About the Project

Based at the University of Ottawa, this project has developed from courses and research on silent film music conducted at the School of Music. Our aim is to connect with other academics and the public in discovering and telling stories on the silent film music practice and era in Canada.

In the early 1900s, most films were accompanied with live music of some kind or a lecturer prior to the coming of sound films which standardized what audiences heard from the late 1920s onwards. As such, the story of silent film music practice is, in part, unique to local experiences. Many documents of the time have been lost, but newspaper reports and advertisements can shed light on what was happening in each city. Likewise, local accounts give us insight into Canadian music practices, what it meant to be a cinema musician, what music was played alongside films, and how audiences understood these showings.

History of the Project

In 2012, Shana Anderson and Paul Merkley, retrieved the items that now make up the University of Ottawa Silent Film Music Collection from Library and Archives Canada. Anderson conducted preliminary cataloguing tasks and wrote on the collection for her 2013 MA thesis.

In the Winter 2014, Paul Merkley, with the aid of Anderson and Library and Audiovisual Support Specialist Roxanne Lafleur, gave a course built around the collection at the University of Ottawa. This resulted in an initial catalogue for the collection, two interviews with descendants of silent film musicians, and a screening of the 1927 film The Cat and the Canary with a small orchestra.

In 2015, Elsa Marshall, Tessa Bangs, and Chanel Jacinthe began to review and scan the collection. In May 2015, Carolyne Sumner and Elsa Marshall presented on Ottawa silent film musician René Marier and his son John at the IASPM-Canada Annual Conference, University of Ottawa.

From 2015 to 2017, under the supervision of Paul Merkley, Elsa Marshall conducted research on musical practices in Ottawa cinemas during the silent film era for her 2017 MA thesis. This research was presented at the Music and the Moving Image conference at New York University - Steinhardt in May 2017 and constitutes much of the Ottawa section of this website.

In 2017, the website was launched.

Paul Merkley and his Fall 2017 (MUS 4301 “Researching Film Music: Theory, Production Practice”) class at the University of Ottawa compiled information on Hamilton, Ontario, which is featured under The Hamilton Collection. Thank you to Roxanne Lafleur, Library and Audiovisual Support Specialist, and Professor Geneviève Bazinet for their contributions.


For their resources, assistance and support, our thanks go to:

  • Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa
  • City of Ottawa Archives
  • Local History and Archives, Hamilton Public Library
  • University of Ottawa Library

The Research Team

  • Shana (Hopkins) Anderson, MA
  • Genevieve Bazinet, PhD, Adjunct Professor, School of Music, University of Ottawa
  • Roxanne Lafleur, Library and Audiovisual Support Specialist, University of Ottawa Library
  • Elsa Marshall, MA, PhD student, University of Sheffield
  • Paul A. Merkley, PhD, FRSC, Professor emeritus, Music, University of Ottawa
  • Carolyne Sumner, MA, doctoral candidate University of Toronto

With questions, answers, or new material, please contact: merkley@uottawa.ca