How recorded sound came to Montreal
The E. Berliner Gramophone Company sets up shop below Westmount
Text courtesy of Musée des ondes Emile Berliner
In 1900, Emile Berliner set up shop in Montreal at 367-368 Aqueduct Street (now Lucien L’Allier Street). The E. Berliner Gramophone Company was registered for the first time in Lovell’s Montreal Directory in 1900.
On June 24 of that year, Emile Berliner registered his company’s logo with the Canadian copyright office in Ottawa – the dog Nipper listening to a gramophone. On July 10, 1900 the United States registration was issued. The logo replaced the “recording angel” the same year on Frank Bata’s Hello My Baby.
On June 24 (1900)… Emile Berliner registered his company’s logo… the dog Nipper listening to a gramophone.
In 1900, Berliner opened a gramophone retail sales outlet at 2315 Sainte Catherine Street West, run by its general manager Emmanuel Blout. The oldest ad found so far dates back to October 1900 in the Canadian Magazine, and mentions that the Montreal Berliner factory manufactured the gramophones. On December 22, 1900 the Berliner Gram-O-Phone Company – the name under which the company advertised for many years – publicized its French-language recordings through an ad in La Patrie.
In the fall of 1900, a Berliner advertisement won a medal at a Toronto exhibition. The record of this prize at a competition generally held in August confirms that Emile Berliner had indeed opened his company before August 1900. In the same year, the E. Berliner Gramophone Company was also awarded a gold medal at the Pan American Exhibition of Buffalo.
Probably influenced by Berliner’s experience in the United States, the Canadian branch’s newspaper advertising was very aggressive as the Christmas holidays approached. In La Patrie, for example, a number of large-sized ads for gramophones and French-language records appear in December 1901.
Starting in 1899, the company published record catalogues, probably annually. From that early date on, French and French-Canadian Songs, interpreted by Mr. E. Danton, appear on the lists. The company published available recordings additionally in newspapers, in Montreal, for instance in La Patrie, which included Gannini’s La Marseillaise, Danton’s En roulant ma boule, his Vive la Canadienne and À Saint-Malo beau port de mer. French-language recordings were thus a part of the activities of E. Berliner Gramophone of Montreal from its very beginnings. Emile Berliner produced 2,000 records during his first year of operation in Montreal, and sold over 2 million records in 1901 alone.
‘French-language recordings were thus a part of the activities of E. Berliner Gramophone of Montreal from its very beginnings.’
Three types of gramophones were made available for purchase by E. Berliner Gramophone of Montreal. The $15 model weighed 25 pounds, and was 16 inches high, and 32 inches wide. The Grand model was sold for $40, weighed 45 pounds, was 22 inches high, and 32 inches wide. Advertisement described it in these terms: “It can easily take registers of 10 or 7 inches. All-inclusive price with the new Turret Concert acoustic box, 21 inches in gleaming steel; shined brass Bell amplifying horn; 200 needles, a needle tin and a choice of three Grand registers.”
The third model, the children’s Gram-O-Phone, was 16 inches high and just 10 inches wide, and weighed 20 pounds; it was priced at four dollars.
In 1902, Christmas advertising returned with a slightly different approach which demonstrated a better understanding of the French-Canadian market. Recordings made at the Sistine Chapel by the papal choir, were put on sale. The company also advertised two recordings of the Saint-Etienne Choir of Vienna, Magnificat and Ave Maria. Referring to the gramophone, the ad also quoted several Catholic priests. And to attract a Catholic clientele, Berliner offered, with the purchase of a gramophone, “an ivory pin showing a lovely colour portrait of His Holiness the Pope” for free.
Emile Berliner stayed not for very long in Montreal, his name did not appear in the Lovell’s Directory nor in the Bell telephone book. His main residence remained in Washington DC, from where he commuted to Montreal when necessary.
In 1908, Berliner inaugurated his Montreal factory on Lacasse Street in Saint Henri. On the north side, his property crossed to Westmount. To the original five storey brick building, Berliner added a concrete skeleton annex in 1910. This use of concrete put Berliner at the avant-garde of Montreal’s industrial architecture. Ten years later, he hired MacVicar & Heriot Architects to build the wings which stretch out along Saint-Antoine and Lacasse Streets. When the factory became part of RCA Victor, two warehouses were erected in 1931.
Five years later, RCA Victor hired the firm Ross & MacDonald to enlarge the Lacasse Street wing, which would lodge the administrative offices. In 1941, RCA Victor turned to the architect Gordon Lyman to put up Building 18, housing the recording studio. Two years later, Lynman rebuilt the Lenoir Street wing on the site of the 1908 and 1910 factory.
Images: courtesy of Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner
Founded in 1992, the Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner is a private non-profit corporation administered by a board of directors. As a permanent institution, the Museum’s mission is to collect, preserve, curate, research, depict, and exhibit audio artifacts, interpreting their significance – scientific and technical, social and cultural, historic and economic – to Quebec, Canada and the world i.e. made available to the widest possible public. The aim is to educate and inspire the public interested in audio and recording.
The museum is situated in the RCA Building at 1001 Lenoir, room E-206, Montreal.