The earliest music printing and publishing in Canada was undertaken by newspaper and book publishers rather than music companies. In 1800, 1801 and 1802 John Neilson, publisher of the Quebec Gazette/La Gazette de Québec, issued Le Graduel (Processional [sic], Vespéral) romain, volumes of plainchant, and by Confederation in 1867, some 50 volumes of church music and 30 subsequent editions had contributed to religious worship and musical literacy. By the same date, a dozen songbooks and pedagogical works - beginning with T.F. Molt's bilingual Elementary Treatise on Music/Traité élémentaire de musique - had been issued. Sheet music publishing developed more slowly. Neilson's effort to engrave Louis-Joseph QUESNEL's Colas et Colinette in 1807-09 faltered at the proof stage, and no copy is extant of The Berlin Waltz which the piano builder and music engraver Frederick Hund advertised in the Québec Mercury in 1818.
Individual pieces occasionally appeared in newspapers (1831) and magazines (1833), but sheet music publishing did not come into its own until 1840. The firms were importers of music and instruments; publishing usually was a sideline. A & S Nordheimer (Toronto, 1844) and A.J. Boucher (Montréal, 1865) survived into the 20th century. Other pioneers included Henry Prince in Montréal, E.G. Fuller in Halifax, Peter Grossman in Hamilton, the book and directory publisher Lovell in Montréal and the booksellers J & A McMillan in Saint John, NB.
The majority of mid- and late-19th-century sheet music publications were dances, marches and salon pieces for keyboard, and patriotic songs and parlour ballads. Choral and educational music was rare but, surprisingly, vocal scores of cantatas, operettas and similar works from 50 to several hundred pages in length were numerous. In addition to Canadian compositions, publishers issued foreign music in licensed and, sometimes, pirated editions.
The most active period of Canadian music publishing lasted from about 1890 to 1920. The largest list was that of Whaley, Royce & Co (Toronto, 1888), others included Arthur Lavigne (Québec, 1868, publisher of the first edition of "O Canada"), J-E. Bélair (Le Passe-Temps) (Montréal, 1895), J.L. Orme&Son (Ottawa, 1866), I. Suckling & Sons (Toronto, c 1875), Strange & Co (Toronto, c 1881), Anglo-Canadian Music Company (Toronto, 1885) and H.H. Sparks Music Co (Toronto, c 1900). Not only the tunes and song texts but the titles and cover illustrations of early Canadian sheet music provide an interesting mirror of taste and social life. An anthology of such music is being compiled by the Canadian Musical Heritage Society (1982: 23 volumes by 1999).
Despite the Depression and the competition of recordings, music publishing moved forward in the decades between the world wars. Movies stimulated a mass market for licensed Canadian editions of pop songs and the competition festival and school music movements created a demand for choral and educational music. Representative of this new emphasis were the catalogues of Frederick Harris Music Co (Oakville, Ont, 1910), Waterloo Music Co (Waterloo, Ont, 1921) and Gordon V. Thompson (Toronto, 1932), all still in business, and the now defunct Éditions A. Fassio (Le Parnasse musical) (Lachute, Qué, 1933), Canadian Music Sales (Toronto, late 1920s) and the Western Music Co (Vancouver, 1930).
Several large international firms established branches in Toronto, including Boosey & Hawkes (1935), Oxford University Press (music department 1939), Chappell & Co (1946) and G. Ricordi & Co (1954). Most companies issued a modest amount of concert music by contemporary Canadians, especially BMI (now PRO) Canada, the performing rights society, since 1990 a part of SOCAN. Its publishing branch (1947) was taken over by Berandol Music Ltd in 1969. After a great expansion during the 1950s, a retrenchment followed, although educational and choral music publishing continue to flourish.
Recordings had become the prime means of disseminating pop music, and for economic reasons - huge outlays and few performances - publishers could not cope with the increasing trend towards orchestral writing by concert music composers. In the concert field the solution was the establishment in 1959 of the Canadian Music Centre/Centre de musique canadienne, a nonprofit organization which lends or sells scores reproduced from manuscript and rents orchestral parts. However the young firms of Doberman (St-Nicolas, Qué) and Éditions J Ostiguy (St-Hyacinthe, Qué) are issuing many contemporary works and some composers have adopted self-publishing.
A new type of music "publisher" has also appeared, one who licenses recording and other rights for popular music but rarely prints sheet music. The Canadian Music Publishers Association/Association canadienne des éditeurs de musique (1949) is the industry's umbrella organization; individual firms are affiliated with the performing rights organizations CAPAC and PRO Canada. The largest collection of Canadian music publications is that of the National Library of Canada. Copyright entries have been listed by the government since 1868; full bibliographical details have been given in the National Library's monthly Canadiana since 1953.