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Assiniboia Music Store
Do you recognize this street? Can you spot the connection to phonograph collecting? The casual acquisition of this photo-postcard of a downtown city street by CAPS member Bill Pratt led to the discovery of one of Canada’s oldest and longest-lived music stores.

"Real photo-postcards" that depict some aspect of our hobby are a major collecting interest. There is a magically nostalgic quality to an interior or exterior view of a phonograph dealer’s store three-quarters of a century old or a period photograph of a talking machine in its original family setting. I regularly search through postcard dealers' stock at antique shows for these images. Some are a chance find. While the Phonograph or Music sections are the logical places to spot these cards, many times they are filed under less obvious categories, such as Advertising or Entertainment, or even buried among cards organized by province or city with no apparent connection to phonograph collecting.

In the July-August 2001 issue of the CAPS newsletter I described one such recent purchase, a photo-postcard of a prosperous downtown city street about 1920. The card is unused and in pristine condition and the photograph crystal clear. An advertisement on the side of a building on the left edge of the card, partially obscured by a banner announcement of the "Barnes Circus, Tues June 22" is of interest to phonograph collectors. Beneath the banner is an advertisement for "Edison, Victor and Columbia", the three major phonograph companies of the day, and above the banner is the partial name of the music store, "NIBOIA STORE". My tentative dating of the photograph was based on the many cars in the image and also on the fact that June 22 fell on a Tuesday in 1920. The festive Union Jack flags visible in the picture, perhaps heralding a coming holiday - Victoria Day (May 24) or Dominion Day (July 1) - indicated a Canadian city, but which city? I was keen on making an identification.

Figure 1 - 1920

I showed the postcard around at the June 2001 CAPS meeting in hopes that a member might recognize the street. I received helpful suggestions but no definitive identification. Posting the image for two months on the CAPS website elicited no response. With the help of CAPS member Arthur Zimmerman, we researched city directories at the Toronto Reference Library for some of the business names visible in the photograph. This narrowed our search to a city in western Canada, possibly Regina. "Assiniboia" and "MacBean" are both common listings in the Regina directory, and there was a "Victoria Cafe" and "The Hub Ltd" on its main street in the 1920s. But the business addresses did not correspond to the layout of the buildings in the photograph and I was uncomfortable with the identification. Finally persistence paid off.

After sifting through countless postcards of Canadian cities at antique stamp and paper shows I surprisingly turned up a second view (Figure 1) of the same street shot from almost the same angle. It is quite common to come across duplicate postcards of a street scene but less so to find a second view shot at the same period. This card was not in as good condition as the first but in this case, by good fortune, the city was conveniently printed on its face! It was a surprise to learn how prosperous Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan was in the early years of the 20th century! Note the handsome buildings and the distant approaching streetcar in the lower right corner.

Figure 2 - about 1910

The store advertisement was not obscured by a banner in this second postcard. I now knew that the Assiniboia Music Store stocked "Everything in Music" and was a local dealer in the products of not only the three major talking machine companies, Edison, Victor and Columbia, but also the premier Canadian piano manufacturer at the time, Gerhard Heintzman. As a bonus, this second card, mailed from Quebec (!) to a Mrs. Pierre Loiselle in Rhode Island, with a greeting in French, was post marked October 26, 1920. Would that every mysterious item of phonographic ephemera resolved itself so neatly and so easily!

Fortified with the clear attribution to the city of Moose Jaw and wanting to learn more about the Assiniboia Music Store, I returned to the Toronto Reference Library to research the few available directories of that city. At the same time I contacted the archives section of the Moose Jaw Public Library. They kindly provided informative historical details about the music store and also put me in touch with a local historian who has written several books on the early history of Moose Jaw. He kindly supplied several more photographs and fascinating information about the early history of Main Street. Betty Pratt subsequently turned up more views of the street including the earliest image of the Music Store sign when it advertised only Heintzman pianos.

Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan became a town on February 13, 1884 and was granted its charter as a city on November 20, 1903. Much of the early history of downtown Moose Jaw centres around the activities of a local entrepreneur, Henry Kern. After a major fire in 1891 that wiped out 17 businesses and a church on Main Street, Kern built the elegant Maple Leaf Hotel in 1899 on the northwest corner of Main and Manitoba Street West. It was perfectly situated directly across Manitoba Street from the newly- rebuilt Canadian Pacific Railway station whose clock tower provided a favourite vantage point used by local photographers to record the growth and prosperity of their main street. Kern also owned the 1/2 lot to the north of the hotel. In 1906, together with businessman Malcom J. McLeod, owner of the lot to the north of Kern’s, they developed this land and built the Kern-McLeod Block (later Elk Block) which housed the Dominion Land Titles Offices, headquarters for the largest district in the west.

Figure 3 - 1921
Figure 4 - 1921

The Assiniboia Music Co. store, the largest in Western Canada, was opened in the Kern-McLeod building on April 26, 1907 by Jim McLelland who had opened a store by the same name a few years earlier in Medicine Hat, Northwest Territories. A photograph (Figure 2) taken before the laying of the street car tracks on Main Street in 1911 shows the company’s initial sign in the days before the music store carried talking machines. In 1913 the store was bought by a Mr. Porter and in 1914 it was acquired by Lt.-Col. W.J. Hanney who had started his career in the store in 1913 as accountant. Hanney remodelled, expanded its product lines and ran the store until 1952 when he retired.

Figure 5 - 1920s

The earliest directory at the Toronto Reference Library is the 1921-22 Wrigley's Saskatchewan Directory. Apparently a fellow named McKenzie operated a jewelry store out of the same premises. The Assiniboia Jewelry & Music Co.is listed at 16 Main N. (Figure 3). The proprietor is Alpherie Bloss and the manager Wm. J. Hanney. An advertisement on page 322 of this Directory (Figure 4), identifies Assiniboia as "The Music House of Service", dealer in "Columbia Grafanolas [sic] and Records" and "Edison Phonographs and Records".

Piano and furniture companies were logical retailers of talking machines. Hardware and sporting goods stores sometimes carried a line of phonographs to tide them over the lean winter months. As reported in the August 1916 issue of the trade journal, Edison Phonograph Monthly, the phonograph was considered the perfect jeweler’s sideline because the Diamond Amberola was "a line that attracted to the store the class of people that should buy high-priced watches and diamonds, and the instruments were an ornament to the most elegant store".

Nevertheless, by mid decade the company had decided that the sale of pianos and talking machines was more lucrative than the sale of jewelry. In the 1926 Moose Jaw City Directory, it was listed as simply The Assiniboia Music Company. Wm. J. Hanney was now the proprietor, and the company was described as "Agents for Edison Phonographs, Pianos, Musical Instruments, Music Books, Sheet Music, Phonograph Repairs and Accessories, Six Demonstration Rooms, Columbia Grafanolas [sic]". Still at 16 Main Street, the store’s telephone number had changed from 4344 (in the 1921 ad) to 4501. The company was to retain this number for more than 60 years.

Assiniboia was not the only music store in Moose Jaw at this period. The Forster Music Co., Percy Forster, manager, at 225 Main Street North, advertised its dealership in "Gourlay, Williams, Gerhard Heintzman, Nordheimer, Emerson, Schubert, Doherty Pianos and Player-Pianos, Gulbransen Player-Pianos, Orthophonic Victrolas, Victor Records, Sheet Music, Violins, Tenor Banjos, and Everything In Music". Seems both companies stocked "everything in music"!

Figure 6 - late 1940s

In the 1929 Moose Jaw City Directory, this company had changed its name to the Child and Gower Piano Company and the Assiniboia Music Company had added Brunswick Phonographs and Brunswick Records to its product line. Two and one half blocks north on the east side of Main, next to the Moose Jaw branch of the Canada-wide Allen Theatre chain, was Scott’s Music Store, another dealer in pianos and Victrolas (Figure 5).

In 1949 Hanney took over the portion of the Kern- McLeod building then occupied by the Sun Drug Company. An article in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald for May 27, 1949 described the store’s new piano salon where six pianos were displayed at one time. The store also had three record listening rooms and a rest room situated between a commodious office and a repair shop, as well as "famous lines of electrical appliances which were on display at all times".

By the late 1940s (Figure 6) the side of the Kern- McLeod building still carried the large Edison, Victor and Columbia advertisement, although Edison was out of the phonograph business in 1929 and his products would have been unavailable. The Maple Leaf Hotel on the corner, now identified as the Hotel Churchill, has lost its distinctive mansard-roofed tower. The Robinson MacBean general store further up the street, which had been occupied by Army and Navy Department Stores from 1931 to 1944, had re-opened in 1946 as Metropolitan Stores. The streetcar track has disappeared but the music store ad is almost as pristine as 25 years earlier.

Figure 7 - Maple Leaf Hotel and corner of Kern-McLeod Building in 1999. Inset - before 1920

In 1952 Ethel Yount, a longtime employee, purchased and ran the Assiniboia Music Store until her retirement in 1968. During the 1960s the business itself moved to a new location at 110 Main Street North. Ted Humphrey, an employee since 1951, took over in 1968 and ran the store until his retirement in 1978 when he sold the business to Marguerite Beliveau, an employee since 1958. In 1984 the store moved to its final location at 81 High Street West.

The only other Moose Jaw City Directories at the Toronto Reference Library are from 1978 and 1979. Assiniboia Music Co. could still be reached at telephone number 4501 (now 692-4501). Its feature phonograph was now the "Yamaha Superscope Stereo"!

The Assiniboia Music Company has disappeared from current listings. Although under a succession of owners in its 82 year history, the Assiniboia Music Store was proud of its "Family Store" tradition with grandparents, parents and the children all customers, and lived up to its business stamp as "The Music House of Service". The store is believed to have closed its doors for good in 1989. Henry Kern’s hotel on the corner is today the Cornerstone Inn - Brewing Company & Restaurant (Figure 7). The adjacent Kern-McLeod building still carries the title of its original tenant just beneath its parapet, the Dominion Lands Office. It is now home to two businesses, Charlotte’s Restaurant and the National Café. I wonder if Charlotte knows that her restaurant was once a major showroom for Heintzman pianos with six demonstration rooms for Edison Phonographs, Columbia Graphonolas and "everything in music"!

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Joyce Playford, Reference/Archive Assistant, Moose Jaw Public Library for providing historical data and contemporary newspaper articles about the Assiniboia Music Store; historian Bruce Fairman for photographs and extracts from his publications on the early history ofMain Street, Moose Jaw; and Betty Pratt for her perseverance in tracking down additional images of one of the most photographed street corners in any city in Canada.

Photo Credits

Figures 5, 7 (inset) - Moose Jaw Public Library Archives
Figure 7 - courtesy Bruce Fairman
Figures 3, 4 - 1921-22 Wrigley's Saskatchewan Directory, Toronto Reference Library
Figures 1, 2, 6 and cover - collection of Bill & Betty Pratt