by a discussion of the spread of American musical influences into Canada. Information on this page is therefore set out below on the following topics:

1.1)   Aboriginal Music
1.2)   French Music
1.3)   British Music
1.4)   Samples of Canadian Pre-Ragtime Era Music
1.5)   African American Immigration to Canada
1.6)   Canadian Reaction to Ragtime Music
1.7)   Ragtime Music and the Gold Rush

1.1)  Aboriginal music

Before European settlers came to what is now Canada, our region was occupied by a large number of aboriginal people, including the West Coast Salish and Haida, the centrally located Iroquois, Blackfoot and Huron, the Inuit people to the North, and the Mi’kmaq in the East. Each of the aboriginal communities had (and have) their own unique traditions, including musical traditions. However, one major difference between Western music and aboriginal music is that much of aboriginal music is associated with rituals and religion:

In the native cultures much of the music is associated with religious ritual and is viewed as an essential part of life, whereas most European-descended music is secular ....  [O]nly a portion of the traditional music of the Indians and Inuit is for entertainment. Most of it is embedded in rituals designed to achieve some purpose such as good health, a successful hunt, rain, or contact with the spirit world. (McGee 1985:141)

Besides chanting and singing, many First Nations people would use a variety of musical instruments crafted from available material. McGee (1985:145), for example, points out that the Algonquians used instruments such as rattles, drums and wooden flutes.

Aboriginal music is not widely performed, compared to other styles of music. For an example of one style of aboriginal music, see the Tea Dance of the Dogrib or Tli Cho First Nation (of the Northwest Territories).

McGee (1985:142) points out that some aboriginal musical traditions are being lost but attempts are being made to preserve this music:

The native people are aware that their old traditions are in danger of totally disappearing, and efforts have been made to preserve what is left. In many cases these have resulted in a cultural "comparmentalization" in which Euro-American customs are adopted while the old traditions are still observed. In terms of music this means that the Indians and Inuit listen to and perform modern popular music as well as their native music, keeping the two quite separate from one another, with little observable influence of one style on the other.

McGee's comment that there is little observable influence of aboriginal music on Western music among aboriginals is significant, due likely in part to completely different origins of the music, different musical styles and harmonies, and so on. Ragtime and ragtime-era music, like most Western music, has not done a lot to integrate aboriginal music. One notable exception to this was Job Nelson, an native Indian who wrote The Imperial Native March (below) and was the conductor of Nelson's Cornet Band and the Metlakatla Brass Band on the north coast of British Columbia around the turn of the century (Maloney).

Imperial Native March Sheet
                                    Music Cover

Job Nelson. The Imperial Native March. Toronto, ON: Whaley, Royce, 1907.

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada [top]

Rather than there being any serious incorporation of aboriginal music into ragtime (or other forms of Western music) there was instead a few ragtime composers would incorporate fairly stereotypical Indian-sounding melodies or drum beats into their pieces.

Sample of music
                                    from Nouhika: Indian Intermezzo

Click on the image to the left to see the first several bars of Nouhika: Indian Intermezzo Two-Step to see the "drum beat" in the left hand and the "Indian-style" melody in the right hand characteristic of this type of stylized ethnic song.

Two of the many types of this ragtime-era "Indian" music are set out below, one Canadian (Nouhika: Indian Intermezzo Two-Step) and one American (Tonkawa, Indian Characteristic Two-Step). Much of this imitative type of music is not that memorable or noteworthy; however, in its favour in the examples below, the artwork is not overly stereotypical or offensive as some examples of African-American caricatures that sometimes appear in ragtime sheet music covers (although the covers below do represent a typically European romanticized view of aboriginal people).

Nouhika: Indian Intermezzo
                                    Two-Step Sheet Music Cover

Wilfrid Beaudry, Nouhika: Indian Intermezzo Two-Step (Québec, QC: J Beaudry, 1905).

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada [top]

Tonkawa, Indian Characteristic
                                    Two-Step Sheet Music Cover

Pauline Story, Tonkawa, Indian Characteristic Two-Step (Erie, PA: Brehm Bros, 1903).

Source: Duke University, Digital Collections [top]

1.2)  French Music [top]

The music brought to New France by French explorers and immigrants has had a lasting effect on the Canadian music legacy. Kallmann (1960:25) estimates that "of the seven to ten thousand songs that have been collected in the province of Québec in recent years, fully nine-tenths are derived from songs brought to Canada before 1673." He goes on to describe the influence of French music:

The settlers brought with them a great love of song, dance and fiddle playing. Often a group from the same village would settle together, and this homogeneity of traditions and customs was as much responsible for the preservation of their songs through the generations, as was the vitality of their musicianship, their relative isolation in the new country, and their loyal memory of "la douce France." Song was ever present at work and at leisure, at home or on a journey. It sped the paddle of the voyageur, it helped to pass hours of loneliness, it preserved the memory of the homeland, it mirrored the exploits, sufferings and adventures of the pioneers. In short, song played an infinitely more vital part in everyday life than it does in our present-day urban society. (Kallmann 1960:25-26)

McGee (1985:2) describes the contribution of French folk music in similar terms:

By far the largest quantity of secular music performed in Canada from its founding until the mid-nineteenth century was folk music. From the early days of the country, immigrants of all origins brought their traditional music with them, but the contribution of the French was especially rich in this regard. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries most of the French colonists were farmers and labourers who sang and played the music they had learned in their homeland - folk songs and dance tunes that could be performed by amateurs without elaborate planning, rehearsal, or special facilities.

In fact, music was a daily part of life for most French settlers:

. . . [M]usic was firmly rooted in New France from the earliest days. A vast collection of folk songs was brought over from France, and was the constant companion of most of the settlers. Portable instruments such as violins, viols, lutes, and flutes were played at simple dances, fancy balls, and theatre presentations, and even at church services where they substituted for or joined with the organ. Both Indian and French children learned to sing and read sacred music, and adult choirs sang part-music in church. (McGee 1985:18).

Has French Canadian musical culture influenced Canadian ragtime music? Likely not. It is difficult to pinpoint actual influences on ragtime music per se; however, French music has clearly had a strong influence on folk music more generally (every Canadian knows the French folk song called "Allouette!", for example). In addition, the province of Québec has played an important role in Canadian ragtime as being the residence of ragtime composer Jéan-Baptiste LaFrenière (see my separate essay about him and his music for more information) and Wilfrid Beaudry (click here for sheet music of songs he has composed; however, I have been unable to find out much about him). The city of Montreal was also the seat of ragtime and jazz music in Canada with ragtime residents including Willie Eckstein, Vera Guilaroff and Harry Thomas (see Chapter 2 for more information on them) due in part to lax liquor laws during Prohibition and the presence of a large black population of musicians (Gilmore 1988:29-30). For more on the music of Québec, see any of the following websites:

1.3)  British music [top]

Various types of folk music from the British Isles were introduced into Canada by early settlers from that region:

The English-speaking settlers ... came from different countries – Scotland, Ireland, and England, and from New England where their several backgrounds had already been mixed together, and they brought with them a variety of political, social, and religious experiences. (McGee 1985:21)

Folk music from the British Isles included jigs and reels and other dance music that many Canadians are familiar with:

Their music included many of the same types as that of the French, although of a different flavour, and with a more extensive regional variety. There was the rich heritage of Scottish, Irish, and English folk songs and dances, ballads of various kinds, and instrument playing, much which survives today in the small villages of most of the provinces. Common musical traits help to identify all of that music as from the British Isles, but Scottish reels, Irish jigs, and English folk songs each present individual regional characteristics. And the several different traditions of sacred music – Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Roman Catholic – each with its own sacred repertory and practices, added further variety to the Canadian musical culture. (McGee 1985:21)

The influence of British folk music on Canadian ragtime is not direct but instead has more generally influenced the broad types of dance music composed by early settlers to Canada. There were of course Canadian "classical" composers, such as Claude Champagne (Québec, 1891-1965) and Sir Ernest MacMillan (Ontario, 1893-1973), who drew on influences from Europe. But closer connections to ragtime are likely found with the syncopated dance music from the pre-ragtime era, including polkas, marches and schottisches. It is impossible, for example, to think of the Canadian fiddle music of Don Messer without this direct influence of reels and jigs from the British Isles. To listen to a few samples of this sort of music, try any of the following links:

1.4)  Samples of Canadian Pre-Ragtime Era Music with Likely British/European Influences [top]

Set out below are three piano compositions by Canadian composers, pre-ragtime:

Le Papillon: Etude de Concert
                                    pour le Piano Sheet Music Cover

Calixa Lavallée, Le Papillon: Etude de Concert pour le Piano (Boston, MA: AP Schmidt, 1884).

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada [top]

Dancing Still at 3
                                      am: Schottische Sheet Music Cover

W Edward Cadwallader, Dancing Still at 3 am: Schottische (Toronto, ON: WH Billing, 1893).

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada [top]

The Cathcart Polkas
                                      Sheet Music Cover

Henry Schallehn, The Cathcart Polkas (Toronto, ON: A & S Nordheimer, 1848).

[view sheet music]

Source: Library and Archives Canada [top]

1.5)  African American Immigration to Canada [top]

As mentioned above, the early musical influences in Canada were European, primarily as a result of the musical traditions brought by immigrants from France and Great Britain. However, with increased settlement in the American colonies, there was increased north-south movement between the United States and Canada, and with the American Revolution came an increased number of American colonists and African-American slaves:

The first great influx of blacks into the Canadian colonies did not take place until a century and a half after the beginning of the slave trade, when the American colonies rebelled against British rule. The United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution brought their slaves with them to Canada and settled mainly in Nova Scotia. The British authorities in turn enticed American slaves to desert the rebellious colonies by promising them freedom and land in Canada. At the same time, black freemen were arriving from the American colonies in search of land to farm. In all, some five thousand blacks entered Canada during the American Revolution. While slavery remained legal in the Canadian colonies until 1834, slavery had virtually ended by the 1820s .... (Gilmore 1988:21)

Mensah (2002:46) puts the total number of African-Americans during this period at several thousand, with a large majority of these escaped slaves settling in Nova Scotia:

At the beginning of the American Revolution in 1776, there were already some five hundred black slaves in Nova Scotia, and this figure tripled as White Loyalists, who supported the British, fled during and after the five-year Revolutionary War, taking their salves with them. Meanwhile some three thousand Blacks, emancipated in the American colonies in exchange for supporting the British, entered Canada .... Most of these Black Loyalists settled in Nova Scotia, which became their main centre in Canada.

Canada became famous as the terminus of the "Underground Railroad," a metaphor for the "escape routes" that American slaves took to escape their servitude and to live in relative freedom in Canada:

Another significant wave of Blacks to enter Canada during the 1800s was comprised of the "fugitives" who came through the now famous Underground Railroad with its mythical trains. With the passage of the Abolition Act of 1793 in Upper Canada, runaway slaves entering the country were considered free; consequently, Upper Canada became a safe haven for them. (Mensah 2002:49) 

Map of the "Underground

: Map of the "Underground Railroad" from Wilbur H Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom, The Macmillan Company, 1898.

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada Exhibition [top]

Painting showing black
                                    musicians present at a dance in
                                    Lower Canada about 1807

: Canadian Minuets, ca 1807 by George Heriot

Painting showing black musicians present at a dance in Lower Canada about 1807.

Source: Library and Archives Canada, Anti-Slavery Movement in Canada Exhibition [top]

Gilmore (1988:21-22) describes the Underground Railroad in these terms:

A second wave of blacks entered Canada from the United States on the 'underground railway,' a legendary escape route for runaway slaves that has contributed to the erroneous myth that most blacks in Canada are the descendants of slaves .... By 1890 there were only fifteen thousand blacks living throughout the Canadian colonies, and it wasn't until West Indians began immigrating to Canada in large numbers in the 1940s that the country's black population increased significantly.

Many of the African Americans coming to Canada at this time ended up in southern Ontario, including, it is believed, the parents of R Nathaniel Dett, a Canadian ragtime composer discussed in more detail in Chapter 2:

Without enough funds, most of the Black fugitives could not venture deep into Canada and terminated their run in Ontario communities near the United States border. Soon Black settlements developed in places such as Amherstburg, Buxton, St Catharines, Windsor, London, Chatham and later around Toronto. While no official data are available on the number of Black fugitives crossing into Canada during this era, it is estimated that about ten thousand fugitives were in Canada prior to 1850 and, between 1850 and 1860, perhaps twenty thousand Blacks entered Canada. (Mensah 2002:49-50)

Simpson (1993:1) puts the figures of Blacks in 1840 at 10,000 in Ontario, being the largest proportion of a total of around 60,000 slaves in Canada at that time.

Gilmore (1988:20) describes a third wave of African-American immigration into Canada when "between 1916 and 1918, one of every twenty blacks in the South – a total of more than 400,000 people- migrated northward in search of work and a better life" where "[a] few of them spilled across the border into Canada ...." He notes the (positive) impact this had on the introduction of musical influence:

One side effect of this mass movement of blacks in search of work was the flow of black music, and especially the blues, from south to north – a musical migration that would, in a relatively short time, profoundly alter the character of music played around the world. (Gilmore 1988:20)

One important area that spawned ragtime in Canada was the city of Montreal where it is estimated that there were between 500 to 1,000 blacks living in the late 1800's (Gilmore 1988:22). The development of the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway created employment for some blacks as porters and "sporting clubs" began to spring up in St Antoine district of Montreal in the late 1800's where music became an important part of the community:

Music was an important ingredient in the social life of the black community, and there was certain to have been a contingent of local black musicians to play for dances, weddings, parades, and picnics. (Gilmore 1988:23)

As mentioned above, Montreal was where Canadian ragtime composer Jéan-Baptiste LaFrenière spent his youth and where he later worked as the pianist for the Eldorado Café-Concert Orchestra from 1899 to 1901.

1.6)  Canadian Reaction to Ragtime Music [top]

It would seem that ragtime music was received with mixed reactions in Canada, as it was in the United States (see, for example, Neil Leonard, "The Reactions to Ragtime" in Hasse (1985:102) for American reactions to ragtime). In Canada, there was a strong conservative, Puritan attitude held by many in authority that led, among other things, to until only quite recently laws that closed stores for Sunday shopping in Canada in most provinces. This Puritan attitude is reflected in the following article from the August 15, 1902, edition of The Globe in which a teacher comments that "evil" ragtime music should play no part of the kindergarten curriculum:

[Mrs Jenkins] advocated laying the foundation of the musical education in the home, and said: "If a boy or girl does not take to the piano or organ, teach them the violin or some other instrument." Thus would be created in the home an orchestra which would elevate the environments and cultivate home life. Mrs Jenkins strongly denounced the "rag-time" music so commonly heard now, and said it was not musical, and it was vitiating and vulgar to permit such a thing.

Likewise, a few months later in the December 23, 1902, edition of The Globe, in the "Music and the Drama" section, a review of an operetta by Sir Arthur Sullivan talks of the "tyranny" of ragtime and two-steps:

It was a veritable pleasure to hear once more a specimen of a genuine comic operetta, and to escape the monotonous tyranny of ragtime and "two-steps" which have formed the basis of so many of the comic opera productions which have of late years been presented in Toronto.

However, the same newspaper on October 17, 1903, page 19, printed the following praise of ragtime music by none other than John Philip Sousa:

Recently the New York Sun published an interview with John Philip Sousa in Chicago, in which he re-asserted that ragtime will last as long as the great operas. "Ragtime," says the famous bandmaster, "is an established feature of American music: It will never die .... King Edward VII liked it so well that he asked us to play more of it ....

In addition, ragtime was popular enough to be used, in part, by Heintzman and Company to promote their pianos in the following advertisement from the December 6, 2005, edition of The Globe:

Heintzman Piano ad
                                    in December 6, 2005, edition of The

: Heintzman Piano ad in December 6, 2005, edition of The Globe (now the The Globe & Mail) which states in part: "The man of the house, when he comes home at night, tired with the business cares of the day and longing for the restful enjoyment of music, can sit down at THIS piano and play it himself, play just the kind of music he likes best, whether it be some catchy air from one of the operas or a bit of ragtime .... [emphasis added]

Like it or not, ragtime music was clearly part of the Canadian musical landscape in the early 1900's. However, it would seem that ragtime was only one of several styles of instrumental music being played at this time in addition to any number of saccharine waltzes or patriotic songs and marches. Kallmann (1960:260) describes the type of music being produced in Canada during this time in these terms:

    ...[F]or a young and immature country Canada had produced an impressive number of compositions by the time of World War I. The music written by these composers did not compare in quality with the masterworks of European literature or in modernism with European avant garde music of the turn of the century. But it did cover a wide range of types, from church anthems, parlous songs, and pieces for piano students to choral-orchestral works of considerable proportions, and it also included a sprinkling of serious instrumental music. Much of it was the workaday product of more or less competent craftsmen; some revealed the imagination of sensitive and erudite artists.

Kallmann (1960:160) also provides a nice description of how important the demand for pianos was to support this type of music and the efforts that were necessary to transport them across the country as settlers moved westward. He describes a piano being delivered to the Red River Academy military station on the site of modern Winnipeg as early as 1833 and further westward:

While a violin, clarinet, or concertina added only little weight to a pioneer's baggage, it was a problem of a different sort to transport pianos around Cape Horn or on carts across the prairie plains and rivers and over mountains passes to satisfy the musical desires of pioneer settlers. Yet this is what was done .... Pianos were packed on mules at a rate of a dollar a pound from Quesnel to Barkerville, the centre of the Cariboo gold region. Dancehalls and saloons had grown up there overnight, and the hurdy-gurdy girls charged ten dollars or more a dance .... (Kallmann 1960:161)

According to Kallmann (1960:162) several dates for early pianos in Western Canada are: Victoria circa 1851; Prince Albert 1880; Lethbridge 1887; and Vancouver 1860. Kallmann suggests that part of the demand for pianos was due to the desire of pioneer women to have a civilized form of entertainment:

The vogue for pianos was due largely to the pioneer women, for many prospective brides from England and eastern Canada made it a condition that they be provided with a piano in their homes. Women associated these instruments with the dignity and conventionality of the older communities they had left. The fiddle would encourage rowdy reels but the piano soothed the savage breast and the accounts of early pianos doing duty reveal them chiefly as instruments of sentimentality and remembrance - sometimes even in the Yukon dancehalls - and tears ran through many a bold moustache as bachelors sang to the gentle tones of favourites such as the saccharine "Molly Darling." (Kallmann 1960:162)

1.7)  Ragtime Music and the Gold Rush [top]

The Caribou Gold Rush in British Columbia in the 1860s and the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 to 1899 in Dawson City, Yukon Territories, in the Canadian North brought tens of thousands of fortune-seekers to these areas. The immediate wealth (or sense of wealth) that was created by these Gold Rushes resulted in a roaring entertainment district with fancy hotels and saloons and gambling joints, perhaps not unlike the "sporting districts" of Joplin's Missouri (albeit with a slightly different clientele).

In Downrigh Upright: A History of the Canadian Piano Industry (Kelly 1991:15), author Wayne Kelly describes how the gold rush in the Caribou and the Klondike spurred a demand for pianos as a form of entertainment:

By the mid-1850s number of pianos had arrived in Victoria and Vancouver by way of Cape Horn. And while "musical and social evenings" occasionally brightened the lives of the locals, it was the Fraser valley gold rush of 1858 that created a demand for the instrument in the Canadian west. Many years later, with the beginning of the Klondike goldrush, dozens of instruments were ordered by saloon owners and travelling musical groups. Arriving in Vancouver by train, crated pianos were hoisted into the salty holds of ferrys bound for Skagway, Alaska.

Kelly (1991:15) describes a sister singing group, the Sunny Samson Sisters, who arranged to have their piano carried to the top of the 1,200 foot elevation Chilkoot Pass on their way to Dawson but who were denied entry by the RCMP and had to return to Skagway where Kelly writes was a town "lousy with pianos" at the time.

Photo of 1860's Piano in
                                    Kelly's Hotel, Barkerville, B.C.

: 1860's Piano in Kelly's Hotel, Barkerville, BC (photo circa 188-?). Source: BC Archives [top]

Berton in Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush (1896-1899) (Berton 1972:354) describes Dawson from July 1898 to July 1899 (at the peak of the gold rush) as the "San Francisco of the North" with many amenities not available in other North American cities:

Although it lay in the shadow of the Arctic Circle, more than four thousand miles from civilization, and although it was the only settlement of any size in a wilderness area that occupied hundreds of thousands of square miles. Dawson was livelier, richer, and better equipped than many larger Canadian and American communities. It had a telephone service, running water, steam heat, and electricity. It had dozens of hotels, many of them better appointed than those on the Pacific coast. It had motion-picture theatres operating at a time when the projected motion-picture was just three years old. It had restaurants where strong orchestras played the Largo from Cavalleria Rusticana for men in tailcoats who ate pâté de foie gras and drank vintage wines. It had fashions from Paris. It had dramatic societies, church choirs, glee clubs, and vaudeville companies.

Photo of Main Street, Dawson
                                    City, N.W.T.

: Main Street, Dawson City, NWT, Photographer: Hegg, EA (1898). Source: BC Archives [top]

Berton further suggests that many of these saloons and dance halls were sources of great revenue for their owners and the dance girls who worked there when he states that "Dawson's entertainments, although they brought thousands into the dance halls, were only a means to an end, and that end was to extract as much gold as possible from the audience when the entertainment was done" (1972:365). From the photo immediately below of a Klondike "ballroom" we can imagine how relatively "rough and tumble" some of these ballrooms likely were.

Photo of a Scene in a Klondike
                                    ballroom circa 1902

: Scene in a Klondike ballroom; a roadhouse dance, Photographer: Unknown (21 May 1902). Source: BC Archives [top]

The poet Robert Service (1875-1958), a British citizen, but more famous as a bank clerk resident in the Yukon who wrote poems about life in the North, in fact mentions ragtime in one of his most famous poems "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" from The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses. In the opening stanza, he sets the scene of the poem in the Malamute saloon were a "kid" is playing ragtime on the piano (emphasis added):

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou.

In walks a stranger, crazed with "hooch" who eventually sits down at the piano to belt out a tune while the ragtime kid has a drink:

His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands
 – my God! but that man could play.

The poem ends in a shootout between this stranger and Dangerous Dan McGrew apparently over the lady that's known as Lou (you'll have to read the poem to see how it ends).

Berton (1972:361) describes the Rag Time Kid from the Dominion Saloon, a possible model for Service's jag-time kid. According to Berton, the Rag Time Kid was challenged to a piano contest by entertainer Wilson Mizner who thought, in error, that he could outperform the Rag Time Kid:

Mizner fancied himself as a singer and as a piano-player during his year in Dawson. The most famous pianist in town was the Rag Time Kid at the Dominion Saloon, said to be the model for Service's subsequent Jag Time Kid in the famous poem about Dan McGrew. The Kid's mother was a Chicago music teacher, and it was his boast that he could play anything that was requested. Mizner, who came from a good family, was sceptical of the Kid's musical knowledge and rashly bet that he could play something the Kid could not copy. The Kid accepted, whereupon Mizner sat down and played "The Holy City." "Move over," said the Kid contemptuously, and before Mizner had finished the final notes he was rendering the grand old song in ragtime.

The gold rush was a popular theme for sheet music during the ragtime era. Two examples of American pieces from the era are the The Klondike March of the Gold Miners (1897) and the Klondike Rag (1908) (there are plenty more). In addition, the two Canadian pieces listed below unfortunately appear to only be available in print, and if I am able to obtain copies, I will digitize them and put them online (note: the first piece below is written by the father of Canada's 14th prime minister, John G Diefenbaker):

  • Diefenbaker, William Thomas. Rush to the Klondike: Song. Toronto, ON: WH Billing, 1897.
  • Shanks, AL. I've Got the Klondike Fever (words by Lance Grill). Toronto, ON: Anglo-Canadian Music Publishers' Association, 1898.

The Klondike March of the Gold
                                    Miners Sheet Music Cover

Theo Metz, The Klondike March of the Gold Miners (New York, NY: Willis Woodward & Co, 1897).

[view sheet music]

Source: Lester S  Levy Collection of Sheet Music [top]

Klondike Rag Sheet Music Cover

George Botsford, Klondike Rag (New York, NY: William R Haskins Co, 1908).

[view sheet music]

Source: University of Colorado Digital Sheet Music Collection [top]

Another ragtime era song dealing with mining is When the Major Plays Those Miner Melodies by Will Wilander and Harry DeCosta:

When the Major Plays Those
                                    Miner Melodies Sheet Music Cover

William Wilander & Harry Decosta,  When the Major Plays Those Miner Melodies (New York, NY: M Witmark, 1916).

[view sheet music]

Source: Duke University, Digital Collections [top]


In the next chapter, I discuss some of the more important early ragtime composers and personalities in Canada, including Ivor (Jack) Ayre, R Nathaniel Dett, Willie Eckstein, Vera Guilaroff, May Irwin, Jéan-Baptiste LaFrenière, Joseph F Lamb, Geoffrey O'Hara,  Fred S Stone, Harry Thomas, and Charles E Wellinger.

[return to Table of Contents]  [go to Chapter 2] [top]


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This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: January 2022.