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Canadian Piano History -

Willis & Company

When the Willis piano company went out of business in 1978 that left only Heintzman, Mason & Risch, Sherlock Manning and Lesage still making pianos in Canada. I started working as a piano technician a year after Willis stopped production. I often ran into new Willis upright pianos back then. I didnít know a lot about pianos in those days but I knew that I wasnít very impressed. They seem to be cheaply made even to an inexperienced technician. The manufacturer didnít even put a finish on the soundboard.

As I got more experience as a technician I started running into more of the older Willis pianos from the early 1900ís. These pianos were quite a contrast to their later counterparts. Willis & Company pianos from the early years were really quite good. They built a solid reputation that helped them to survive through the 1930ís when many Canadian manufacturers fell by the wayside.

Willis & Company was founded in 1884 as a retailer in Montreal. They carried the R.S. Williams and Bell Piano lines as well as Chickering and Knabe pianos from the United States. The retail company was very successful and in 1907 bought a controlling interest in the Lesage piano company and started production of their own Willis & Company pianos. By 1911 the Lesage family sold their interest in Willis & Company and began production on their own once again.

The story of Willis & Company mirrors that of most of the North American piano industry. At their peek Willis & Company produced 3000 pianos a year. As the booming sales of the 1910 to 1930 period faded they produced smaller less expensive pianos. Buy the 60ís and 70ís they faced overwhelming competition from Japanese imports.

In addition to the Willis brand, Willis & Company produced pianos under the Alexandra, Carlton, Denholm and Handel brand names. They also acquired the Newcombe brand after the original company stopped production in 1926.



Piano Tuning, Repair & Restoration Since 1979
Serving - Burlington, Oakville, Hamilton, Stoney Creek, Grimsby,
St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Welland, Fort Erie, Beamsville, Jordan, Vineland & Smithville.

 

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