Pre-Confederation

In the early 19th century, demand for musical instruments increased with Canada’s growing population. However, importing pianos from Europe was impractical because of the high cost of transporting such large instruments, and the risk of damage during long transport in damp cargo holds. Moreover, imported pianos, made primarily in Germany and Great Britain, reacted 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 was likely spent tuning and repairing. One of the earliest builders was Frederick Hund, active in Québec City in 1816 and later in partnership with Gottlieb Seebold. The firm of G.W. Mead (Mead, Mott & Co.) was active in Montréal from about 1827 to 1853. John Morgan Thomas was established in Montréal by 1832 and moved to Toronto in 1839, but it is not known when he began to build pianos.

By the 1840s, piano builders and companies were established in Montréal, Québec City, Saint John, Halifax and Toronto. In Montréal, these included William Dennis (active 1834–53); Isaac Reinhardt (born 1808, died 1846); Thomas D. Hood (active 1848–77); and John Stephenson (active 1848). In Québec City: George Milligan (active 1844); Richard S. Owen (active ca. 1840); and J.M. Pfeiffer (active 1849). In Saint John, New Brunswick: A. Laurilliard (ca. 1850). In Halifax: B. Slade (active 1832); and H. & J. Philips (active 1845–59). In Toronto: John and James Mead (active 1840); the O'Neill Brothers (active 1844); Thomas & Smith (active 1840); and Reynolds & Duffett (opened in 1849).

The dates above have been taken from the documentation of surviving instruments (e.g., a Laurilliard piano in the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John; one from Mead, Mott & Co. in the Château de Ramezay in Montréal; and a Richard Owen piano in the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto), or from contemporary advertisements or city directories. The 1851 census lists four individual piano builders or companies in Upper Canada (all in Toronto) and 13 in Lower Canada (10 in Montréal, three in Québec City).

By the time of Confederation in 1867, larger piano manufacturing firms were being established. The company of John C. Fox (formerly of New York, located 1862–68 in Kingston) produced about 500 pianos a year (see Weber Piano Co.). In Montréal, 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 (see: Toronto Feature: Heintzman & Company). Though not active as manufacturers until around 1890, A. & S. Nordheimer began a business in 1842 as agents for pianos and dealers in musical merchandise in Kingston, and in 1844 moved to Toronto.

Post-Confederation

The new industry prospered in the favourable conditions following Confederation. The population of Eastern Canada was growing rapidly in size and wealth, and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885 made it possible to ship pianos to the newly settled Western provinces.

With a few exceptions, piano manufacturers were primarily centred in Southern Ontario and the Montréal region. The most important names at the turn of the century were: Theodore Heintzman, his nephew Gerhard Heintzman, Mason & Risch, Mendelssohn Piano Co., Newcombe Piano Co., Nordheimer, and Gourlay, Winter & Leeming, all in Toronto; Bell Piano and Organ Co. in Guelph; Dominion in Bowmanville; Evans Brothers in London; Karn Piano Co. in Woodstock; Morris, Feild, Rogers Co. in Listowel; R.S. Williams & Sons in Oshawa and Toronto; Wormwith & Co. in Kingston; Martin-Orme in Ottawa; Craig, Foisy and Pratte in Montréal; and Willis & Co., Lesage Pianos Ltd., and Sénécal et Quidoz in Ste-Thérèse.

A few manufacturers were based outside Ontario and Québec: e.g., John Bagnall in Victoria, whose business was taken over by Charles Goodwin in 1885; Amherst Piano Co. in Amherst, Nova Scotia; W. Fraser and Sons in Halifax; and Edmund E. Kennay in Saint John. Retail branches or warehouses existed in the young cities of Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, but none of these had established piano manufacturing at the time.

As a further incentive for Canadian manufacturers, the protective tariff of 1879 discouraged competition from manufacturers in the United States. However, even stiffer tariffs in the US (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 US, whereas Canada imported nearly four times that number from the US alone. By 1903, however, the balance had swung, with 509 exports and only 367 imports. 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.

Industry Peak: 1890–1925

More than 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 (see Organ Building). 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: from Toronto, 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); and Sterling Action & Keys Co. in Brantford.

Best survived to become a subsidiary of Heintzman in 1973, and in the 1980s became affiliated with another maker of strings, Piano Tech. These and other companies, such as Pianophile in Montréal, were primarily wholesalers importing accessory parts from the US and Japan, but also provided custom-made parts upon demand. Other custom part makers include André Bolduc of Montréal and Ari Isaac of Toronto (both were still active as of 2015).

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).

The First World War caused a temporary setback for piano manufacturing in Canada. 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 hired women trainees (the Sherlock-Manning Piano Company of London and later Clinton, Ontario, may have been the first piano manufacturer in Canada to pay its female employees the same wages as male employees received.)

With the exception of the wartime period, the piano manufacturing industry continued to thrive in the early 20th century. Advertising was designed to stir interest in the piano among all members of the average family. In the 19th century, the piano in Canada had been associated largely with genteel young ladies. But in the 20th century, 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 the piano seem an integral part of life. The growing number of amateur musicians and the increasing appeal of popular music provided a fertile ground for the introduction of the player piano.

Industry Begins to Decline

In the 1920s, several factors conspired to cause a gradual decline of the piano industry. Radio and sound films appeared, and the player piano craze began to wane. Fewer new houses had the space for a piano. Economic conditions were unstable, and family savings were more likely to be spent on work-saving appliances — refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and automobiles — than on luxuries like a piano. An unofficial study undertaken in the late 1920s found that four in five Canadian homes had a smaller, more affordable phonograph and/or radio, but only one in five had a piano.

As a result of declining demand, several companies amalgamated or were taken over by others (e.g., Heintzman & Co. absorbed Gerhard Heintzman in 1927 and Nordheimer in 1928; Lesage took over Craig in 1930; and Sherlock-Manning acquired Doherty in 1920 and Gourlay, Winter & Leeming in 1924). Others simply went out of business (e.g., Morris in 1923; Evans Brothers 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. (In 1921, the Weber Co. designed a five-octave, three-foot grand piano for a Winnipeg family.)

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

Statistics after 1935 indicate a small but steady overall increase in the demand for and production of pianos. However, the figures (relative to population growth) are small compared with those of the earlier, peak years of the industry. Radio, the phonograph, television and more sophisticated home sound systems gradually displaced the piano as the focus of home entertainment. Other musical instruments, notably the guitar and the multi-gadget electronic keyboard, gradually became more popular among people with only a recreational interest in playing.

Whereas the piano was, at one time, the foundation of nearly every child's musical education, trends in music education beginning around the 1940s caused students to choose a wider variety of instruments, especially the accordion, band instruments and, more recently, string instruments. Even so, it was estimated that in the late 1970s nearly half of all music students played the piano. However, they were increasingly playing pianos manufactured outside of Canada or made by foreign companies.

End of the Industry

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

Sales of Canadian pianos continued to decline during the 1970s. The period 1980–86 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 was sold to Sklar-Peppler in 1981; Sherlock-Manning to Draper Bros. and Reid in 1984; and Lesage to PSC Management, a syndicate operated by Grant Clark, in 1986.

Following attempts to revitalize both design and marketing, Sklar ceased production of the Heintzman piano in 1986. The Heintzman & Co. brand name was taken over in 1989 by an independent Chinese-Canadian company, which manufactures pianos in Beijing. (World-renowned concert pianist Lang Lang performed on a Heintzman & Co. grand piano during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Summer Games in Beijing). Lesage closed down in 1987. Sherlock-Manning passed through three more owners; in 1991 its factory in Vanastra, Ontario, remained open with a staff of two, but closed down shortly after.

Piano Technicians

Piano technicians in Canada can be members of one of three associations: the US-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).

A version of this entry originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada.

Piano 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 (e.g., from “piano and organ company” to “organ and piano company”) 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: active 1908–23 (later Cumberland Piano Co.).

George Anderson, Saint John, NB: active 1855–71.

John Bagnall, Victoria, BC: ca. 1871–85 (taken over by Charles Goodwin & Co.).

Beethoven: see R.S. Williams.

Bell Piano and Organ Co., Guelph, ON: active 1888–1934 (absorbed Mendelssohn Piano Co., 1919; taken over by Lesage Pianos, 1934; continued as a brand name).

Belmont: see Lesage.

Berlin Piano & Organ Co., Kitchener, ON: ca. 1900–04.

Bernhardt's Furniture, Windsor, ON: active 1957 (produced Miessner electronic pianos).

Robert Blouin, Sherbrooke, QC: active 1966.

Blundall Piano Co., Toronto: 1900–ca. 1912.

Bowles, Québec City: active mid-19th century.

Thomas Boyd, Uxbridge, ON.

Brantford Piano Co.: see Morris Pianos.

Brockley and Misener, Halifax: active 1857–63 (then active as T. & A.W. Brockley, 1863–97).

Brown, Montréal: active 1874.

George Brown, John Munro and Co.: moved from Boston to Montréal ca. 1860.

Canada Organ and Piano Co.: see R.S. Williams.

Canadian Organ and Piano Co.: active 1874–75.

Canadian Piano Co.: see Thomas F.G. Foisy.

Cecilian Piano Co., Toronto: before 1915–22, player pianos only (absorbed by Stanley).

Louis Charbonneau, Montréal: active 1889.

V.W. Claude & Co., Montréal: active 1898.

F.C. Cline, Kingston, ON: 1868.

Clinton: see Doherty Pianos.

Colonial Piano Co., Ste-Thérèse, QC: before 1915–27 (made Saint-Saens piano).

Craig Piano Co., Montréal: 1856–1930 (preceded by Labelle & Craig; absorbed by Lesage, 1930).

E. Cross & Co., Toronto: active 1898.

Crossin & Martens Piano Manufacturing Co., Toronto: 1883–after 1908.

Cumberland Piano Co., Amherst, NS; Toronto (formerly Amherst Pianos).

David & Michaud, Montréal: 1917–23. (See also Michaud.)

William Dennis, Montréal: active 1834–53.

Doherty Pianos, Clinton, ON: 1907–20 (absorbed by Sherlock-Manning, 1920; continued as brand name to early 1930s; introduced brand name Clinton, 1913).

Dominion: see Rainer & Co.

Dominion Organ and Piano Co., Bowmanville, ON: pianos built 1879–ca. 1935.

Draper Bros. and Reid: see Sherlock-Manning.

Georges Ducharme, Montréal: active 1891–98 (made Beethoven Pianos).

Noah Durant, Vankleek Hill, ON: active 1908.

Piano Builders E–L

Edmund Piano Co., New Westminster, BC: ca. 1924–after 1952.

Ennis (& Ennis) Co., Hamilton, ON: 1863–1911 (later brand name of R.S. Williams)

Evans Bros Piano & Manufacturing Co.; Ingersoll, ON: ca. 1871–90 (then at London, ON, until ca. 1933).

Everson: see R.S. Williams.

Featherston Piano Co., Montréal: 1893–99.

Thomas F.G. Foisy (Canadian Piano Co.), Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, QC: 1888–91; Montréal, 1891–1914 (absorbed by C.W. Lindsay, 1914).

Foster-Armstrong Co.: Toronto head office active, 1910; Kitchener, ON: before 1915–24 (absorbed by Sherlock-Manning), made Haines Bros. pianos.

J.C. Fox, Kingston, ON: 1862–68. (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, 1924).

Grinnell Bros, Windsor, ON: 1908–ca. 1941 (branch of Detroit firm).

Haines Bros: see Foster-Armstrong Co.

Haydn Piano Manufacturing Co., Montréal: active 1898.

Heintzman, Toronto (began 1860 as private builder; continued 1866–1977 as company in Toronto; then at plant at Hanover, ON, 1962; 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 & Co.).

Henry Herbert: see Mason & Risch.

J.W. Herbert & Co., Montréal: active 1837.

Henry & Francis Hoerr, Toronto: active 1890.

Thomas D. Hood, Montréal: active 1848–77.

Frederick Hund, Québec City: active 1816.

Hund & Seebold, Québec City: until 1824. (See also Seebold, Manby & Co.)

Henry G. Hunt, New Brunswick: active 1850s.

Joseph T. Hunt, Saint John, NB: active 1845–55.

Imperial Piano Co., Toronto: active 1901.

International Piano Co., Toronto: active 1928.

Jackson & Co., Peterborough, ON: active 1889.

Karn Piano Co., Woodstock, ON: 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: active 1851 (later continued as Edmund E. Kennay: active 1871).

Kilgour Piano & Organ Co., Hamilton, ON: active 1888–99.

Knott & Sons, Hamilton, ON: 1871–ca. 1914.

Kreisler: see Mason & Risch.

Krydner: see R.S. Williams.

Labelle & Craig, Montréal: 1854–56 (continued as Craig).

J.-Donat Langelier [became Langelier-Valiquette, 1963]: began ca. 1915 at Pointe-aux-Trembles, QC (continued ca. 1930, Montréal), not a manufacturer. (See Pratte).

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

A. Laurilliard, Saint John, NB: active ca. 1850.

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

Lesage Pianos/Les Pianos Lesage, Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, QC: 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., Montréal: ca. 1880–ca. 1950; dealer only (for some years sold Craig, Lesage and other pianos under the Lindsay name).

Liszt Piano Co.: active 1908.

Lonsdale Piano Co., Toronto: before 1915–22.

Piano Builders M–R

W.H. Manby, Montréal: active 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, ON: 1903–7 (absorbed by Gourlay, Winter & Leeming).

Mead, Montréal: 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; 1934–72 by Lesage Pianos)

Oswald Michaud, Montréal: private workshop, 1937–early 1950s. (See also David & Michaud.)

Milligan, Francis, Québec City: active 1854–64.

Milligan, George, Québec City: active 1844.

Moir, George and William, Halifax: active 1852.

Morris Pianos, Listowel, ON: est. 1892 as Morris, Feild, Rogers Co., successors to Brantford Piano Co. (continued as Karn Morris Piano Co., ca. 1909–20; Morris Pianos, 1920–ca. 1924).

Mozart Piano Co., Toronto: before 1912–20 (absorbed by National Piano Co., ca. 1918; 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, continued as a brand name until late 1960s).

O'Neill Brothers, Toronto: active 1844.

Ontario Piano Co., Toronto: active 1928.

J.L. Orme & Sons, Ottawa: see Martin-Orme.

Oshawa Piano & Cabinet Co., Oshawa, ON.

Richard S. Owen & Son, Québec City: active ca. 1840.

Palmer Piano Co, Uxbridge, ON: active 1908.

Percival Piano Co, Ottawa: active 1918.

J.M. Pfeiffer, Québec City: active 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], Montréal: active 1889–1926 (then linked to J.-Donat Langelier).

Prince Piano Co., Toronto: active 1895–1914.

Quidoz Piano: see Sénécal et Quidoz.

J.F. Rainer & Co.: active 1866; Whitby, ON: active 1872; Guelph, ON: used Dominion as a brand name.

Rappe, Weber & Co., Kingston, ON: active 1868–69.

Isaac Reinhardt, Montréal: discontinued, 1846.

J. Reyner, Kingston, ON: active 1870.

Reynolds & Duffett, Toronto: active 1849.

Piano Builders S–Z

Saint-Saens: see Colonial Piano Co.

Schubert: see R.S. Williams.

Schumann: see Lesage.

Schumann Piano Co., Toronto.

Seebold, Manby & Co., Montréal: active 1856. (See also Hund & Seebold).

Sénécal et Quidoz, Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, QC : ca. 1897–1938 (continued as Quidoz Piano, 1938–66; Quidoz Piano also used the label Gerhard).

Sherlock-Manning Pianos: pianos built at London, ON, 1910–30; at Clinton, ON, 1930–88 (merged with Heintzman, 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; sold several other times thereafter; factory moved to Vanastra, ON [near Clinton], 1988).

Slade, B., Halifax: active 1832.

Small & McArthur, Uxbridge, ON: active 1898.

Smith: see John Morgan Thomas.

William Snyder, Berlin [Kitchener], ON.

Standard Piano Co., Toronto: active 1898.

Stanley Piano Co., Toronto: ca. 1890–1924 (absorbed Cecilian, 1922).

John Stephenson, Montréal: active 1848.

Stevenson & Co., Kingston, ON: ca. 1887–91. (See also Weber and Wormwith.)

Sumner & Brebner, Ingersoll, ON: 1906–11.

C.L. Thomas & Co., Hamilton, ON [Western Pianoforte Manufactory of Canada]: ca. 1856–ca. 1893.

John Morgan Thomas [Thomas & Smith], Toronto: active 1840.

Uxbridge Piano Co, Uxbridge, ON: ca. 1899; also a second company of the same name, active 1914–15.

S.R. Warren, Montréal: built pianos ca. 1845.

Weber Piano Co., Kingston, ON: 1871–ca. 1887 (continued as Stevenson & Co. until 1891; as Wormwith until 1918; as Weber Piano Co., 1919–39; absorbed by Lesage Pianos, 1939).

G.M. Weber, Kingston, ON: ca. 1881–95.

Werlich Brothers, Preston [Cambridge], ON: active 1908 (player pianos only).

Western Pianoforte Manufactory of Canada: see C.L. Thomas & Co.

R.S. Williams, Toronto: factory built, Oshawa, 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., Montréal: factory Ste-Thérèse-de-Blainville, QC; 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., 1919).

Wright Piano Co., Strathroy, ON: 1908–24 (company's charter, 1908).