Instrument collections | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Instrument collections

In addition to the following list of major Canadian collections, many local museums, pioneer villages, and restored fortresses display reed organs, square pianos, homebuilt fiddles, and other 18th- and 19th-century instruments, usually acquired as accoutrements of households and churches rather than for their own sakes.

Such collections have been assembled at Battleford National Historic Park (Battleford, Sask), the Bowmanville Museum (Bowmanville, Ont), Brant Historical Society (Brantford, Ont), Brome County Historical Society Museum (Knowlton, Que), the Bytown Museum (Ottawa), the Château de Ramezay Museum (Montreal), the Doon Pioneer Village (Kitchener, Ont), the Huron County Pioneer Museum (Goderich, Ont), the Killarney Museum (Killarney, Man), Musée du collège Bourget (Rigaud, Que), the Museum of Ukrainian Culture (Saskatoon), St Mary's District Museum (St. Mary's Ont), the Sharon Temple (Sharon, Ont), the South Simcoe Pioneer Museum (Alliston, Ont), Upper Canada Village (Morrisburg, Ont), and the Western Development Museum (Yorkton, Sask).

Canadian chapters of the American Bell Collectors Association in 1991 included Le Carillon du Madawaska (Edmunston, NB), Pacific-Northwest Chapter in British Columbia, Bell Collectors Club of Ontario (Toronto), Peace Tower Chapter (Ottawa), and the Alberta Bell Collectors Club (Edmonton). Members collect primarily decorative and toy bells not intended as musical instruments.

Exhibitions of instruments, apart from permanent museum displays, have been rare (see Exhibitions). Examples include the exhibit of R.S. Williams' collection at the Toronto Mechanics' Institute in 1861, 'Marvellous Music Machines' (shown in Cobourg, Kingston, Kitchener, and Oshawa in 1977), and an international exhibit, 'The Look of Music,' presented at the Vancouver Centennial Museum 1980-1. Other Canadian-hosted exhibits have included 'Prestige de la Lutherie française,' an exhibit of French bowed string instruments and bows of the 17th to 20th centuries, held at the NAC 3-15 Dec 1981 and presented by Le Groupe des Luthiers et Archetiers d'art de France; and the Violin Society of America's annual conference and exhibit 4-10 Nov 1984, held at the Chateau Laurier, Ottawa. Guitar-maker and musician William Laskin curated the travelling exhibit 'Handmade for Music,' shown in several Ontario cities 1987-9 and documented in the book, The World of Musical Instrument Makers: A Guided Tour (Oakville 1987). 'Sounds of Invention' under curator Gayle Young was organized by Memorial U Art Gallery in conjunction with the Newfoundland Sound Symposium in 1990. A brochure was published. In 1980 the harpsichordist Kenneth Gilbert maintained a 'working collection' of harpsichords, early and modern, in Montreal, Paris, and London. Indeed, many performers (string players, pianists, wind and brass players, and percussionists) have acquired for their professional use virtual collections, often containing rare specimens.

British Columbia

The Randy Raine-Reusch Collection; begun in 1976 by Randy Raine-Reusch (b Halifax 1952), the composer-performer who founded the Music from the Pacific Rim festival. The collection, the majority of which he assembled on concert and study tours to Asian countries, contains over 700 instruments from around the world and focuses on rare and disappearing instruments such as jews' (jaw) harps, nose flutes, and Asian mouth organs and long zithers. The instruments are frequently used in performances of Raine-Reusch's compositions. He is the founder of the Rainforest World Music Festival in Sarawak, Malaysia.

University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. In 1991 it housed some 660 instruments, including 350 rattles and whistles from the north-west British Columbia coast cultures, the remainder African, Australian, Chinese, Egyptian, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Melanesian, Mexican, North and South American, Polynesian, and Tibetan.

Vancouver Centennial Museum. The ethnology division had acquired over 200 instruments by 1979, 107 of them belonging to Canadian First Nations, 3 Canadian Inuit, 8 South American, 43 Asian, 42 African and 9 Oceanian. In addition there are a few archeological examples such as bone bird whistles. By 1979 the modern history division had acquired 23 instruments, most imported in the 19th century, including a pair of bagpipes, and a concertina from the latter half of the century.

Royal British Columbia Museum. 322 items by 1991 - rattles, drums, recorders, whistles, clappers, batons, one bull roarer, and five 'objects' of unknown cultural classification - all of British Columbia Indigenous origin (Bella Coola, Coast Salish, Haida, Kwakiutl, Nootka, Tlingit, and Tsimshian).

University of Victoria Collection. Initiated by Phillip T. Young in 1970; includes 30 European instruments (all replicas) and the Hofman Collection of ethnic instruments, some from British Columbia Indigenous cultures.


Glenbow-Alberta Institute. Instrument collection established ca 1956. In the cultural history department in 1991 were 175 western instruments, all of which had been in use in western Canada. They include a group of late-19th- and early 20th-century band and orchestral instrurments, ethnic string and wind instruments from Europe and Asia, mechanical instruments such as a kaliope, a violano virtuoso, and an aeolian orchestrelle, and a group which includes various kinds of horns and reed and portable organs. Of special note is the fact that most of the pianos and reed organs are Canadian-made. In the ethnology departments in 1991, some 760 non-western instruments included Ojibway and west African drums, Métis bells and fiddles, flutes, gongs, pan pipes, and 2 didjeridus (Australian aboriginal pipes). The focus of this collection are the many rattles and whistles from the Peigan people of southern Alberta and other plains Indigenous people.


The Robertson Conservation Collection of Musical Instruments. Established by Gary Robertson in 1964. By 1991 over 380 ethnic instruments from around the world, predominantly folk flutes, shawms, fiddles, lutes, and original mouth organs. Of special interest: a pi-morn and pi-chawar (shawms) from Thailand, a Rubob lute from Tajikistan, and a Vietnamese kom-boat mouth organ. May be viewed upon request. Typed catalogue available at cost.

The University of Saskatchewan Collection. A quartet of Amati string instruments acquired from collector Stephen Kolbinson (b Saskatchewan 1888?, d there Sep 1986) in 1959. The violin (ca 1627) and viola (ca 1606) were built by the brothers Antonio and Girolamo Amati; the second violin (once owned by the Australian violinist Daisy Kennedy) was built by Niccolo Amati in 1637. Niccolo's son, Girolamo, built the cello ca 1690. (See also Amati String Quartet.) The instruments have been in continuous use by the faculty and guests since 1967 (except for 1992-8, when they were on loan in B.C.) and may be viewed upon request. Beginning in the early 1970s, the university acquired two collections of instruments for student use: Renaissance instruments, including shawms, crumhorns, sackbuts, viols, recorders, racketts and harpsichords; and a broad collection of traditional Asian instruments from China, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam.


Sounds of Yesteryear Museum. Collection of automatic musical instruments that was initiated by Terry and Alice Smythe in 1973. Music boxes, nickelodeons (including a 1905 violano virtuoso), orchestrions (a 1927 Seeburg KT among them), player pianos, a ca 1900 Kaliope disc music box, and other mechanical instruments. May be viewed upon request. See also Mechanical instruments; Player pianos and nickelodeons.


Coleman Collection of Musical Instruments, University of Guelph. Donated to the university by Barbara Coleman in 1971. Twenty string instruments from North America, Europe, and the Orient, including a Swedish Nykelharpa, an 18th-century French hurdy-gurdy, and a Chinese viol and beggar's fiddle. May be viewed upon request.

Coleman, Barbara. 'Musical heirlooms of Canadian pioneers,' Dolmetsch Foundation Bulletin, Sep 1973; repr in Early Canadian Life, Mar 1980


Ensemble Claude-Gervaise Collection. Started in 1968 by Jean Gagné, a member of the ensemble. Over 300 instruments in 1991, including both authentic items and reproductions. Of particular interest: a musette and an hautbois de Poitou (both 18th-century), a sculpted Chinese oboe set with moonstones, and a collection of African drums. The collection has been used in performance by the Ensemble Claude-Gervaise, and viewing may be arranged through the Centre de la flûte à bec, Montreal.

Allan Jones Collection. A private collection of 70 sets of western European bagpipes from Ireland, Scotland, England, Australia, France, Sweden, Belgium, and Sicily, dating from 1760 to modern instruments. All are in playing condition and have been used by Jones in performances and workshops in Europe and in North America. In 1989 an exhibit of bagpipes from this collection was held at the Marsil Museum in Montreal.

University of Montreal, Faculty of Music. Begun in 1989 under curator and ethnologist Monique Desroches, 450 ethnic instruments from Africa, Caribbean islands, South America, south-east Asia, and Canada. Of particular interest is a gamelan from Bali, which is used by students. The Canadian instruments include some from the northern Quebec Inuit, Indigenous cultures from across the country, and Quebec folk instruments including washboards, spoons, and fiddles. In 1991 plans were underway to set up a permanent exhibition at the university in co-operation with the Musée de l'homme in Paris. The faculty also has reproduction baroque instruments for student use.

New Brunswick

Saint John
The New Brunswick Museum. A collection of some 80 instruments (1991), most of them owned originally by New Brunswick settlers. A Chickering piano (Boston 1865) barrel organ, drums, three flutes, a lute, a music box, bagpipes, several pianos, trumpets, violins, and a xylophone. More exotic items are African harps and a sanza, a Nubian harp, two boxes of miniature Japanese instruments, and pre-Columbian whistles.

Nova Scotia

North East Margaree, Cape Breton Island
The Murphy Collection. Almost 100 string and wind instruments (1978). Initiated in 1942 by John and Hilda Murphy, later in the possession of Michael J. Murphy. Items of special interest: an alpine horn, a ukeline, and an African thumb-piano. May be viewed upon request.

MacDonald, C.A. (Sandy). 'He plays the zan zez,' Atlantic Advocate, vol 69, 2 Oct 1978

Carl (Carol) van Feggelen Collection. Private collection begun in 1960. By 1991, some 200 antique keyboard, string, and wind instruments, including accordions, grand pianos, hurdy-gurdies, an Arabian oud, psalteries and folk instruments from Canada and abroad. Of special interest is a collection of over 100 rare antique guitars. Accessible to researchers by appointment.

Pierce, Gretchen. 'Music professor has 100 guitars,' Halifax Mail Star, 24 Dec 1974

Jan van der Leest Collection. Established in 1975, a private collection - the Organery - of over 96 antique reed organs, harmoniums, and melodeons by 1980. The oldest item at that time was a melodeon thought to have been built ca 1846 by George Prince of Buffalo. Part of the collection was displayed in Halifax and Truro in 1976. May be viewed by appointment.

van der Leest, Jan. 'Reed organs: the experiences of a collector,' The Occasional, Winter-Spring 1976-7


Jalovec, Karel. Beautiful Italian Violins (London 1963)

Bayduza, Audrey. 'A rare touch for plows and violins,' Music Magazine, vol 7, Mar-Apr 1984


Carson, Susan. 'The collecting compulsion,' Toronto Globe and Mail Weekend Magazine, 18 Dec 1976

Pasta, Victor. 'Those magnificent men and their music machines,' Manitoba Moods (Autumn 1976)


The Henry Meredith Collection. Begun in 1975 by the trumpeter and University of Western Ontario professor Henry Meredith. In 1991 over 450 19th- and early-20th-century instruments, mainly brass, including several natural trumpets, an English slide trumpet, cornopeans by F. Pace (London), Robinson & Bussell (Dublin) and T. Claxton (Toronto), keyed bugles, double-belled euphoniums, helicons, an 18th-century hunting horn, a Vienna-valved trumpet, and numerous cornets and low brass instruments. Many of the instruments have been used by Meredith in performance and for lecture-recitals. Part of the collection was exhibited in Toronto in 1984. Catalogue on request.

Newman, Richard. 'Brass on brass,' London Free Press, 19 Oct 1978

Meredith, Henry. '76 Ophicleides, 110 cornopeans (or how to start a brass instrument collection),' Ensemble, Spring 1978

Lindenburger, Sharon. 'A joyful sound,' Ontario Living, Dec 1990

University of Western Ontario. Collection begun in 1986 with a bequest from Gordon Jeffery; includes two Stradivarius violins (1689 and 1702) and a Guarneri del Gesù violin (1729), which are occasionally played by faculty. Instruments for the use of students and the Early Music Studio include a Lotti cello (1850), a Gagliano violin (1780), a Carcassi viola (1745) and various 19th- and 20th-century instruments including replicas of historical harpsichords, a fortepiano and organs.


Canadian Museum of Civilization. Instruments are housed in the museum's Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies and its History Division and Canadian Ethnology Service. The centre in 1991 held 650 instruments representing more than 40 ethnocultural groups from Africa, Britain, Canada, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Orient, the Slavic countries, and South America. In the early 1970s the centre began a collection of instruments from contemporary Canadian makers with 12 instruments from the Ted Eames Collection. By 1991 this collection numbered 100 instruments of modern and historical design, and included a harpsichord, lute, marimba, flutes, guitars, a drum set, steel drums, and folk instruments. The History Division in 1991 held some 175 instruments, including harps, reed organs, pianos, violins, and zithers and a number of more exotic instruments presented by several countries to a former Canadian governor general. In the Ethnology Service in 1991 were approximately 1368 instruments, mostly First Nations and Inuit (whistles, rattles, drums, deer-callers, etc) but also including specimens from other cultures and countries - Africa, Ceylon, India, Mexico, New Guinea, and South America.

Gibbons, Roy W. The CCFCS Collection of Musical Instruments, National Museum of Man Mercury Series, 3 vols (Ottawa 1982-4)

Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank. Designed to help outstanding Canadian musicians, and established in 1985 by a bequest from the Barwick family of Ottawa. In 1987 a Tecchler cello (1706) was purchaed and loaned to Denis Brott for the duration of his career. In 1988 a Stradivarius (1717) violin, donated by Leon Weinstein, was loaned to Scott St John. Colgrass, Ulla. 'Instrument banks stem the tide,' Music, vol 6, May-Jun 1983

National Museum of Science and Technology. Begun in 1967, the collection includes music boxes - the earliest from 1840 - player and reproducing pianos, a 1900 piano player, a pump reed organ, a harmonium, and early gramophones, including a Berliner.


The Bruce County Museum. Collection established 1953. Over 50 instruments (by 1991), mainly music boxes, pianos, and reed organs, but also some bagpipes, a dulcimer, and two violins made in Bruce County. Most items date from 1880-1900 and some are of Canadian origin.


Hart House Viols, University of Toronto. Six viols in a 17th-century chest, purchased by the Massey Foundation ca 1930. Until 1935 owned jointly by the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto and Hart House, but thereafter the sole property of the latter. Two Pardessus de viole (Louis Guersan, Paris 1760, and Nicolas Bertrand, Paris ca 1725), a small English viol (ca 1680), a treble viol (probably Flemish, ca 1700), an alto viol, tuned as a tenor (English ca 1700), and a bass viol (Joachim Tielke, Hamburg ca 1695). The instruments have been heard at many concerts at the university and have been played by groups such as the Conservatory String Quartet and the Hart House Consort of Viols, led by Peggie Sampson, but by 1980 were no longer being played. In 1991 plans were made to donate the viols to the Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank.

Royal Ontario Museum. Established in 1912, by 1980 the ROM collection was the largest in Canada, with instruments in its Far Eastern, Ethnology, and European departments. In 1980 the Far Eastern collection included Chinese instruments of the Shang and Chou dynasties and 103 instruments manufactured in the 19th and 20th centuries, about one-half of which were displayed. The Ethnology Dept had 707 instruments: 303 Indigenous, including 144 rattles and 43 drums; 11 Inuit, including 4 drums and 4 string instruments; and the remainder from Mexico, South America, Africa, and Oceania. The European Dept collection comprised 230 instruments in 1980. Among the most important were the Johannes Celestini harpsichord, made in Venice in 1596, and the so-called 'Dragonetti' double-bass attributed to Gasparo Bertolotti da Salò, dated 1600. The excellent representation of early English instruments included a viola da gamba bearing the label of Henry Jay, 1610. Another, by Barak Norman, is dated 1697. There also was a 17th-century kit-violin by Cuthbert and 18th-century kits by Henry Jay and W. Taylor, as well as English guitars of the 17th and 18th centuries. Among the 18th- and early 19th-century keyboard instruments were examples of the spinet, harpsichord, and piano by such famous makers as Baker, Harris, Kirckman, Zumpe, and Broadwood. Woodwinds were represented by instruments of Bainbridge, Ellard, and Wood, brasses by works of Mathew Pace and Henri Distin. There also was a British harp lute, the work of Edward Light; and the top of an 18th century viol that had been discovered in a cellar in the Hôpital général de Québec around 1860, undoubtedly hidden during the siege of Québec in 1759. (Three more viols of the same provenance are in the Crosby Brown Collection in New York's Metropolitan Museum.) In September 1991 the Musical Instrument Gallery was closed and all instruments put into storage pending the location of a new display venue. Access to the collection may be possible for researchers who make advance written request.

Cselenyi, Ladislav. Musical Instruments in the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto 1971)

Littler, William. 'ROM's musical treasures,' Toronto Star, 29 Mar 1980

Doyle, Jim. 'Notes from the gallery,' Guitar Canada, vol 2, Summer 1988

Rogers, Corinne. 'Early instruments at the Royal Ontario Museum,' Musick, vol 13, Sep 1991

University of Toronto, Faculty of Music. Collection established by Sidney Fisher; 21 English, French, and German transverse flutes made between 1760 and 1905 illustrating the development of the flute. Seven one- to eight-key boxwood flutes (1760-1850); others of locustwood, blackwood, rosewood, sterling silver, and silver-plated brass. One, a Nicholson flute (1825), considerably influenced Boehm in his work.


Catalogue de la collection de l'Ensemble Claude-Gervaise (Montreal 1975)

Further Reading