John Bagnall: Victoria’s first pianoforte maker

1860's piano made in Canada

1860’s piano made in Canada

A piano or ‘pianoforte’ as it was also known, was a popular musical instrument during the BC gold rush era.

Many gold rush miners went to great lengths to have their musical instruments brought to their camps.

In 1863, a piano was carried from Quesnel to Barkerville. This same piano survived the Great Fire of Barkerville five years later. It was later purchased by the Kellys who made arrangements for the piano to be brought to Victoria where they retired.

The Canadian piano and organ industry started to gain momentum in the 1850s and was helped by advertisements in newspapers. Pioneering Canadian piano maker John Morgan Thomas was in operation in Montreal and Toronto from 1832 until his death in 1875. He was credited with the invention of the metallic frame which he and Alexander Smith patented in Toronto in 1840. In May 1866, Theodore Heintzman opened his own factory in Toronto and founded one of Canada’s most successful and longest-running piano-making firms.

Born in Staffordshire, England, John Bagnall arrived in Canada in 1862 from London where he worked at Collard and Collard, a piano manufacturing firm. He arrived In Victoria in early 1863, and advertised his services as a pianoforte maker and cabinet maker at a store on Fort Street. In addition to building pianos, Bagnall tuned and repaired pianos and harmoniums. He also sold music and lent instruments. His business prospered and just over a year later, Bagnall announced the opening of his piano factory. In 1881, Bagnall expanded his business by building organs.

Bagnall continued to work until shortly before his death in 1885 and advertised his company was “Sole Importers of English, French, German and American Pianos, Organs, and all kinds of Musical Instruments….”