Radio Technology

I heard it on my radio—

The technology behind the radio allows for mass communication without using wires. Nikolai Tesla lectured on wireless communication in 1893 in St. Louis, Missouri at the World’s Fair. His theories laid the scientific groundwork for the development of the radio as we know it today.

A black-and-white photograph of Guglielmo Marconi posing on the steps of a building with 12 members of the administration of Newfoundland, Signal Hill, St. John's.

Marconi (with light hat) and members of the administration of Newfoundland, Signal Hill, St. John’s (MIKAN 3380817)

Guglielmo Marconi is the person most associated with the radio and he has ties to Canada. He tested his transmission equipment on Signal Hill, St. John’s in Newfoundland, 1901. His early successes spurred the use of radio for long distance messaging using Morse code. The technology was not able to transmit speech at the time. However, advances during and after the First World War provided both the military and civilians with access to radios that sent transmissions as recognizable speech.

A black-and-white photograph of Donald Manson, an employee of the Marconi Company sitting at a table, wearing headphones and writing on paper while listening to a radio transmission.

Donald Manson, an employee of the Marconi Company (MIKAN 3193105)

A black-and-white photograph of two women and three men, members of the R. A. Radio Acting Group, reading from a script into a microphone.

Members of the R. A. Radio Acting Group (MIKAN 4297976)

Local stations and federal agencies were created such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and broke into the news, music, and entertainment realms from the 1920s to the 1940s. Mass media was here to stay. Radio gave way to television, and then to the internet. Despite these leaps and bounds of its technological siblings, radio technology is widely used today due to its easy access and reliability.

A black-and-white photograph of a two women listening to a radio. One woman sits in a chair, the second women stands and adjusts the station settings.

Female workers at the Dominion Arsenals plant relax and listen to a radio in their apartment, Québec, Quebec (MIKAN 3193885)

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New additions to the Virtual Gramophone – band and instrumental music

By Margaret Ashburner

In addition to the many popular songs we have digitized, LAC is also fortunate to have a diverse collection of band and instrumental recordings in our 78-rpm collection. Some of the band music has military connections, such as the Band of First Regiment. However, we also have orchestra music, chamber music and folk music, such as the fiddle performances of Isodore Soucy.

A colour photograph of a record label with RCA Victor on it with the dog and gramophone logo.

The Maple Leaf Forever record label. RCA Victor (AMICUS 31386771)

Explore other recordings on the Virtual Gramophone!


Margaret Ashburner is the Special Collections Librarian of the retrospective music collection at Library and Archives Canada

New Princes’ Toronto Band

By Margaret Ashburner

1920s Toronto was a busy time and place for the working musician. Dance bands were performing regularly, and multi-instrumentalists would have been in high demand. One such musician was Hal Swain who started his own ensemble with a number of local musicians including Les Allen, who had equally diverse abilities. These ambitious musicians hoped to make a name for themselves; Allen described the group as “a combination of mostly youngsters, all as keen as mustard” (Litchfield, p. 513).

A black-and-white photograph of a young man smiling.

Les Allen, Roll Back the Years, p. 249.Les ù

A black-and-white photograph of a young man looking pensively to the side.

Hal Swain, Roll Back the Years, p. 249.

Spotted by a recruiter the two were singled out for their strong performing abilities and asked to form a group that would perform at the Rector’s Club in London, England. Of this time, Swain declared his intention “…to feature the fact that they were from the Dominion and discover if the dancers in the empire’s greatest city would evince the same interest in a jazz band from Toronto as they would in a New York importation” (Mark Miller, p. 112).

This group of proud Canadians sailed for England following the instructions of the London recruiter. However when they arrived, they found that the Rector’s Club had closed. The recruiter must have felt responsible for the fiasco and made alternate arrangements for the Canadians to audition at the New Princes’ restaurant. They were hired to play and remained for two years—taking the band name from the restaurant’s name.

A black-and-white photograph of men dressed in formal wear standing with their musical instruments.

Dave Caplan and his New Princes’ Toronto Band (Left to right: unknown, unknown, Lorne Cole, unknown, Laurie Day, Dave Caplan, Arthur Lousley, Arthur Calkin, Jack Collins (The British Dance Band Encyclopaedia)

The New Princes’ Toronto Band was composed of gigging musicians, and as a result, saw regular changes in personnel as opportunities arose. People came and left over the years and there were several iterations of the band’s name as band leaders changed or some of the musicians formed other groups. Musicologists generally consider these different iterations to be the same band. Some of the key Canadian musicians in this group were Hal Swain, Dave Caplan, Les Allen and Art Christmas.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to have digitized some recordings from a set of recently acquired discs. This sampling includes songs that were mainly recorded from September to November 1926 when the band was called Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band.

“Up and At ‘Em”

A colour photograph of a record label with the Deutschen Grammophon-Aktiengesellschaft logo of a dog peering into a record player horn.

“Up and At ‘Em” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168615)

[Listen to “Up and At ‘Em”] Recorded by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band in November 1926, this piece is a lively foxtrot, one of the most popular dance forms of the time. This performance, like most jazz recordings of the time, includes several solos, likely improvised, from each band member. The raunchy trombone and light pattering percussion solos are particularly enjoyable.

“I Never See Maggie Alone”

A colour photograph of a record label from Polydor.

”I Never See Maggie Alone” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168601)

[Listen to “I Never See Maggie Alone”] A comedic song about a young man lamenting the ever-looming presence of his girlfriend’s family. At first the family turns up on the couple’s dates, but as the song progresses they appear in increasingly improbable situations including being stowed away in the hood of the car, lurking in the lake where the couple is fishing and eerily appearing when the lights are turned off and then on. Really, it walks a fine line between horror and comedy! The vocals in this performance are likely Hal Swain or Les Allen and show some excellent comedic timing.

“While the Sahara Sleeps”

A colour photograph of a record label from Polydor.

“While the Sahara Sleeps” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168382)

[Listen to “While the Sahara Sleeps”] Fantastic brass playing with a great trumpet solo full of an idiomatic flutter tongue that is characteristic of jazz from this time.

“High Fever”

A colour photograph of a record label from Polydor.

“High Fever” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168455)

[Listen to “High Fever”] Another foxtrot from the Dave Caplan Toronto Band, this one a little more mellow than “Up and At ‘Em” but still a cheerful and upbeat foxtrot sound. Several jolly piano solos interject from the band’s pianist Laurie Day as well as some playful trombone solos towards the end.

“Say That You Love Me”

A colour photograph of a record label with the Deutschen Grammophon logo of a dog peering into a record player horn.

“Say That You Love Me” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168037)

[Listen to “Say That You Love Me” by Deutschen Grammophon or “Say That You Love Me” by Polydor] The only waltz among this set—as the title suggests, this tune is schmaltzy, romantic and like most of big band music, pleasingly over the top. Halfway through the recording, we hear Les Allen add some vocals ending with the lyrics, “Say that you love me—I love you!” The disc was distributed by Deutschen Grammophon-Aktiengesellschaft and a second recording (instrumental only) from Polydor has also been digitized.

The Polydor release of “Say That You Love Me” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168371)

The Polydor release of “Say That You Love Me” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168371)

Head on over to the Virtual Gramophone to peruse other music from the same era.

Sources


Margaret Ashburner is the Special Collections Librarian of the retrospective music collection at Library and Archives Canada.

New additions to the Virtual Gramophone – Roméo Beaudry

By Margaret Ashburner

A black-and-white photograph of a man looking right at the camera and wearing a grey suit.

Roméo Beaudry. Source: Canadian Music Trades Journal, Toronto, Fullerton Pub. Co., September 1931, ISSN 0383-0705.

Roméo Beaudry was a key figure in the emerging gramophone music scene in Canada. He founded Starr Phonograph of Quebec and specialized in producing gramophone discs for the francophone market. In addition to this, Beaudry was a busy composer and translator. He wrote many unique and popular songs as well as adapting American songs to French. This selection of newly digitized 78’s provides examples of Beaudry’s extensive work as both a translator and a composer.


Margaret Ashburner is the Special Collections Librarian of the retrospective music collection at Library and Archives Canada

New additions to the Virtual Gramophone – Henry Burr

By Margaret Ashburner

A black-and-white photograph of a man standing in front of a car, holding a small dog and wearing a Bowler hat.

Henry Burr. Source: Library and Archives Canada music collection, Public Domain.

A prolific recording artist, Henry Burr is estimated to have performed in over 12,000 recordings over the course of his life. His given name was Harry McClaskey, but he recorded under a wide variety of pseudonyms, the most well known being Henry Burr. Burr regularly performed not only tenor solos, but also in duets, quartets and other ensembles. He often performed alongside Albert Campbell.


Margaret Ashburner is the Special Collections Librarian of the retrospective music collection at Library and Archives Canada

O Canada! A bilingual history

By Jessica Di Laurenzio

Library and Archives Canada has recently acquired the records of the Frederick Harris Music Company, a large Canadian music publisher often associated with the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. In the company’s early days, beginning in the 1910s, Frederick Harris rigorously fought to obtain Canadian copyright for as much music as possible. One of the songs he published around this time was the English-language version of “O Canada.” However, the “O Canada” that Harris first published was not the same song that Canadians know today as their official national anthem.

“O Canada” became the official national anthem in 1980, exactly 100 years after Calixa Lavallée first composed the music. He was commissioned to write it by Lieutenant Governor Théodore Robitaille of Quebec. Judge Adolphe-Basile Routhier wrote the French lyrics at the same time, and the anthem was performed on Saint Jean-Baptiste Day in Quebec City in 1880. “Chant National” (the original name for “O Canada”) was an anthem for the French-Canadian people, written in part as a response to the popularity of “God Save the Queen” in English Canada.

A black-and-white photograph of a man with a prominent mustache, wearing a suit and bow tie. The photo is oval-shaped on a grey matte board.

Portrait of Calixa Lavallée (MIKAN 3526369)

People in English Canada liked Lavallée’s music so much that, a couple of decades later, they decided to create their own version. However, rather than simply translating Routhier’s lyrics into English, several Anglophone lyricists wrote their own words, which helps explain why today the meaning of some of the French and English lyrics of “O Canada” differ greatly.

Sheet music cover. In the centre, there is a photo of a man in an overcoat and trousers holding a top hat and a cane. The composer’s and lyricist’s names are at the bottom between a sketch of the city of Québec and a tree that stretches to the top of the page to decorate the title with maple leaves.

Cover of the first edition of “O Canada” (AMICUS 5281119) L.N. Dufresne, cover “O Canada” (Québec: Arthur Lavigne, 1880). Musée de la civilisation, bibliothèque du séminaire de Québec. Fonds ancient, 204, SQ047145.

Original French lyrics by Routhier:

O Canada! Terre de nos aïeux,
Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!
Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,
Il sait porter la croix!

Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,

Protègera nos foyers et nos droits.
Protègera nos foyers et nos droits.

English Translation:

O Canada! Land of our ancestors,
Glorious deeds circle your brow.
For your arm knows how to wield the sword,
Your arm knows how to carry the cross.

Your history is an epic
Of brilliant deeds.
And your valour steeped in faith

Will protect our homes and our rights,
Will protect our homes and our rights.

English-speaking lyricists took a different approach to the lyrics, often focusing on Canada’s natural beauty instead of the country’s valour and epic history. Sometimes, their approaches were a little too similar, causing accusations of plagiarism. Robert Stanley Weir and Edward Teschemacher were two of the Anglophones who came up with their own versions, and both chose to use the phrase “our home and native land.” The similarities created copyright tension between Delmar Music Co. and Frederick Harris, the respective publishers of the Weir and Teschemacher versions, both published around 1910.

Cover of sheet music for “O Canada!,” Canadian National Anthem by C. Lavallée.

Cover of sheet music for “O Canada,” published by Frederick Harris Music Co., 1914, words by Edward Teschemacher (AMICUS 21776210)

Along with Weir and Teschemacher, people across Canada came up with their own English versions of “O Canada.” By 1927, the Weir version had emerged as the most popular rendition, and was used as an official song for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation. However, because so many other versions existed, it did not gain official status as the national anthem for some time.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson tried to introduce a bill to make it the official version in 1967, but it was not until the centennial anniversary of Lavallée’s music, in 1980, that “O Canada” became the country’s official national anthem. Routhier’s original lyrics from 1880 made up the French version, while Weir’s words gained official status as the English version—regardless of the fact that their meanings were so different.

Photo of a rectangular postage stamp with colourful graphics of three men, with their names written beside them: Calixa Lavallée, Adolphe-Basile Routhier, and Robert Stanley Weir. The stamp reads “Canada Postes-Postage, O Canada! 1880–1980.”

Commemorative stamp, 1980, showing Lavallée, Routhier, and Weir (MIKAN 2218638)


Jessica Di Laurenzio is an archival assistant with Literature, Music, and Performing Arts, Private Archives Branch at Library and Archives Canada.

 

A few pearls of forgotten dramatic works at Library and Archives Canada

By Théo Martin

In its published documents collection, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has several old dramatic works in French by authors unfamiliar to new generations of Canadians. Although these plays are clearly inspired by the melodramas and vaudeville shows of Europe, they nevertheless represent the beginnings of French-Canadian dramaturgy. These plays include copies of printed works by French‑Canadian authors from the Ottawa–Gatineau (formerly Ottawa–Hull) region who enjoyed both local and national success from 1886 to 1935.

One example is the play Exil et Patrie by Jesuit priest Édouard Hamon (1841–1904). Although this work was not created by an Outaouais writer, it was one of the first plays presented in 1884 by the Cercle d’art dramatique de Hull, one of the first theatre companies in Hull, Quebec. This play deals with a very topical theme of the era: the exodus of French‑Canadians to the United States in the late 19th century. LAC holds a very rare copy of this work.

A colour image of the cover of a book entitled Exil et Patrie and bearing the title and the names of the author and the publisher, all printed in black on yellowed paper.

Exil et Patrie by Édouard Hamon, circa 1882 (AMICUS 12504589)

The LAC collection also includes plays by Hull prothonotary Horace Kearney (1848–1940), who wrote and produced La Revanche de Frésimus in 1886. This play, which combines vaudeville and satire, was one of the most performed plays in the Outaouais, eastern Quebec and even the United States in the first half of the 20th century. Other plays by Kearney are preserved at LAC as well, including Amour, Guerre et Patrie (1919).

Two-page image, side by side: on the left is the cover with a black-and-white photograph of the playwright, and on the right is the first page of the first act.

La Revanche de Frésimus by Horace Kearney, 1886 (AMICUS 2767145)

There are also several plays, melodramas, comedies and vaudeville acts by Ottawa author Régis Roy (1864–1945), including La tête de Martin (1900), Nous divorçons! (1897), L’auberge du numéro trois (1899) and Consultations gratuites (1924). Roy had a career as a public servant in the federal Department of Agriculture and the Department of Naval Service.

A black-and-white picture of an older man wearing a bow tie and glasses.

Régis Roy, photographed by Jules Alexandre Castonguay, circa 1930 (MIKAN 3229816)

Rare copies of plays by another Hull playwright, Antonin Proulx (1881–1950), can also be found in the LAC collection, including Le coeur est le maître (1930), L’enjôleuse. Dévotion et l’amour à la poste (1916) and De l’Audace, Jeune Homme! (1930). Proulx worked as a library curator and journalist during his career.

Cover of a play showing the title, author’s name and price of 25 cents, in black print on yellowed white paper.

De l’Audace, Jeune Homme! by Antonin Proulx, circa 1930 (AMICUS 11378035)

After the 1930s, the authors of these plays, after several decades of success, seem to have been forgotten. Fortunately, LAC holds a few copies of their works, for the great enjoyment of theatre lovers of today and tomorrow!


Théo Martin is a literature, music and performing arts archivist with the Private Archives Branch of Library and Archives Canada.

New additions to the Virtual Gramophone – English songs

By Margaret Ashburner

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is fortunate to have a collection of early audio recordings that capture the popular music that Canadians were listening to in the early 20th century. This collection of newly digitized recordings is a broad sampling of popular songs recorded in the 78-rpm format.

Featured performer

Albert William Plunkett

Black-and-white image of a young man smiling.

Albert Plunkett. Source: Canadian Music Trades Journal, Toronto, Fullerton Pub. Co., ISSN 0383-0705.

Plunkett is best known for his work as a soldier-entertainer with The Dumbells group. The Dumbells was run by Albert’s older brother Captain Mert Plunkett. The group started in 1917 and was active until 1932.

Harry Macdonough

A black-and-white image of a man wearing a suit.

Harry Macdonough. Source: Library and Archives Canada music collection, Public Domain.

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, as John Scantlebury Macdonald, the singer changed his name to Harry Macdonough in hopes that it would help his singing career. This popular ballad singer was a prolific recording artist and was involved in solo, duet and quartet recordings, many of which are among LAC’s collection.


Margaret Ashburner is the Special Collections Librarian of retrospective music at Library and Archives Canada.

It’s not easy putting Canada on stage – The Centennial Play

By Théo Martin

A little over 50 years ago, Canadian novelist and playwright Robertson Davies co‑wrote The Centennial Play to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Canadian Confederation in 1967. In 1965, with financial support from Canada’s Centennial Commission, Davies began writing the bilingual play featuring Canada’s history with four other renowned Canadian writers: W.O. Mitchell, Arthur L. Murphy, Eric Nicol and Yves Thériault.

A black-and-white photograph of a man smiling while holding a cat near his shoulder.

Robertson Davies and a cat, 1954. Photo: Walter Curtin. Walter Curtin fonds (MIKAN 3959842)

The play was divided into many scenes depicting the regions and provinces of Canada and involving fictional characters and dancers representative of Canada’s diverse linguistic and cultural communities. The play was accompanied by an original score written by Canadian composer Keith Bissell.

Handwritten page with drawings in red ink.

Handwritten draft of the cover page of a draft version of The Centennial Play, with drawings by Robertson Davies, circa 1965 (MIKAN 128551)

Typewritten text with annotations in red ink.

Typescript of The Centennial Play annotated by Robertson Davies, circa 1966 (MIKAN 128551)

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New additions to the Virtual Gramophone!

By Margaret Ashburner

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to present a list of newly digitized recordings from our 78-rpm disc collection. These early 20th century recordings include a variety of Canadian musicians, performers, composers and publishers. We will present the new recordings to you in six installments over the next few months.

French songs

Our first batch of newly digitized songs includes a variety of French-language songs. The release dates on these range from 1918 to the late 1930s and reflect the influx of francophone immigrants to Quebec, and Montreal in particular. With the boom in a French-speaking population came some great artistic developments for Canada, including francophone popular music, a small sample of which we have here:

A colour photograph of a black circular label at the centre of a 78-rpm disc. Gold lettering reads: “His Master’s Voice. Victor. Y-A des loups (Quentin-de Bexeuil). Georges Beauchemin. 263510-A.”

A Georges Beauchemin record label for Y-A des loups; image from Library and Archives Canada (AMICUS 31386448)

A colour photograph of a black circular label at the centre of a 78-rpm disc. Gold lettering reads: “Starr, Tenor, Avec piano, A SON CHEVET (Fyscher), LUDOVIC HUOT (Au piano: J. Allan McIver). 15929-A”

Record label for À son chevet by Ludovic Huot; image from Library and Archives Canada (AMICUS 31394570)

Featured performers

Georges Beauchemin, baritone

Georges Beauchemin is an interesting early example of the potential that recording technology brought to musicians. Beauchemin possessed a light baritone voice that would not have been suitable for solo stage and operatic roles. However, the new recording technologies allowed musicians with less powerful voices to be recorded and amplified.

Hector Pellerin, baritone

A black and white image of a young man wearing a tuxedo.

Hector Pellerin, photograph taken from the Virtual Gramophone. (AMICUS 2653974)

Hector Pellerin was an industrious musician who started out training in piano and organ but quickly moved on to popular music through his work accompanying silent films. He continued to work in various musical capacities before landing his first recording contract at the age of 29. He recorded in both wax cylinder and 78-rpm formats, ultimately making over 140 recordings.


Margaret Ashburner is the Special Collections Librarian of music at Library and Archives Canada