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Some Canadian Sheet Music (1850-1911)
Fig. I - The Emblem of Canada

Not much sheet music was published in Canada before 1844, the year that A. and S. Nordheimer set up a publishing business on King Street in Toronto. The earliest composition that I have come across was published by that firm around 1850. The song is called "The Emblem of Canada" (Fig. I) and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada lists it as Canada's first national song in the English language. The words are very British and no mention is made of French Canada. The first verse is about the English rose:

"Oh, beauty glows in the Island Rose,
The fairest English flower,
and mem'ry weaves in her emblem leaves
Proud legends of fame and power."

This is followed by a chorus and two more verses, one about Scotland and one about Ireland.

The composer, J. Paton Clarke, gained substantial recognition in his day. He was slated for the first Doctorate in Music ever given in Canada, but this honour was mysteriously withdrawn at the last moment.

Clarke was also chosen to organize the gala musical celebration to commemorate the opening of Toronto's first streetcar line in 1861.

The cover for "The Emblem of Canada" is printed from an etched copper plate. The lettering was from a standard copybook of the day, but the drawing of the maple leaf is quite crude, and was probably etched onto the copperplate by one of the employees of the Nordheimer company.

Fig. II - Irving's Canadian Series of Five Cent Music

Clarke's compositions, even as early as the 1860's, were regarded as mediocre, and the popularity of "The Emblem of Canada" faded with the 1867 publication of Muir's "The Maple Leaf For Ever". I am not aware of any recording of the "Emblem" song.

During the last half of the nineteenth century printing methods changed,first from etched plates to lithography, and then from lithography to off-set printing. This last method was very economical and allowed small companies to publish music with little outlay of capital. "Irving's Canadian Series of Five Cent Music" was one result (Fig. II). Using the octavo size format, it published nearly 700 titles. Most were printed between 1880 and 1885 and many reflected the Victorian fascination with death "Found dead in the street", "The dying Nun", "T'll see that yourgraveis kept green" but they also brought into Canadian homes many beautiful and last- ing songs "Juanita", "Beautiful Dreamer", "Killarney", and "The Maple Leaf For Ever".

Most of the songs were from other countries. At that time there was a very loose copyright law, and Canadians could "pirate" any song from a foreign country, including the United States. It was not until 1921 that a new copyright law spelled the death of not only "pirating", but also of many Canadian music publishers including Nordheimer's and Musgrave's.

Around the turn of the century, manufacturing companies began publishing sheet music as advertisements. Photos could now be included. The Otto Higel Company of Toronto, manufacturers of piano actions, the Bell Organ and Piano Company of Guelph and the Mendelssohn Piano Company of Toronto all published their own songs. One example is from "The Canada Flour Mills Company" (Fig. III). (The two children in the photo are probably the children of the company president and have nothing to do with the subject or the song.) Included in this sheet music are several advertisements. For example, we are told: "Never eat poor food out of compliment; self-preservation is the first law". We are also reminded that Canada flour will give you "two loaves of bread more to the barrel".

Fig. IV - Coronation Medley March and Two Step

Some companies could afford to publish complimentary sheet music in full colour. Around 1906, the T. Eaton Company published "The Maple Leaf for Ever" with a coloured cover showing Alexander Muir, the composer, on the front, and Eaton's stores on the back. Below Muir's portrait one can see his Leslieville home where he was living at the time he wrote his most famous song, and on the other side there is a one-room schoolhouse typical of the kind that dotted the Ontario landscape, and where Muir was a teacher for most of his career.

Fig. III - Young Lochinvar

Muir died in 1906, and it is possible that this sheet music was published to honour the man whose composition was once considered to be "Canada's National Song", at least in English Canada.

The Charles E. Musgrave Publishing Company, with offices in Toronto's old Yonge Street Arcade, was well known for its coloured sheet music covers. One such cover adorned the "Coronation Medley March and Two Step" (Fig. IV), which was "specially selected and played by the massed bands at the Toronto Exhibition 1911". This was Coronation Year for King George V and Queen Mary, and British patriotic fervour was evident, an enthusiasm that did not subside until after World War 1.

It is interesting to note that no credit is given to any of the artists who created these covers. Music from the United States and from Europe regularly gave the artists credit (in the form of a visible signature or symbol) from before the turn of the century. Could it be that other countries had more respect for their artists than we did in pioneering Canada?