The Canadian Connection - Part 3
by Steven C. Barr
In 1920, the Canadian recording industry consisted of the following: Berliner, pressing HMV and Victor discs;
Columbia; Brunswick; Starr, offering Compo-pressed Gennett records; Phonola, doing likewise for Okeh;
Pathé, whose activities at this point are not well documented; and a number of independent firms importing
various U.S. independent labels, as well as R.S. Williams still importing Edison cylinders and discs, though
with decreasing success. Major developments were in order in the coming year.
At the beginning of the 1920s, the future looked optimistic for the phonograph industry. Records and machines
had just enjoyed their greatest year yet in sales, and the boom looked to continue. Radio was in its infancy and
not seen as a threat. With the expiry of patents, lateral-cut records could be manufactured by anyone who wished
to do so, and numerous firms entered the business in the U.S. In Canada, Berliner and Columbia were quickly
joined by Brunswick, Phonola and Starr in the lateral field, with the latter two labels being pressed by Herbert
Berliner's new Compo Company; other lines of records were imported from the U.S. or Britain.
Berliner, at this time, was trying to gain some independence from the Victor firm in the U.S. During 1920 and
into 1921 he had been recording extensively and promoted his Montreal recordings over and above those from
Victor, and it also seems that he was using the Berliner studios to record for Compo as well. Compo introduced
the 500 series of Canadian recordings in late 1919, but did not have a studio until July 1921. Victor must have
looked askance at developments, as the chief executive of what was effectively (though not technically) their
Canadian subsidiary was not only failing to promote Victor products but also pressing most competing lines of
Matters finally came to a head in early 1921, and Herbert Berliner, along with several other executives, resigned
from the Berliner Gramophone Company. Herbert was succeeded by his younger brother, Edgar, and by 1924
the Berliner firm had been acquired by Victor, becoming a subsidiary in fact as well as function. Canadian
recordings became a lower priority. In the meantime, Herbert Berliner and the executive and technical staff he
brought with him set out to expand the operations of Compo. Compo started their own label, Sun, which was
pressed using material from Okeh and Gennett, with whom Compo was connected through labels the firm
pressed for Phonola and Starr. The Sun label was soon joined and eventually supplanted by the Apex label.
Compo quickly set up their own recording facilities, and these sides were issued on Compo and Compo-pressed
labels as well.
One event that occurred is well known to record collectors. Herbert Berliner took to Compo some John
McCormack Victor masters. He removed the Victor numbers and these discs were issued on Compo credited to
"Famous Tenor". Legal action by Victor followed, but Compo recordings of the same songs by Billy Jones
doing a fair imitation of McCormack were substituted and still sold well.