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The Pathéphone In Halifax

In the fall of 1914, Messrs. Pathé Frères announced in the Halifax Evening Mail the appointment of the Johnson Piano Co. as local distributors for the Pathéphone. Although Pathé had been in business since the turn of the century, this was the start of their major marketing impetus throughout Canada. Indeed for Halifax, the next six years would see the Pathéphone become a well known player in the gramophone business of the city.

The Johnson Piano Co. made mention of the Pathéphone in many of their advertisements. On December 21, 1914, they tugged at the sentiments of Haligonians with the following: "One of the few industries that still exists in Belgium is the factory for making Pathéphones and records. You ought to see and hear these wonderful machines. Tone and workmanship... as you would expect from this noble and most unfortunate people."

During the summer of 1915 Johnsons was giving away free to "all music lovers" a Pathéphone sound box with the purchase of three Pathé records. The Provincial Exhibition held in September of that year featured Johnson's display of Pathéphones: "The machines come in full cabinet styles... are exceedingly pretty."

Unfortunately for Johnson's, their relationship with Pathé was to come to an end in 1917. In August the Nova Scotia Furnishing Co. opened a new Pathéphone shop. It is difficult to know now why this change happened. Johnson's also handled the Sonora and Columbia at this time and were to sell other "talking machines" as well. By 1921 the company was having a liquidation sale and in late 1925 was advertising the closure of their long established firm. So perhaps we can read between the lines to sense some lack of direction? Certainly they must have known in 1917 that Pathé was establishing a Canadian factory. But whatever the internal reasons, the announcement to the public was that because of the war they would have to give up the Pathé agency.

Nova Scotia Furnishing Co. was to handle the Pathéphone during its heyday in Halifax. New Pathé shops had opened throughout the province in 1917. Distribution was handled from Amherst N.S. A special announcement appeared on October25, 1917: "Every music loveris invited to the first Public Recital in this city of the New Canadian Pathé Pathéphone."

The company must have been pleased with the results of the recital: "People crowded on to thestairs leading to the second story of the building and still others were content to stand at the door all evening, so indescribably seductive was the music..."

Another recital was to follow in a months time with the promise that: "much greater seating space will be provided this time".

The Pathéphone appeared regularly in the advertising for the next few years as well as regular record releases. In December of 1919 the Pathé Actuelle, a gramophone with apparently no sound box, tone arm or tone chamber was introduced. A recital of some distinction was to follow: "...we are privileged in being able to make the first public demonstration in Canada."

The Actuelle amplified the sound waves directly on the stylus and it certainly won favour with a Mr. J.D. Logan, who took a parting shot at Edison in his lengthy review of the Pathé recital: "Other phonographs may be given credit for recreations, but the Pathé recital last night clearly demonstrated that the Pathé Actuelle... did much more than merely re-create. You feel that the Pathé Actuelle has a soul and FEELS what it sings or plays."

Mr. Logan was considered by one newspaper to be one of the greatest musical authorities in Canada. What is ironic is that a month earlier he had written a glowing testimonial for the New Edison after a tone test given by Alice Verlet before an audience of 1500 in Halifax!

The Pathéphone continued into 1920, however the economy was changing and Pathé itself was experiencing some difficulties. Due in some part to their apparently unsuccessful foray into the lateral cut record market. In February 1921 the N.S. Furnishing Co. advised the closing of the Canadian Pathé factory. Since all future products were to be coming from Pathé in New York, all Canadian Pathéphones were to be cleared out. It was eventually announced by N.S. Furnishing that they were discontinuing the Pathéphone completely. However, over the course of 1921, recitals for the Actuelle were still being held and up until the end, the superiority of the Pathéphone was always stressed.

Times were changing and in December 1922, the N.S. Furnishing Co. announced the complete closure of their phonograph department. The N.S. Furnishing Co. building still stands on Barrington St., beautifully restored. However only the ghosts of those long ago Pathéphones are heard amid the noise of new tenants.

At the present time I have only come across one Pathéphone locally. It was a tabletop model and obviously did not have its original components. I would be interested to hear comments on the Pathéphone from other cars members. Does anybody have an Actuelle who can vouch for its sonic fidelity?