The Pathéphone In Halifax
by Norman T. Brooks
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
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
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
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?