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The Virtual Gramophone
Canadian Historical Sound Recordings

The Virtual Gramophone project was suspended in June 2006. New songs will occasionally be added to the site, as time and resources permit. There are no plans to augment the History, Biography, or other pages of the site.

About This Site

At the Virtual Gramophone you can learn about the history of the recorded sound industry, read biographies of Canadian performers, watch a video of a working gramophone, search the database, browse the listen pages for recorded songs, or listen to one of the pod casts.

Main features of the site:

The Recordings

Recordings available on the site include:

  • Patriotic songs and sentimental ballads of the First World War era
  • Recordings from the rising vaudeville and jazz scenes, and the dance band craze of the 1920s
  • Music from Quebec in the 1920s and 1930s, including the recordings of Madame Édouard (Mary Travers) Bolduc
  • Popular music of the era, including recordings from New Brunswick's Henry Burr, the most prolific recording artist of his time
  • Classical vocalists and instrumentalists from the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, including Emma Albani, Pauline Donalda, Sarah Fischer, and Hubert Eisdell
  • Military bands, popular songs, and other material in both English and French recorded or released by the Berliner Gramophone of Montreal circa 1901 to 1910.

The recordings on this site represent only a portion of the 78-rpm and cylinder collection held by Library and Archives Canada. In choosing material to be included on the Virtual Gramophone, emphasis is placed on those years where there is likely to be a considerable percentage of public domain material. An attempt is also made to strike a balance of French and English and of different genres of music. Of the approximately 50,000 78-rpm discs and cylinders in the collection about 7,000 discs, 15,000 titles were available on the site as of November 2008. Of those 15,000 titles, 5,700 have been recorded.

Selected public domain recordings of 78s and cylinders from the Library and Archives' recorded sound collection have been digitally reproduced and are available in mp3 and real audio. In choosing the titles for digitization, only those recording having Canadian content, such as a performer, composer or lyricist were digitized. Recordings where the music and lyrics are still under copyright in Canada or for which the copyright status could not be determined are not available on the Virtual Gramophone.

The Database

Each record in the database provides information about an original recording, such as its title and performer, relevant dates, and details about the label and disc. Also accompanying selected entries are links to digitally scanned images of the label, to biographies of Canadian artists featured on the recordings, and to digital audio reproductions of recordings with Canadian content.

The History

Learn about the early days of the industry in Canada, including the first Canadian record companies, the Berliner Gram-o-phone Company of Canada and the Compo Company Limited. There are articles on the First World War era music in Canada, opera's history in Canada, and the music scene in Quebec from 1915 to 1920. The essay "Turning Points" provides a short history of sound recording and record players, from the first "Talking Machine" to digital recording.

The Biographies

There are biographies of prominent Canadian artists of the time, from opera soprano Emma Albani to composer Albert Viau.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Robert Thérien of Montréal for generously sharing his research; Ruth Cumberbatch, Toronto music teacher, researcher and critic, for her writing and research; Tom Casey of Ottawa for his ongoing efforts to document the Berliner Company's releases; Gene Miller and David Lennick of Toronto for the use of their collections; and Elwood McKee, Kurt Nauck and Chris Hopkins of the American Vintage Record Labelography for their ongoing advice and support.

We thank Richard Green, Manager of the Music Section, Library and Archives Canada, for the conceptualization and supervision of the project. Thanks are also extended to Gilles St-Laurent, audio conservator, for his leadership in the audio digitization, design and structure of the site.

For his essay on the history of sound recording and record players in Canada, we extend our thanks to Bryan Dewalt of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. The video of the Edison phonograph was filmed at the Canada Science and Technology Museum by Dave Knox, with the assistance of Ken LaGrave, both of Library and Archives Canada, under the supervision of Tony Missio and Bryan Dewalt of the Canada Science and Technology Museum. Video equipment was made available from SAW Video.

Thanks also to Industry Canada (through Canada's Digital Collections http://collections.ic.gc.ca/) for assistance in funding Phase Two of this project. We also gratefully acknowledge the contribution of the Department of Canadian Heritage, whose financial assistance through ARCHIVED - Canadian Cultural Online (CCO) made this work possible.

Disclaimers

The lyrics of the sound recordings featured on this site reflect the viewpoint(s) of the author(s) and the times in which they were written or created. The lyrics do not necessarily represent the viewpoint of Library and Archives Canada, nor is the inclusion of a sound recording an endorsement of its content.

Many of the materials featured in the database on this site originated with organizations not subject to the Official Languages Act; such material is available on this site only in the language in which it was written.