In Canada piano building can be traced back to the second decade of the 19th century. It grew into a major industry during the period from 1890 to 1925, employing about 5000 to manufacture products valued annually at several million dollars.

In the early 19th century, as the demand for musical instruments increased with the growing population, it became apparent that the importing of so unwieldy an instrument as the piano in any numbers from Europe was not feasible in terms of cost and the risk of damage during long transport in damp cargo holds. Moreover, imported pianos, made primarily in Germany and Great Britain, were found to react unfavourably to the Canadian climate.

The first builders in Canada - skilled British or German craftsmen - worked in small workshops with few assistants, producing probably no more than one or two pianos per month. Most of their time must have been spent tuning and repairing. One of the earliest builders was Frederick Hund, active in Quebec City in 1816 and later in partnership with Gottlieb Seebold. The firm of G.W. Mead (Mead, Mott & Co) was active in Montreal from about 1827 to 1853. John Morgan Thomas was established in Montreal by 1832 and moved to Toronto in 1839 but it is not known when he began to build pianos.

Among builders and early companies known to have existed by the 1840s were in Montreal, William Dennis (fl 1834-53), Isaac Reinhardt (b 1808, d 1846), Thomas D. Hood (fl 1848-77), and John Stephenson (fl 1848); in Quebec City, George Milligan (fl 1844), Richard S. Owen (fl ca 1840), and J.M. Pfeiffer (fl 1849); in Saint John, NB, A. Laurilliard (ca 1850); in Halifax, B. Slade (fl 1832), and H. & J. Philips (fl 1845-59); in Toronto, John and James Mead (fl 1840), the O'Neill Brothers (fl 1844), Thomas & Smith (1840), and Reynolds & Duffett (opened 1849). (Dates are taken from the documentation for surviving instruments - eg, a Laurilliard piano in the New Brunswick Museum, Saint John; one from Mead, Mott & Co in the Château de Ramezay, Montreal; and a Richard Owen piano in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto - or from contemporary advertisements or city directories.)

The 1851 census lists 4 individual piano builders or companies in Upper Canada (all in Toronto) and 13 in Lower Canada (10 in Montreal, 3 in Quebec City). By the year of Confederation (1867) larger piano manufacturing firms were being established. The company of John C. Fox (formerly of New York, and located 1862-8 in Kingston) produced about 500 pianos a year (see Weber Piano Co). In Montreal Mead Bros & Co had evolved from Mead, Mott & Co, and the Craig Piano Co was established in 1856. Theodore Heintzman, trained in Berlin and New York, began building pianos in Toronto in 1860 and formed a company in 1866. Though not active as manufacturers until ca 1890, A. & S. Nordheimer in 1842 began a business as agents for pianos and dealers in musical merchandise in Kingston, and in 1844 moved to Toronto.

In the favourable conditions following Confederation the new industry prospered. The population of eastern Canada was growing rapidly in size and wealth, and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad in 1885 made possible the shipment of pianos to the newly settled western provinces. With a few exceptions (Bagnall, later Goodwin, in Victoria; Amherst Piano Co in Amherst, NS; W. Fraser and Sons in Halifax; Edmund E. Kennay in Saint John, NB), the piano manufacturers centred in southern Ontario and the Montreal region. The most important names at the turn of the century were, in Toronto, Heintzman, Gerhard Heintzman, Mason & Risch, Mendelssohn, Newcombe, Nordheimer, and Gourlay, Winter & Leeming; in Guelph, Bell; in Bowmanville, Dominion; in London, Ont, Evans; in Woodstock, Karn; in Listowel, Morris, Feild, Rogers Co, Ltd; in Oshawa and Toronto, R.S. Williams; in Kingston, Wormwith & Co; in Ottawa, Martin-Orme; in Montreal, Craig, Foisy, and Pratte; in Ste-Thérèse, Willis, Lesage, and Sénécal et Quidoz. Retail branches or warehouses were sufficient for the young cities of Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver - none of which appear to have established piano manufacturing.

As a further incentive for Canadian manufacturers, the protective tariff of 1879 discouraged competition from US manufacturers; however, even stiffer tariffs in the USA (45 per cent in 1903) stifled Canadian exports to that country. Export to other continents also developed slowly. In 1893 only 135 pianos left Canada - mostly for Great Britain, Australia, and the USA, whereas Canada imported nearly four times that number from the USA alone. By 1903, however, the balance had swung, with 509 exports and only 367 imports, and during the early years of the 20th century trade experts observed that the quality of most Canadian pianos was so high that Canadians tended to import the pianos of only the most renowned makers such as Steinway in New York, and the cost of these imports limited the demand.

The industry thrived throughout the early 20th century (with a decrease during World War I), and advertising was designed to stir interest in the piano among all the members of the average family. Whereas in the 19th century the piano in Canada had been associated largely with genteel young ladies, in the 20th, slogans like 'a piano for every parlor,' and the 'Music in the Home' campaign of the Canadian Bureau for the Advancement of Music gradually made a piano seem an integral part of life. The growing number of amateur musicians and the increasing appeal of pop music provided a fertile ground for the introduction of the player piano.

Over 100 piano manufacturing companies, individual builders, and makers of accessory parts flourished at some point during the peak era of the industry, ca 1890 to 1925. Many of these (Bell, Dominion, Karn) also built organs. During the first 12 years of the 20th century the number of pianos manufactured in Canada more than doubled, increasing from about 12,000 in 1900 to about 30,000 by 1912. In 1900 most accessory parts (hammers, actions, strings, keys, etc) were imported, but eventually these, too, came to be made by Canadian manufacturers. Among the best known were Otto Higel Co, Ltd (1896-1944, manufacturers of piano actions and piano rolls), A.A. Barthelmes (1889-1911, piano actions), D.M. Best & Co (founded 1900, piano hammers and strings), W. Bohne & Co (hammers and strings), J.M. Loose & Co (keys and keyboards), and Wagner, Zeidler & Co (keyboards), all of Toronto, and Sterling Action & Keys Co, Brantford. Best survived to become a subsidiary of Heintzman in 1973 and was still active in 1991, affiliated with another maker of strings, Piano Tech. These and other companies such as Pianophile (Montreal) are primarily wholesalers importing accessory parts from the USA and Japan, but providing custom made parts upon demand. Other custom part makers include André Bolduc (pin blocks, Montreal) and Ari Isaac (Toronto) whose bass strings are distributed throughout Canada and the USA. In 1899 piano manufacturers united to form the Canadian Piano and Organ Manufacturers' Association, which existed until 1975, when it became the keyboard committee of the Music Industries Association of Canada (MIAC). The unofficial magazine of the trade was the Canadian Music Trades Journal (1900-33).

World War I caused a setback for the piano manufacturing industry. Woods, metals, and fuel were withheld from 'luxury industries,' and experienced craftsmen joined the armed forces. Faced with a shortage of experienced men, many piano firms had to hire women trainees (the Sherlock-Manning company of London, Ont, later of Clinton, Ont, may have been the first in Canada to pay its female employees the same wages as male.) With the closing of the German export trade to customers in Great Britain and the British Empire (representing 60,000 German pianos a year), a potentially large market was opened for the Canadian piano. Most Canadian manufacturers, however, did not take full advantage of the situation, partly because of prohibitive freight rates, and partly because an entirely new system was needed to construct an instrument practical for export; the manufacturers were unwilling to undertake a two-standard system.

In the 1920s several factors conspired to cause a gradual decline of the piano industry. The player piano craze began to wane. Radio and sound films appeared. Fewer new houses had the space for a piano. Economic conditions were unstable, and family savings were spent on work-saving appliances - refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and automobiles - rather than on luxuries like the piano. An unofficial study undertaken in the late 1920s found that four in five Canadian homes had a phonograph and/or radio, but only one in five had a piano. As a result of the declining demand several companies amalgamated or were taken over by others (eg, Gerhard Heintzman in 1927 and Nordheimer in 1928 by Heintzman; Craig in 1930 by Lesage; and Doherty in 1920 and Gourlay, Winter & Leeming in 1924 by Sherlock-Manning). Others just went out of business (eg, Morris in 1923, Evans Bros ca 1933). Some piano companies introduced new smaller models, even vying with one another to produce the smallest, in an effort to appeal to apartment dwellers and owners of small homes. (The Weber Co in 1921 created a five-octave, three-foot grand piano, custom-designed for a Winnipeg family.)

Only the strongest companies survived the Depression. Among those which ceased to exist were Bell, Craig, Dominion, Weber, and Williams. In 1940 only Lesage, Quidoz, and Willis & Co were still active in Quebec. (Willis went bankrupt in 1979.) In Ontario the 1940 survivors were Sherlock-Manning Pianos Ltd, and Heintzman Co Ltd (which merged under the Heintzman name in 1978), and Mason & Risch (still operating in Canada, but taken over by a US firm in 1948). In New Westminster, BC, a firm known as the Edmund Piano Co was active until the 1950s.

Statistics after 1935 have indicated a small but steady overall increase in the demand for and production of pianos. The figures (relative to population growth) are small compared with those of the earlier, peak years of the industry, however. Radio, the phonograph, and, subsequently, TV and more sophisticated home sound systems have displaced the piano as the focus of home entertainment. Other musical instruments, notably the guitar and the 'multi-gadgeted' electronic organ have become more popular with people whose interest in playing is purely recreational. Whereas the piano was, at one time, the foundation of nearly every child's musical education, trends in music education which began around the 1940s have caused students to choose a wider variety of instruments, especially the accordion, band instruments, and, more recently, string instruments. Even so, it has been estimated that in the late 1970s nearly half of all music students played the piano.

By the 1940s and 1950s foreign manufacturers began moving into the Canadian market; Mason & Risch was bought by a large US corporation. By the 1960s the Japanese pianos - notably Yamaha - were being strongly merchandised. Generally lower-priced and widely available, they competed so briskly with pianos of Canadian manufacture that in many instances they were being ordered in quantity by schools and conservatories which formerly had used Canadian instruments.

Sales continued to decline during the 1970s. The period 1980-6 witnessed the final intense struggle for the survival of the industry and its three remaining companies: Heintzman, Sherlock-Manning, and Lesage. After years of continuous ownership, each firm sold in the hope that new owners might provide better skills and resources, Heintzman to Sklar-Peppler (1981), Sherlock-Manning (Draper Bros. and Reid), and Lesage to PSC Management, a syndicate operated by Grant Clark (1984 and 1986 respectively). Following attempts to revitalize both design and marketing, Sklar ceased production of the Heintzman piano in 1986. Lesage closed the following year. Sherlock-Manning passed through three more owners. In 1991 its Vanastra, Ont factory remained open with a staff of two and only occasional repair orders, yet was prepared to resume production if investment capital was found.

For piano technicians the active trade in older pianos which require more tuning and often restoration somewhat offsets the fact that there are fewer pianos in Canadian homes. George Brown College, Toronto, offers a piano technician diploma course which includes the rebuilding of both an upright and a grand. Piano technicians in Canada can be members of one of three associations: the USA-based Piano Technicians Guild with three Canadian chapters, the Ontario Guild of Piano Technicians, or the Canadian Association of Piano Technicians (home office in Calgary).

See alsoToronto Feature: Heintzman & Company.

Builders A-D

In so far as their status can be determined, distributors and retailers have been omitted from the ensuing list of piano builders and assembly plants. Many of the pre-1860 names represent individual craftsmen rather than manufacturers. Minor name changes (eg, from 'piano and organ co' to 'organ and piano co') have not been indicated. A date generally refers to the years during which pianos were built, not to a company's entire lifespan.

Amherst Piano Co, Amherst, NS; fl 1908-23. Later became Cumberland Piano Co

George Anderson, Saint John, NB; fl 1855-71

John Bagnall, Victoria, BC; ca 1871-85. Taken over by Charles Goodwin & Co

Beethoven. See R.S. Williams. See also Georges Ducharme.

Bell Piano and Organ Co, Guelph, Ont. Pianos built 1888-1934. Absorbed Mendelssohn Piano Co in 1919. Taken over by Lesage Pianos in 1934 and continued as a brand name

Belmont. See Lesage.

Berlin Piano & Organ Co, Berlin (Kitchener), Ont; ca 1900-4

Bernhardt's Furniture, Windsor, Ont; fl 1957. Produced Miessner electronic pianos

Robert Blouin, Sherbrooke, Que; fl 1966

Blundall Piano Co, Toronto; 1900-after 1912

Bowles, Quebec City; mid-19th century

Thomas Boyd, Uxbridge, Ont

Brantford Piano Co. See Morris Pianos.

Brockley and Misener, Halifax; 1857-63. T. & A.W. Brockley 1863-97

Brown, Montreal; fl 1874

George Brown, John Munro and Co. Moved from Boston to Montreal ca 1860

Canada Organ and Piano Co. See R.S. Williams.

Canadian Organ and Piano Co; fl 1874-5

Canadian Piano Co. See Thomas F.G. Foisy.

Cecilian Piano Co, Toronto; before 1915-22. Player pianos only. Absorbed by Stanley

Louis Charbonneau, Montreal; fl 1889

V.W. Claude & Co, Montreal; fl 1898

F.C. Cline, Kingston, Ont; 1868

Clinton. See Doherty Pianos.

Colonial Piano Co, Ste-Thérèse, Que; before 1915-27. Made Saint-Saens piano

Craig Piano Co, Montreal; 1856-1930. Preceded by Labelle & Craig. Absorbed by Lesage in 1930

E. Cross & Co, Toronto; fl 1898

Crossin & Martens Piano Manufacturing Co, Toronto; 1883-after 1908

Cumberland Piano Co, Amherst, NS, and Toronto. Formerly Amherst Pianos

David & Michaud, Montreal; 1917-23. See also Michaud.

William Dennis, Montreal; fl 1834-53

Doherty Pianos, Clinton, Ont; 1907-20. Absorbed by Sherlock-Manning in 1920 and continued as a brand name to early 1930s. Introduced brand name Clinton in 1913

Dominion. See Rainer & Co.

Dominion Organ and Piano Co, Bowmanville, Ont. Pianos built 1879-ca 1935

Draper Bros. and Reid. See Sherlock-Manning

Georges Ducharme, Montreal; fl 1891-8. Made Beethoven Pianos

Noah Durant, Vankleek Hill, Ont; fl 1908

Builders E-L

Edmund Piano Co, New Westminster, BC; ca 1924-after 1952

Ennis (& Ennis) Co, Hamilton, Ont; 1863-1911. Later a brand name of R.S. Williams

Evans Bros Piano & Manufacturing Co; Ingersoll, Ont, ca 1871-90, then at London, Ont, until ca 1933

Everson. See R.S. Williams.

Featherston Piano Co, Montreal; 1893-9

Thomas F.G. Foisy (Canadian Piano Co), Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, Que, 1888-91, Montreal 1891-1914. Absorbed by C.W. Lindsay 1914

Foster-Armstrong Co; Toronto head office fl 1910; Kitchener, Ont, before 1915-24. Absorbed by Sherlock-Manning. Made Haines Bros pianos

J.C. Fox, Kingston, Ont; 1862-8. (See EMC entry for Weber Piano Co.)

W. Fraser and Sons, Halifax; ca 1856-ca 1890. Absorbed H. & J. Philips

Charles Goodwin & Co, Victoria, BC; 1885-ca 1891. Continuation of John Bagnall

Gourlay, Winter & Leeming, Toronto. Pianos built 1904-24. Took over R. McMillan. Absorbed by Sherlock-Manning in 1924

Grinnell Bros, Windsor, Ont; 1908-ca 1941; branch of Detroit firm

Haines Bros. See Foster-Armstrong Co.

Haydn Piano Manufacturing Co, Montreal; fl 1898

Heintzman, Toronto. Began in 1860 as private builder; continued 1866-1977 as a company in Toronto and then at a plant built in 1962 at Hanover, Ont. Absorbed Gerhard Heintzman and Nordheimer; absorbed Sherlock-Manning 1978; purchased by Sklar-Peppler 1981; production ceased 1986; intangible assets (including Heintzman name) purchased by retail firm The Music Stand.

Gerhard Heintzman, Toronto; 1877-1927. Absorbed by Heintzman

Henry Herbert. See Mason & Risch.

J.W. Herbert & Co, Montreal; fl 1837

Henry & Francis Hoerr, Toronto; fl 1890

Thomas D. Hood, Montreal; fl 1848-77

Frederick Hund, Quebec City; fl 1816

Hund & Seebold, Quebec City; until 1824. See also Seebold, Manby & Co.

Henry G. Hunt, New Brunswick; fl 1850s

Joseph T. Hunt, Saint John, NB; fl 1845-55

Imperial Piano Co, Toronto; fl 1901

International Piano Co, Toronto; fl 1928

Jackson & Co, Peterborough, Ont; fl 1889

Karn Piano Co, Woodstock, Ont. Piano building began in the late 1880s. Karn Morris Piano & Organ Co ca 1909-20. Absorbed by Sherlock-Manning. Continued as a brand name until 1957

Kennay & Scribner, Saint John, NB; fl 1851; later continued as Edmund E. Kennay (fl 1871)

Kilgour Piano & Organ Co, Hamilton, Ont; fl 1888-99

Knott & Sons, Hamilton, Ont; 1871-ca 1914

Kreisler. See Mason & Risch.

Krydner. See R.S. Williams.

Labelle & Craig, Montreal; 1854-6. Continued as Craig

J.-Donat Langelier (became Langelier-Valiquette in 1963). Began ca 1915 at Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que. Continued ca 1930 in Montreal. Not a manufacturer. See Pratte.

Lansdowne Piano Co, Toronto; ca 1885-90. (See EMC entries for Gerhard Heintzman; Nordheimer.)

A. Laurilliard, Saint John, NB; fl ca 1850

Layton Bros, Montreal. (See EMC entry for Blind.)

Lesage Pianos/Les Pianos Lesage, Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, Que; founded 1891. Absorbed Craig Piano Co, Bell Piano and Organ Co, and Weber Piano Co. Brand names include Belmont and Schumann. Purchased by PSC Management 1986; ceased 1987.

P.W. Leverman & Co; Halifax 1889-97; continued Williams & Leverman

C.W. Lindsay & Co, Montreal; ca 1880-ca 1950. Dealer only, but for some years sold Craig, Lesage, and other pianos under the Lindsay name

Liszt Piano Co; fl 1908

Lonsdale Piano Co, Toronto; before 1915-22

Builders M-R

W.H. Manby, Montreal; fl 1857-61. Preceded by Seebold & Manby

Martin-Orme Co, Ottawa; 1902-ca 1924. (See EMC entry for Orme & Sons.)

Mason & Risch, Toronto. Began building pianos in 1877. Until 1878 Mason, Risch & Newcombe. Brand names included Chopin, Kreisler, Schubert and Henry Herbert

R. McMillan & Co, Kingston, Ont; 1903-7. Absorbed by Gourlay, Winter & Leeming

Mead, Montreal; 1827-ca 1853. (Mead, Mott & Co, Mead Brothers & Co)

J. & J. Mead, Toronto; 1840-ca 1844

Mendelssohn Piano Co, Toronto; ca 1886-1919. Absorbed by Bell Piano and Organ Co. Continued as a brand name by Bell and 1934-72 by Lesage Pianos

Oswald Michaud, Montreal. Private workshop, 1937-early 1950s. See also David & Michaud.

Milligan, Francis, Quebec City; fl 1854-64

Milligan, George, Quebec City; fl 1844

Moir, George and William, Halifax; fl 1852

Morris Pianos, Listowel, Ont; established 1892 as Morris, Feild, Rogers Co, successors to Brantford Piano Co. Continued as Karn Morris Piano Co ca 1909-20, and as Morris Pianos 1920-ca 1924

Mozart Piano Co, Toronto; before 1912-20. Absorbed by National Piano Co ca 1918, but built pianos to 1920

National Piano Co, Toronto; before 1915-29. Absorbed Mozart ca 1918

Newcombe Piano Co, Toronto; 1878-1926. Continued as brand name by Willis ca 1934-79

A. & S.. Nordheimer Piano & Music Co, Toronto. Pianos built ca 1890-1927. Absorbed by Heintzman and continued as a brand name until late 1960s

O'Neill Brothers, Toronto; fl 1844

Ontario Piano Co, Toronto; fl 1928

J.L. Orme & Sons, Ottawa. See Martin-Orme.

Oshawa Piano & Cabinet Co, Oshawa, Ont

Richard S. Owen & Son, Quebec City; fl ca 1840

Palmer Piano Co, Uxbridge, Ont; fl 1908

Percival Piano Co, Ottawa; fl 1918

J.M. Pfeiffer, Quebec City; fl 1849

H. & J. Philips. Halifax; 1845-59. Taken over by W. Fraser and Sons

Plaola, Oshawa. Player pianos only

Pratte Piano Co (La Compagnie de pianos Pratte), Montreal; fl 1889-1926, then linked to J.-Donat Langelier

Prince Piano Co, Toronto; fl 1895-1914

Quidoz Piano. See Sénécal et Quidoz

J. F. Rainer & Co, fl 1866, Whitby, Ont; fl 1872, Guelph, Ont; used Dominion as a brand name

Rappe, Weber & Co, Kingston, Ont; fl 1868-9

Isaac Reinhardt, Montreal; discontinued in 1846

J. Reyner, Kingston, Ont; fl 1870

Reynolds & Duffett, Toronto; fl 1849

Builders S-Z

Saint-Saens. See Colonial Piano Co.

Schubert. See R.S. Williams.

Schumann. See Lesage.

Schumann Piano Co, Toronto

Seebold, Manby & Co, Montreal; fl 1856. See also Hund & Seebold.

Sénécal et Quidoz, Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, Que; ca 1897-1938. Continued as Quidoz Piano 1938-66. Quidoz Piano also used the label Gerhard.

Sherlock-Manning Pianos. Pianos built at London, Ont, 1910-30; at Clinton, Ont, 1930-88. Merged with Heintzman in 1978. Absorbed Doherty Pianos, Foster-Armstrong Co, Gourlay, Winter & Leeming, and Karn Piano Co. Doherty was used as a brand name until early 1930s. Employees formed Draper Bros. and Reid in 1978, retaining Clinton facilities to produce accessories; Draper Bros. and Reid purchased Sherlock -Manning from Heintzman 1980. Firm sold to PCS Management 1984, and sold several other times thereafter. Factory moved to Vanastra, Ont, near Clinton, in 1988.

Slade, B., Halifax; fl 1832

Small & McArthur, Uxbridge, Ont; fl 1898

Smith. See John Morgan Thomas.

William Snyder, Berlin (Kitchener), Ont

Standard Piano Co, Toronto; fl 1898

Stanley Piano Co, Toronto; ca. 1890-1924. Absorbed Cecilian in 1922

John Stephenson, Montreal; fl 1848

Stevenson & Co, Kingston, Ont; ca 1887-91. See also Weber and Wormwith.

Sumner & Brebner, Ingersoll, Ont; 1906-11

C.L. Thomas &Co, Hamilton, Ont (Western Pianoforte Manufactory of Canada); ca 1856-ca 1893

John Morgan Thomas (Thomas & Smith), Toronto; fl 1840

Uxbridge Piano Co, Uxbridge, Ont, ca 1899; also a second company of the same name fl 1914-15

S.R. Warren, Montreal; built pianos ca 1845

Weber Piano Co, Kingston, Ont; 1871-ca 1887. Continued as Stevenson & Co until 1891, as Wormwith until 1918, and as Weber Piano Co 1919-39. Absorbed by Lesage Pianos in 1939

G.M. Weber, Kingston, Ont; ca 1881-95

Werlich Brothers, Preston (Cambridge), Ont; fl 1908. Player pianos only

Western Pianoforte Manufactory of Canada. See C.L. Thomas & Co.

R.S. Williams, Toronto; factory built in Oshawa in 1889 (Canada Organ and Piano Co 1873-1902). Pianos built from 1873 until early 1930s. Brand names included Beethoven, Canada, Ennis, Everson, Krydner, Schubert.

Williams & Leverman, Halifax; 1871-89: continued by P.W. Leverman & Co.

Willis & Co, Montreal; factory Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville; ca 1900-79

Wormwith & Co, Kingston, Ont; 1891-1918. Continuation of Weber Piano Co and Stevenson & Co, using Weber as a brand name. Renamed Weber Piano Co in 1919

Wright Piano Co, Strathroy, Ont; 1908-24 (1908 is the date of the company's charter)