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Sheet Music
From Canada's Past


Canadian Sheet Music Before 1867


The earliest examples of sheet music relating to Canada in the Library and Archives Canada collection were published in London towards the end of the 18th century. At that time, the glorification of war heroes was much in vogue. The demand for battle music was met by such pieces as W. B. de Krifft's Siege of Quebec; the poignant ballad by Thomas Paine, On the Death of General Wolfe; and How Stands the Glass Around, by General James Wolfe himself, possibly written on the eve of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham. Reports of travellers passing through the British provinces fuelled the European fascination with new territories. Their accounts told of singing, fiddling and dancing, especially in French Canada, and the rhythmic songs of the voyageurs were soon made legendary by romantic descriptions carried back to the Old World. Thomas Moore wrote the well-known Canadian Boat Song after one such trip and published it in London in 1805. It was so popular that it was republished several times over the next forty years in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.

Music publishing and printing in Europe was by then a thriving industry, but it did not begin in Canada until 1800. Le Graduel Romain (Québec: John Neilson, 1800) was followed in quick succession by other liturgical books and sacred tune books to meet the demands of the growing church communities in all the provinces. Traditional songs and dances, however, such as those of the habitants, were transmitted orally, from generation to generation and from village to village. There was no need to transcribe or publish them.

Printed music was required, however, for music teachers and their pupils, who were from the privileged minority where domestic music making was considered a proof of gentility. Their appetite for new music was whetted by attendance at concerts, recitals and balls, where amateur musicians and military bandsmen often provided the entertainment. With the growth of towns and cities and a flourishing middle class came an even greater demand for relatively uncomplicated pieces, particularly for young ladies whose social status and marriage prospects were greatly improved by their ability to play an instrument and sing a pretty tune. Instrument dealers stocked a large variety of imported scores and sheet music to meet this demand.

Mass immigration during the 1840s and '50s, largely from Ireland, England and Scotland, broadened considerably the market for consumer goods of all kinds. Between 1831 and 1861 the population of Lower Canada (Canada East after 1840) almost doubled, while that of Upper Canada/Canada West, where land was more readily available to settlers, increased fivefold. Many immigrants lived in relative isolation; music, sometimes obtained through subscriptions to newspapers and magazines, provided entertainment and a life line to civilization. Susanna Moodie's account, in her much-acclaimed Roughing It in the Bush (London, 1852) of how she saved her husband's flute from a fire," 1 and her letter to her publisher relating her gratitude at the arrival of her piano and her plans to pay for it, 2 are touching examples of the importance of music in the lives of the pioneer settlers.

The Beginnings

Canadian periodicals of this era provided European and local news, and also featured articles on the latest fashions, announcements of recently published books, and entertainment in the form of serialized novels, poetry and -- occasionally -- music. One of the earliest and most successful of these was The Literary Garland (1838-1851). It was published in Montreal by John Lovell, who was also the first to recognize Susanna Moodie's talents as a writer. Lovell included a simple piece of music in each forty-five to fifty-page monthly issue, including several by Susanna's husband, J. W. Dunbar Moodie. The first appearance of a piece of music in a newspaper or magazine was in the pages of the Montreal twice-weekly newspaper, La Minerve, on September 19, 1831. The owner and editor, Ludger Duvernay, was very proud to announce on the first page of that issue the acquisition of a costly set of music type and he offered his services to anyone who wanted to print multiple copies of music. Because of economic problems and political upheavals, however, including a period of exile in Vermont -- Duvernay was a staunch patriot and founder of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste --he was not able to live up to his promises until later in the 1840s. Another French-language weekly, Le Ménestrel, published in Quebec City by Marc-Aurèle Plamondon and printed by Stanislas Drapeau, included four pages of music, issued separately from the rest of the twenty-page issue for ease of performance and eventual binding into albums. This ambitious enterprise lasted less than a year, from June 1844 to January 1845. By that time, though, individual pieces of sheet music were already being published in both parts of the Province of Canada.

Much earlier, the following advertisement had appeared in the Quebec Mercury of August 11, 1818:


MR. FREDERIC HUND respectfully acquaints the
public that he has established himself in this City
Just Published, and for sale at Frederic Hund's,
John Street, a few doors from Mr. Malhiot's Hotel,
The BERLIN WALTZ, (containing two folio pages.)
Shortly will be published a collection of NEW GER-
in Sets of twelve each.
Piano Forte's repaired, exchanged and tuned, on the
shortest notice. -Quebec, 1st August, 1818.

However, no copies of these early pieces have yet been found, nor has the one offered for sale later that same year in the Quebec Gazette of October 15:

to inform the Nobility and Gentry of Quebec and its
Vicinity, that he has lately composed a march, and
arranged it for the Piano Forte. Said March is humbly
dedicated by permission to His Grace, the Duke of
Richmond, &c. &c. &c. N.B. Copies of the March can be
had at Mr. Kyle's, Hope Gate Barracks.

The following year, also in the Quebec Gazette, two pieces were advertised by their composer John Brauneis: The Grand Overture of Quebec (March 8, 1819) and A musical piece ... in Memory of His Grace, the late Duke of Richmond... (September 16, 1819), both available at the composer's home. Although it may be assumed that all three had been printed by Frederic Hund, who was surely the only music engraver in Quebec during those years, that cannot be proven until they are found.


Although separately published sheet music may have been produced in Canada during the 1820s and '30s, the earliest examples in the Library and Archives Canada collection that can be positively dated both appeared in 1840. There all similarity ceases. The Merry Bells of England, by Bytown (Ottawa) choirmaster J. F. Lehmann, is a setting of the nostalgic and patriotic poem by J. E. Carpenter. It was printed by John Lovell at the office of The Literary Garland. The single folio is completely typeset in Lovell's straightforward style familiar to the readers of his journal. It is a charming and accessible piece of music that would have been most attractive to British-Canadians throughout the colonies. The other, Le dépit amoureux, is a sad ballad of lost love by Napoléon Aubin, the Swiss-born editor of Le Canadien, with piano accompaniment by composer Charles Sauvageau. Its melodramatic cover was hand-drawn and lithographed by Aubin himself, as was the music on the verso page. The typeset text of the first verse was rather inexpertly underlaid, and all the verses neatly typeset on the recto. It was printed on poor quality pinkish paper in Quebec City at "l'Imprimerie litho-typographique de N. Aubin & W.H. Rowen..." and has been dated on the basis of an advertisement in the July 20, 1840 issue of Le Fantasque. An earlier announcement apologized for the appearance of their first attempt:

... que nous espérons en améliorer le travail à mesure que nous exercerons l'art lithographique qui nous était auparavant étranger. (16 mars 1840, p. 103) [...we hope to improve the work as we practice the art of lithography, which until now was foreign to us. (March 16, 1840, p. 103)]

Printing methods

Lithography, the art of printing from a specially treated stone, was in its infancy. It was not ideal for publishing music and was rarely used at that time. Examples of lithographed music in this segment of the collection are Le chant des voyageurs and La mère canadienne by Antoine Dessane. This Quebec composer and organist, who had studied at the Paris Conservatoire under Cherubini and was an associate of César Franck, was known to have a lithography shop in his home.

Typesetting was the preferred method of newspaper and book publishers or printers such as John Lovell and Sénécal, Daniel & Cie (later Eusèbe Sénécal), printer of the Journal de l'instruction publique and L'Écho du Cabinet de lecture paroissial. Both journals included pieces of music during 1859 and 1862-1863 respectively. The Polka mazurka des étudiants en médecine by medical student Alfred Mignault is an example of Sénécal's fine craft. Typesetting, however, was not an ideal medium for printing more active or complex music. Ernest Gagnon's Souvenir de Venise and L'incantation de la jongleuse, both printed by John Lovell, reveal its limitations.

Engraving was the preferred method for sheet music publishers. Printing from metal plates, partly punched and partly incised, had been in use in Europe throughout the 18th century. In the early 19th century this technique began to be used in the United States. It required special tools and special skills but the results were much more fluid and legible. The Library and Archives Canada collection reveals that Canadian composers looked to the U.S. or to Europe for the publication of their pieces in the 1820s and '30s and well into the '40s. Two examples are Alexander Duff's The Montreal Bazaar Waltz (New York: Dubois & Stodart, ca.1830), and bandmaster Joseph Maffré's The Original Canadian Quadrilles (New York: Firth & Hall, 1847).

A. & S. Nordheimer

In 1844 brothers Abraham (succeeded by his nephew Albert in 1862) and Samuel Nordheimer ran a music store in Toronto and very soon thereafter began to publish engraved sheet music. They were the first and by far the largest specialized music publisher in pre-Confederation Canada, maintaining close business connections with music publishers in the United States. They were the only Canadian member of the Board of Music Trade of the United States of America, with 272 pieces listed in its 1870 catalogue. Most of their publications, however, were engraved and probably even printed in the U.S. Many were even registered for copyright through an agent in the State of New York --a commercially astute move on their part. Three of their earliest pieces identify the engraver as John Ellis of Toronto: Beautiful Venice by J. P. Knight, Empress Henrietta's Waltz by Henri Herz, and Those Evening Bells Quick March by St. George B. Crozier. Ellis was an amateur cellist, listed in the Toronto directory as an engraver from 1843 to 1868, but there is no other evidence that he engaged in the music printing business.

Illustrated cover of the sheet music for THE BAND: A SELECTION OF FASHIONABLE DANCES FOR THE PIANO FORTE, by C.P. Woodlawn

"The Band: A Selection of Fashionable Dances for the Piano Forte", by C.P. Woodlawn

Early Nordheimer publications were largely reprints of popular European works, such as salon pieces and arrangements of airs from the operas of Bellini and Donizetti. Still, a good number were by Canadian residents such as James Paton Clarke (The Emblem of Canada), St. George B. Crozier (La Crosse Waltzes), Thomas Charles Crozier (Les Belles de Toronto), Julius Hecht (St. Lawrence, or The Graceful Step Polka), and Henry Schallehn (Ontario Quick March). Almost all were for piano or for solo voice, which of course was grist for the mill of music publishers and dealers. Colour was rarely used on their sheet music covers; the most adventurous were printed in the U.S. Nordheimer was also one of the very few Canadians of the period to publish music in series. The elaborate cover of The Band: A Selection of Fashionable Dances for the Piano Forte reflected the great popularity of pleasure gardens and promenade concerts; its contents of waltzes, galops and quadrilles mirrored the taste of the times.

Other Dealer-Publishers

Peter Grossman, ex-bandmaster and active participant in the musical life of Hamilton, ran a music store from about 1855 and turned to publishing in 1863. The Gordon Galop and Regimental March, both by William Miller, bandmaster of the Prince Consort's Own Rifle Brigade, as well as Stolen Kisses Galop by James Kennedy, were all published before Confederation (1867).

There were several music dealers cum publishers in Montreal as early as the 1840s. J. W. Herbert & Co. began advertising as a piano and organ builder and repairer as early as 1837, and by 1842 his address, Magasin de la Lyre d'Or, suggested retail activity. The 1854 city directory claims, "In Sheet Music and Musical Publications they possess many advantages, having made arrangements with several large European Publishers for the early transmission of Choice copies for the purpose of Reprinting." Only three of his works found to date were actually printed in Canada, all by John Lovell in his traditional typographical style. Harold F. Palmer's The Snow Shoe Tramp is one of them. The rest of his publications, the majority of which are by Canadians and on Canadian themes, were produced in the U.S. Herbert's publications were among the first in Canada to use cover illustrations, such as the image of the Victoria Bridge shown on Charles d'Albert's Grand Trunk Waltzes.

Illustrated cover of the sheet music for LE BOUQUET DE PERLES, by Henry Prince

"Le bouquet de perles," by Henry Prince

Mead, Brothers & Co. / Mead & Fowler were also piano manufacturers and importers of European music and musical instruments, who seem to have confined their publishing activities to the years 1848 and '49. One example of their work is Henry Schallehn's The Assembly Waltzes, dedicated to the Ladies of Montreal.

Henry Prince succeeded Mead at the "Sign of the Harp" on Notre-Dame Street in Montreal in 1854. He was a band musician and director of repute as well as a prolific composer of dance music for the piano, such as Le Bouquet de Perles, which has a most spectacular colour cover. Many of his works are of a patriotic nature, such as Form Riflemen Form! (printed by John Lovell, 1859) and Shoulder to Shoulder on to the Border. At least seventy-five percent of Prince's publications were by Canadians and he appears to be the first to promote his specialization. His ad in The Montreal Daily Transcript and Commercial Advertiser from July 18 to September 16, 1857 proclaims:

Visitors who are desirous of procuring the
and the Compositions of various popular
CANADIAN COMPOSERS, should call at

Prince's London Music Store,

Where a large assortment of the Newest and
most Fashionable European and American Music
is constantly kept on hand.


Laurent & Laforce were major music dealers at the beginning of the 1860s. They published, among others, Jacques Cartier Quadrille by Henri de Terlac, and L'Oiseau mouche: Bluette de salon by Calixa Lavallée, the future composer of our national anthem. They sold a large part of their stock to Boucher & Manseau when that firm set up business at the former premises of J. W. Herbert in 1862. Both firms continued in business well beyond Confederation. Boucher & Manseau changed its name to Adélard J. Boucher in 1864, and remained in operation until 1975. Examples of their published sheet music are Notre réligion, notre langue, nos moeurs et nos lois by Louis Auguste Olivier, and Boucher's own Souvenir de Sabatier.

S. T. Pearce was listed in the Montreal directory as an importer and dealer for only two years (1858-1859). During that time he published at least three pieces, of which J. M. Müller's It is the Hour is an example. E. Thornton was active from 1856 to 1864 as a piano manufacturer and music dealer, with a branch in Ottawa during 1863-64. One of the few publications bearing his imprint is Happy New Year!: Mazurka dansante by A. Crotchet, which was printed by Montreal lithographer Roberts & Reinhold. Styx Galop by A.C. Sedgwick was more typical and undoubtedly produced in the U.S. Gould & Hill published sheet music briefly, from 1864 to 1868. Hill was a former employee of A.  S. Nordheimer and Gould was a businessman who founded and directed the Mendelssohn Choir of Montreal. Their primary business was the sale of pianos and organs, but besides selling sheet music they also published a few pieces, such as The St. Valentine Galop by Moritz Relle.

In Québec City, J. & O. Crémazie were booksellers and stationers and, for a time, also wine merchants. Their shop on Fabrique Street was a meeting place for a group of literati in the 1850s and '60s. They were publishers of at least five pieces of music, one of which was L'Alouette (not to be confused with the popular folk song) by Charles Wugk Sabatier to the words of Octave Crémazie himself. Information on J. T. Brousseau is sparse and misleading, but one of his publications, The Montmorency Galop by Mrs. W. H. Rankin, bears a spectacular cover showing the Montmorency Falls outside Québec City. Robert Morgan's music store is listed in the city directory from 1861 to 1884. Less than ten of his publications predate Confederation; the earliest of these is the Yes Polka by bandmaster G. Raineri. M. Carey or Carey Brothers were listed variously in the city directory as vendors of "music and catholic books" (1855-56) and "music and railway library." Few music publications bear their imprint. One example, The Quebec Schottische by James Dickinson, dedicated to the ladies of Quebec, was entered for provincial copyright in 1859 but had been engraved in New York around 1856. A final Quebec City music dealer, W[illiam] St. Laurent & Co. (formerly Ross & St. Laurent) published Ernest Gagnon's Le carnaval de Québec : Quadrille sur des airs populaires et nationaux, as well as The Royal Canadian Quadrilles by William Range. Its magnificent cover featured beavers and maple leaves --an early depiction of our national emblems.


Sheet music publishers in pre-Confederation Canada were not a homogeneous group. Some were primarily publishers of books and periodicals, but the majority were dealers in instruments and imported sheet music. A few also manufactured and repaired instruments. Although music publishing appears to have been the least important of their various enterprises, the documents they have left behind nevertheless provide glimpses of a time in Canada's history when the idea of a larger nation was taking shape. Much of this music has been reprinted in volumes 1, 3, 7 and 22 of The Canadian Musical Heritage series, and will now be even more widely accessible through digitization, to be played, sung and heard once again.

It will be noted that no sheet music publications from the Atlantic provinces have been mentioned here. That is simply due to the scarcity of these fragile documents and the lack of any that predate Confederation in Library and Archives Canada's collection. Photocopies of sheet music published in Halifax by E. G. Fuller and by Peiler, Sichel & Co., as well as reports from other libraries are evidence of such publishing activity. It is to be hoped that pre-Confederation sheet music from the Atlantic provinces will eventually make its way into the collection of Library and Archives Canada.

Maria Calderisi,
Former Head, Printed Collection,
   Music Division,
Library and Archives Canada

Selected Readings

AMTMANN, Willy. Music in Canada, 1600-1800. [Montreal]: Habitex Books, 1975.

CALDERISI, Maria. Music Publishing in the Canadas, 1800-1867. Ottawa: Library and Archives Canada, 1981.

CALDERISI BRYCE, Maria. "John Lovell (1810-93): Montreal Music Printer and Publisher" in Musical Canada: Words and Music Honouring Helmut Kallmann, edited by John Beckwith and Frederick A. Hall, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, pp. 79-96.

The Canadian Musical Heritage. 25 vols. Ottawa: Canadian Musical Heritage Society, 1983-1999. See especially volumes 1, 3, 7 and 22.

Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, edited by Helmut Kallmann, Gilles Potvin and Kenneth Winters. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981. 2nd edition 1992. See especially "Publishing and Printing" by Helmut Kallmann, and individual articles on composers, publishers, and place names.

GAMBLE, William. Music Engraving and Printing: Historical and Technical Treatise. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1923 (reprinted New York: Da Capo Press, 1971).

KALLMANN, Helmut. A History of Music in Canada 1534-1914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1960; reprinted 1969 and 1987.

LOESSER, Arthur. Men, Women & Pianos: a Social History. New York: Simon & Shuster, 1954.

MOREY, Carl. Music in Canada: A Research and Information Guide. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1997.


1 Susanna Moodie, Roughing It in the Bush, Toronto: McLelland and Stewart, 1962, p. 195. (New Canadian Library N31).

2 Carl Ballstadt, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Michael Peterman, eds, Susanna Moodie, Letters of a Lifetime, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985, pp. 96-98.