The American Musical Instrument Society (AMIS) promotes better understanding of all aspects of the history, design, construction, restoration, and usage of musical instruments in all cultures and from all periods. In June 2022, their annual meeting was held at Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre.
George Hooper Mead: One of Canada’s First Instrument Makers, 1827-1851
Francis Lapointe has been working with musical instruments for over twenty years. As a researcher, his area of expertise is the history of the music trade in Quebec. He is also a collector and is involved in the enhancement and conservation of the tangible and intangible heritage linked to Quebec’s instrument making. He is currently working on his master’s thesis on the emergence of the music trade in Montreal at Université du Québec à Montréal.
While some instrument traders were active in the late eighteenth-century Province of Quebec, we must wait until the first decades of the nineteenth century for a network of musical instrument makers to emerge in what was then called Lower Canada. Our research spanning several years in the Quebec provincial archives has shed light on the primary role played by the Mead family, especially George Hooper Mead (1799–1851), in this emerging network of musical instrument makers. A vast number of notarial deeds and legal cases concerning the activities of the Mead family helped us identify several aspects related to the organization of the trade in Canada. These documents present the portrait of a family of craftsmen during the pre-industrial period. They bear witness to their activities and highlight the tensions in commercial networks, the contracts concluded between individuals for their exchanges of goods and services, and the manufacturing and climate issues that the first makers had to deal with. They are very detailed and revealing, and we use them to illustrate this rich history with examples linked to the notions of reputation, networking, and affiliation, but also to manufacturing, labor, and supply. The paper focuses on some of these aspects as related to the advent of the musical instrument trade in Montreal. We also present inventories of Mead’s shop, carried out by public notaries in the 1830s, where we found an incomparable window on the musical practices of the time and the cultural transfer happening from Great Britain to the North American colonies.