Historical Context


Carved wood detailing from a W. Bell & Co. pump organ.

This Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons image is from the user Dean Jarvey and is freely available at //commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bell's_antique_pump_organ_(late_19th_C)_pressed_wood.jpg under the Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. No changes have been made to the original image. 

W. Bell & Co. was established in 1864 by William and Robert Bell in Guelph, Ontario. The brothers owned the company together, but William took on a more prominent role in management. Similar to George Sleeman, they were philanthropists and businessmen, taking the company from a modest 3 employees to over 1000 by 1890 (Hayes, 2013).  

But the Bell Pianos website notes something very interesting about the piano and organ industry in a quote on their website, "In 1885 Canada was exporting organs and pianos around the world. By 1985 the industry was closing."

Business was booming and W. Bell & Co. was very successful. Later, becoming The Bell Organ and Piano Co., their handmade instruments were top quality and globally exported, 50 different products sold in 30 different countries. So what happened?

In the later years of the company, outside factors affected The Bell Organ and Piano Co. in major ways. World War One began and supplies and materials were prioritised for the war, not for instrument building. Men working in the factories may have left to fight. In 1928, the The Bell Organ and Piano Co. was sold to John Dowling of Brantford and William Bell moved his focus to other ventures ("Bell Piano Newsletter", 2006). He retired and later met an untimely death in 1912. Over the next few years, the management wasn't very steady as the position switched hands many times. Then the Great Depression hit, and this caused more instability in the company. Productions stopped in 1930.

Now The Bell Organ and Piano Co. lives on as a great Canadian Industry, and here in Guelph, it's a part of our regional history.

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