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Ragtime Music in Canada


Chapter 3: Canadian Ragtime Publishers and Record Producers 


By Ted Tjaden

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One indication of the popularity of the piano and parlour entertainment during the early 1900's in Canada is the relatively large number of Canadian sheet music publishers and the variety of sheet music they published. Canada and Canadians also played a leading role in producing early recorded music, some of which included ragtime. Set out below on this page is more information divided into the following three topics:

3.1)   Canadian sheet music publishers during the ragtime era
3.2)   Canadian record producers during the ragtime era
3.3)   Sampling of ragtime era recordings

3.1)   Canadian sheet music publishers during the ragtime era

For the period from 1900 to 1920, the market for sheet music in Canada was particularly strong:

Most works were either songs with piano accompaniment or short character pieces for solo piano. Music at this time was one of the favourite parlour activities, and such songs and piano pieces provided many hours of happy entertainment for performers and listeners alike .... The reason behind the remarkable quantity of music publishing was simply that in this period it made money, Rolex Replica since musical scores of the type described were extremely marketable. So also were pianos: there were approximately thirty pianos manufacturers in Canada prior to 1914, compared with fewer than half a dozen sixty years later. (Proctor 1980:3)

Melhuish (1996:33) reports that Geoffrey O'Hara's "K-K-K-Katy (The Stammering Song)" (see the sheet music for this song), which was written in Kingston, Ontario, sold over one million copies in sheet music form.

Since there were relatively few "pure" rags written and published in Canada, there was no single publisher of ragtime music per se; instead, we can observe that there were a number of Canadian publishers who appear to have published the bulk of ragtime and similar syncopated marches and two steps and other ragtime-related music during this period:

  • Anglo-Canadian Music Company: According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, the Anglo-Canadian Music Company was established in London in 1885 with a branch set up in Toronto for the purpose of printing and selling British music copyrights in Canada. By doing so, due to arcane provisions in the Canadian Copyright Act at that time, the company could stop American publishers from trying to import pirated copies of music into Canada. Although most composers of sheet music published by the company were by British or European composers, the company did start to publish songs by Canadian composers in the late 1890's.
  • HH Sparks: One of the main  publishers of ragtime and ragtime-related music in Canada was HH Sparks Music Co, established in Toronto in 1900 by Harry H Sparks. In the decade or so it remained in business, it issued over 200 pieces of music (according to its entry in the The Canadian Encyclopedia. Joseph F Lamb was a major composer for HH Sparks, as was Arthur Wellesley Hughes.
Advertisement from back of HH
                                  Sparks sheet music

Image source:
Library and Archives Canada

Left: Sample advertisement from 1904 for sheet music published by HH Sparks (with, presumably, a picture of HH Sparks in the lower left corner). Although there are no ragtime pieces advertised, there are several two-steps and marches, in addition to the standard, likely maudlin, fare of ballads and sacred songs. Note that this advertisement includes the Celestine Waltzes by Joseph Lamb (click here for this piece).

Source: Advertising page from the back of The Elephant Trot by Karl Kahn (Toronto: HH Sparks, 1904) (right).

Elephant Trot
                                    Sheet Music Cover

Image source:
Library and Archives Canada

  • Le Passe-Temps: Le Passe-Temps was a periodical published in Montreal from 1895 to 1949 and, according to its entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia, covered stories relating to music, literature, theatre, fashion, and sports. Many of the ragtime music and marches and waltzes of JB Lafrenière were published in Le Passe-Temps.
  • Whaley & Royce: In addition to manufacturing and selling musical instruments (including pianos), Whaley, Royce & Co Ltd also published and sold music. The Canadian Encyclopedia suggests that their advertising slogan of "Canada's Greatest Music House" was probably justified due to their large inventory of music and musical instruments. The company had its own engraving, lithographing and printing facilities and also published music magazines. According to its entry in The Canadian Encyclopedi, the "first Whaley, Royce publications date from 1890. The catalogue grew quickly and during the next 30 years surpassed that of any other Canadian publisher. The output declined later and came to a halt about 1940, after which date only reprints of earlier issues were undertaken, and a very few new items."
  • WH Hodgins & Co: According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, WH Hodgins & Co, based in Toronto, published around 100 sheet music titles of dance, march and popular song tunes. From 1897 to 1900, the pieces are published under the name "Amey & Hodgins," while from 1900 to 1907, they are published by WH Hodgins & Co. As an individual, WH Hodgins was a major composer for the company (see Chapter 8 for copies of the sheet music for compositions he wrote as an individual).

The names of other publishers of ragtime-related music in Canada include The Northern Music Company, Imperial Music Pub House, and JE Belair, but unfortunately, not much information is easily available about these publishers.

3.2)  Canadian record producers during the ragtime era

Canada was at the forefront of early record producing during the ragtime era. Emile Berliner, who had established the gramophone in the United States in 1893, established a new Canadian company (E Berliner) in Montreal in 1899 to produce gramophones in Canada based on a patent for gramophones he filed in Canada in 1897. Later, Herbert Berliner, eldest son of Emile Berliner, established The Compo Company Ltd in Lachine Quebec in 1918.

For a fascinating look at the history of both companies, see "The History of Recorded Sound in Canada" from The Virtual Gramophone (Collections Canada). The site also has a huge database of ragtime era recordings (in .mp3 format), although most of them are not rags but instead represent a broad spectrum of (Canadian) music recorded by these companies at the time.

On a related note: Do you know the connection between the name of HMV (the music store) and Emile Berliner? According to Melhuish (1996:30), Emile Berliner registered a Canadian trademark in 1900 of Nipper, the fox terrier, looking down the horn of a phonograph. This trademark was later used by Victor Talking Machine Co and inspired the naming of "His Master's Voice" records, the initials to which are "HMV." Now you know.

3.3)  Sampling of ragtime era recordings [top]

Set out below in chronological order are a selected example of recordings by Canadian performers or producers from the ragtime era:

Portrait of Harry Thomas

Harry Thomas, A Classical Spasm (.mp3) (Camden, NJ: Victor, 1917)

Source:  The Virtual Gramophone (Collections Canada) [top]

Photo of Geoffrey O'Hara

Geoffrey O'Hara singing the Canadian wartime patriotic song Doughboy Jack and Doughnut Jill (by Gitz Rice) (.mp3), with Willie Eckstein on piano (Montreal, QC: Berliner Gram-O-Phone Co, 1919)

Source:  The Virtual Gramophone (Collections Canada) [top]

Russian Rag Sheet Music Cover

Listen to:
George Cobb's Russian Rag (.mp3) played by the Waldorf-Astoria Dance Orchestra (Montreal, QC: Berliner Gramophone, 1920)

Source:  The Virtual Gramophone (Collections Canada)

Download sheet music: Indiana University Sheet Music Collections [top]

Turkey in the Straw Sheet Music

Willie Eckstein, Turkey in the Straw (.mp3) (Lachine, QC: Compo Company Limited, 1923)

Source:  The Virtual Gramophone (Collections Canada)

Download sheet music: The Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection [top]

Digital Scan of 78 LP for "The
                                Photo of the Girl I Left Behind"

Listen to:
The Dumbells, The Photo of the Girl I Left Behind (.mp3) (London, ON: Starr Company, 1924)

Source:  The Virtual Gramophone (Collections Canada) [top]

Maple Leaf Rag Sheet Music Cover

Listen to:
Vera Guilaroff, Maple Leaf Rag (.mp3) (Lachine, QC: Compo Company Limited, 1926)

Source:  The Virtual Gramophone (Collections Canada)

Download sheet music: Indiana University Sheet Music Collections [top]


In the next chapter, I briefly discuss the history of piano manufacturing in Canada.

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This site created by Ted Tjaden. Page last updated: February 2021.