Dueling Pianos - Lougheed House

Posted by | June 09, 2017 | 150 stories | No Comments

It’s rare to find a person who doesn’t listen to music these days. Radio, vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and MP3s give us all sorts of ways to appreciate music. It’s with us everywhere, too; at home, in the car, at the mall, or even just on a walk. I’m listening to music right now, as I write. This explosion of access may be rather young, but the pure enjoyment of music is, obviously, much older. So, what did people used to do to get their music fix? Well, they could’ve gone to catch a show, assuming they were in the right place, at the right time, with the right amount of money. Usually, however, they played their own music. And in the 19th century, nothing said “fancy family” quite like owning your own piano.

The piano, as we know it today, was invented around 1700. By the time the Lougheeds built Beaulieu in 1891, pianos were firmly entrenched among socialites. Of course, being the sophisticated, genteel woman she was, Isabella Lougheed made sure that her new home had one of the finest pianos you could buy at the time: a Gerhard Heintzman.

Heintzman & Co. was incorporated in Toronto in 1866 by Theodor August Heintzman, who was born in Berlin in 1817 and had emigrated to Canada in 1860. Theodor had a nephew, Gerhard, who also made pianos. Even though Gerhard worked independently from his uncle, both Heintzmans’ pianos were renowned for their quality (the two family branches would merge in 1926 after Gerhard’s death). In fact, Canadian piano manufacturing in general was highly regarded, to the point where only a handful of foreign-made pianos were imported to Canada once the industry had established itself.

One of the few brands of piano that Canadians bothered to import were those built by Steinway and Sons. The company was founded in New York in 1853 by Henry E. Steinway, who had been building pianos in Germany since the 1920s under his real name, Heinrich Englehard Steinweg. Heinrich’s pianos were top-notch, as were his marketing skills; according to Donald W. Fostle, who wrote a history of the company,


“the genius of Steinways … ultimately lay in their ability to persuade millions of persons across decades and continents that in this realm of supreme subjectivity, individual variation, incertitude, and ever-changing conditions, there was an absolute best. The assertion, repeated often enough, took on the coloration of fact.”


If that’s true, then why didn’t the Lougheeds get a Steinway instead of a Heintzman? They certainly had the money to import one over the border. James grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Toronto (named Cabbagetown, no less; it doesn’t get any more working-class than that). Perhaps he wanted to support a burgeoning Canadian industry rather than an international one.

The Heintzman was built in 1891 and shipped to Calgary on the new Canadian Pacific Railway. The Lougheeds put it in the Mission Room, where it would have provided many hours of entertainment for the whole family. If you visit the Lougheed House today, you can still find that same piano down in the library. If you look up in the mission room, you’ll find an 1885 Steinway (pictured above), acquired for the house in 2007 and dominating the spot where the Lougheeds’ Heintzman used to sit. Apparently, Steinway’s marketing game is still as strong as ever.

-Jake, Summer Student