Tag Archives: music

Disturbing music on the streets of St. John’s

In 1903 the new and emerging form of entertainment was the gramophone.

In 1903 the new and emerging form of entertainment was the gramophone.

Archival Moment

July 10, 1903

Shop keepers have tried all manner of gimmicks to attract customers to their establishments, one of the marketing strategies used by the shops in downtown St. John’s in 1903 was loud music.

In the early 1900’s the new and emerging form of entertainment was the gramophone, created in 1887. In 1901, 10-inch disc records were introduced followed in 1903 by 12-inch records. These made the gramophone accessible to most families and businesses for their leisure. These  new records could play for more than three and four minutes respectively.

The St. John’s shop keepers would place their gramophone near the entrance of their stores causing customers to stop and listen, luring them into their shops or to their shop windows to look at their merchandise.

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. Water Street, St. John's, A2-34:

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives. Water Street, St. John’s, A2-34:

Not all residents of the town appreciated the new marketing ploy; one of the difficulties that it presented was that as customers stood on the sidewalks listening to the music they were blocking the sidewalks. Some residents felt that the police should be called to keep the streets clear!

The Editor of the Evening Telegram was among those who was not amused. He wrote:

“The policy of small shop keepers of using a gramophone to attract customers is becoming a decided nuisance. Crowds throng around the shop doors and the windows rendering the sidewalk impassable.”

The Editor offered a solution:

“If the police cannot keep the street clear, let them remove the cause (the gramaphone’s) which is the only other remedy.”

 It is unknown if the curmudgeonly Editor had much sway or if shoppers lost their enthusiasm for the novelty of the new technology, but it appears that no other complaints were made against the use of the gramophone.

Shopkeepers knew however that they were onto something. Over the past number of years there have been academic studies into the effects of background music in shops. The research indicates that music volume, speed and genre can have significant effects on how long consumers spend in shops and restaurants, how much they purchase or consume, and whether they view brands or individual products favorably or unfavorably.

Imagine, it all started with complaints about the gramophone.

AT THE ROOMS you can also listen to some great music.  WE PLAY FOR YOU. From fiddle to accordion, from harp to vocals, come and check out our amazing local talent as they fill The Rooms with music and song from our province’s rich musical heritage. You can sing along, tap your toes or just sit back and delight in the experience.  https://www.therooms.ca/ 

Recommended Archival Collection: City and Town Directories held in the archives give incredible insights into the business life of Newfoundland communities. A few of the directories that should be consulted when doing research are Hutchinson’s Directory of Newfoundland (1864); Lovell’s Directory for Newfoundland (1871); McAlpine’s Directory for Newfoundland (1871); and Rochfort’s Directory of Newfoundland (1877).

Recommended Museum Exhibit: At the Rooms: Here, We Made a Home The Elinor Gill Ratcliffe Gallery – Level 4.



Take me to the ‘Bonnet Hop’

Archival Moment

August 25, 1885

The girls are ready to party!!

The girls are ready to party!!

One form of entertainment that our ancestors looked forward to was the “bonnet hop” an evening of entertainment that included music and fireworks.  In August 1885 the talk in St. John’s was all about the ‘bonnet hop’ at the Sea View House, Topsail.

Notice about the ‘Bonnet Hop’ appeared in advertisements in all of the local St. John’s newspapers. Organizers promised a grand evening that included a special train to take guests from St. John’s to Topsail and return. The music for the ‘hop’ would be performed by Professor Bennett’s Band.

Professor David Bennett the former music instructor at St. Bonaventure’s College was a prominent performer and bandmaster, his group was the band of choice for numerous public and private functions.

Music and musical groups played an important part in the social life of the community. Bands like Professor Bennett’s played at  occasions like the hauling of firewood , the laying of cornerstones of public buildings, the towing of sealing ships through harbour ice, the arrival and departure of visiting dignitaries were all occasions when music was obligatory.

Traditionally a ‘bonnet hop’ was a dance on the deck of a boat, in which the ladies keep their bonnets on their heads.  (The term bonnet refers to a strip of canvas laced onto the bottom of a loose footed jib in order to increase the sail area in fair weather. The bonnet is removed when wind velocity increases again.) Nowadays the ‘bonnet’ is the hood of the car!!

Excursions to ‘Grand Bonnet Hops’ were a regular feature on the social calendar, in some Newfoundland communities  ‘bonnet hops’  were called ‘bontops’  now  they are referred  to as a spree or social at the community hall.

If you missed the ‘bonnet hop’ in Topsail the members of Professor Bennett’s Band promised “a series of Promenade Concerts, Dancing Assemblies and other Amusements, during the fall season at the Parade Rink, St. John’s.”

Our ancestors knew how to party!

Recommended Archival Collection: Explore the many collections that are held at the Rooms –  search here:  https://www.therooms.ca/collections-research/our-collections

 Recommended Reading:  Dictionary of Newfoundland English G.M. Story, W.J. Kirwin, and J.D.A. Widdowson, eds. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, The DNE is a historical dictionary based on evidence taken from printed sources and, in addition, on evidence of tape-recorded speech in the province. After its great popular success in 1982 and widespread published reviews, it has continued in print to the present. http://www.heritage.nf.ca/dictionary/index.php

Is there a Stradivari in St. John’s?

Archival Moment

MARCH 19, 1892

ViolinThere was much discussion in the music community in St. John’s on March 19, 1892, conversation driven by a news item in the St. John’s newspaper, The Evening Telegram, about the possibility of an authentic Cremona violin, dated 1681 in the city.  This was no ordinary violin this was reputed to have been created by the master genius of violin-makers, the maestro of Cremona, Antonius Stradivari.

Antonio Stradivari (1644 -1737) set up his shop in Cremona, Italy, where he painstakingly handmade made violins and other stringed instruments. He took a basic concept for the violin and refined its geometry and design to produce an instrument which is now the standard. Stradivari’s violins have been judged by history to be the best.

The owner of the alleged ‘strad’ in St. John’s was “Mr. P. Roche, a storekeeper of this city”. Roche was according to the St. John’s Business Directory for 1890; a storekeeper working for the business; J and W Pitts located on at 24 South West (Water) Street. He had done some preliminary work on investigating the provenance of his violin. The Telegram reported:

“The word (the name of the maker) and the figures (year)  are inscribed on the inside of the back (of the violin) and may be seen by looking through the scroll worked holes in the front of the instrument.”

The article went on to read:

“There are five known famous violins by a celebrated maker from that city, (Cremona) each of them worth hundreds of guineas. One has been in New York, one in Munich, and one in London; three are still missing.  There are very many less famous Cremona violin, whether Mr. Roche’s belongs to the most celebrated class, he is taking steps to find out. It was purchased many years ago by his brother in Halifax.”

What happened to the violin?  We really do not know – perhaps it remains with the descendants of Mr. Roche who may not be aware of the fine instrument that they have!!

Today, a conservative estimate on the value of the violin, if it were authentic, would range from $1 to $5 million.

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives: MG 591 Kiwanis Music Festival programmes, 1951-1976; Music Festival Association of Newfoundland booklets re: regulations, schedule etc., 1966-1976.

Recommended Reading: Antonio Stradivari, His Life and Work (1644-1737) W. Henry Hill, Arthur F. Hill & Alfred E. Hill  Originally Published in 1902

Support the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra:  Read More:  http://www.nso-music.com/

Music in the Park

Archival Moment

August 22, 1898

Photo Credit: A 103-2; Newfoundland Regiment Band performing in park during Newfoundland Week, London

Photo Credit: A 103-2; Newfoundland Regiment Band performing in park during Newfoundland Week, London

Music in public spaces has always held an important place in the lifestyle of the residents of St. John’s. There is a long history of residents gathering in the public parks where there was an expectation that music would be performed.

On August 19, 1898 the music in Bannerman Park was so “exceptionally good” that the local newspaper The Evening Telegram reported: “it was the best this season, [The music] was so exceptionally good, that the large number of our citizens present applauded the various selections by clapping their hands.”

Not all who gathered in Bannerman Park were amused. The newspaper reported that several gentleman of the west end of St. John’s were quite displeased that music was being realized in Bannerman Park but little for their neighborhood park.   To add insult to injury it was not just good music in Bannerman Park, it was the very best performed by none other than “Professor Power’s most excellent orchestra.”

The West End crowd, in the neighborhood of Victoria Park, felt that they were being victimized. They admitted that they were getting occasional performances but they were “vexed that they have to listen to the harsh selections at Victoria Park.” Worse again there was no possibility that they would get the quality of Mr. Power’s orchestra because “Mr. Power and his orchestra had been secured for the whole summer” by the Bannerman Park Committee.

With the recent revitalization of Bannerman Park and the construction of a new bandstand music has once again returned to Bannerman Park. On Sundays throughout the summer ( (next show on September 13 at 2:00 p.m.) a free concert featuring amazing local musical talent is presented.

The crowd in the west end 117 years later are still keeping an eye to Bannerman Park, not to be outdone in May 2015 about 75 people attended a public meeting to discuss how their park can be best rejuvenated or redesigned. The west-end park received $1-million — a 50/50 split between the city and the province — to put towards a major overhaul.

I am thinking the new plan might include a bandstand!

Victoria Park occupies the same 6.5 acres of land now as it did when it opened in 1890. Bannerman Park was formed on land set aside for public use by Governor Bannerman in 1864.

Recommended Reading: Stories About Bannerman Park: http://www.bannermanpark.ca/stories/

Recommended Action: Support the Garden of Memories in Bannerman Park: People who enjoy the park can contribute to the park‘s revitalization through by sponsoring various fixtures, flower gardens, and commemorative granite stones, which will be used for the pathways in the Garden. For more information: http://www.bannermanpark.ca/the-garden-of-memories-open-to-the-public/

Recommended Action: Join the Friends of Victoria Park (FOVP), a concerned group of West End residents and community members who came together in May 1998 with the goal to ensure that Victoria Park regains and retains its historical place as a vibrant, safe, and enjoyable environment for all residents and visitors. Read More: http://www.fovp.org/index.shtml


The sound of an Irish organist

Archival Moment

March 24, 1878

porganOn March 24, 1878, Thomas Mullock, brother of Bishop John Thomas Mullock of St. John’s, Newfoundland died at Clonmel, Ireland. Thomas’s claim to fame was that he was the first organist at the Roman Catholic Cathedral (now Basilica) of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s.

Thomas an accomplished organist in Limerick, Ireland came to St. John’s at the invitation of his brother (the bishop). He stayed in St. John’s and remained as organist for about fifteen years. The organ that he played was constructed by Messrs. Robsons of London, England.

For much of his life, Thomas remained in the shadow of his brother. He lived quietly supplementing his income by teaching music and raising his young family. In December 1854 he was devastated when his only child Charlotte Mary died at the age of 2 years, 10 months.

Upon returning to Ireland he was employed as the organist at St. Mary’s, Irish Town, Main Street, Clonmell. He knew the town well as he was married to Charlotte Frances O’Brien daughter of Daniel O’Brien of Clonmel.

Due to deterioration this “Grand Organ” in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in St. John’s, it was dismantled in 1938 under the direction of (Sir) Charles Hutton and was replaced by a Hammond electronic organ.

This, in turn, was replaced in 1954-55 by the organ that is presently used in the Cathedral Basilica. The new organ has 66 stops and a total of 4050 pipes.

The installation actually comprises two organs; the main organ of 51 stops located in the organ gallery, and the sanctuary organ of 15 stops arranged behind the main altar. Each organ may be played from the main organ gallery either separately, or, if desired, simultaneously with the main organ. The organ was built and installed by Casavant Freres Limited of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec.

The sound of an organ was first heard in North America, in a Québec church in 1660-61. Records show that 2 organs were in use in Québec Cathedral by 1663-64.

Recommended Archival Collection:  Take some time to explore MG 590 at The Rooms Provincial Archives; MG590 is the Charles Hutton and Sons fonds. It consists of textual records relating to the business interests of Charles Hutton & Sons in St. John’s 1930-1938.  The collection consists of correspondence between the company and patrons in Newfoundland and Canada, requesting songs, musical instruments and other enquiries.

Recommended Reading: An introduction to the Pipe Organs in Newfoundland and Labrador by Dr. David Peter’s, 2012 (unpublished)