The EMI Music Canada Exhibit

Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural resources at U of C.

Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural
resources at U of C. Photo by Riley Brandt.

The University of Calgary’s Archives & Special Collections preserves the EMI Music Canada archive. The Virtual Exhibit highlights numerous items from this important collection that was given to the university by Universal Music Canada which has acquired EMI in 2012. So let’s take a look at what The EMI Music Canada Exhibit is all about.

The collection is a goldmine of Canadian Music history. The EMI Music Canada Archive is packed with historic material from the company’s 63-year history.

The history of EMI Music Canada goes back to its beginnings in 1949 when Capitol Records Canada, under the wings of EMI started music production and distribution in Canada.

The EMI collection contains numerous early ’60s and ’70s studio recording, demo tapes, video music tapes, posters, photographs, record and music awards, as well as artwork for record covers, marketing plans, publicity material, and studio master tapes from a few of the label’s most famous Canadian performers like Tom Cochrane, Anne Murray, Helix, Glass Tiger, and The Rankin Family.

EMI Music Canada was among the most active and successful record labels ever in Canada from the early 1960s on. The company fostered a domestic Canadian world of music and was also the major distributor of international music productions. The label was operational in Canada for more than 60 years and was continually playing an integral role in the success and growth of popular music in Canada, especially in the pop, folk, and rock genres.

EMI Music Canada played a crucial role in the development and success of quite a few notable Canadian performers and artists including Beau Dommage, Susan Aglukark, Tom Cochrane, Edward Bear, Stompin’ Tom Connors, Glass Tiger, k-os, Helix, John McDermott, Moist, Rita MacNeil, Anne Murray, The Rankin Family, Nickelback, David Wilcox, and The Tea Party. The EMI archive is a perfectly preserved witness of those times.

EMI Music Canada started out in 1949 with the establishment of Capitol Records of Canada in London, Ontario byJohnny Downs, Lockwood Miller and Ken Kerr, The label initially only was distributing music recordings produced by the American parent company Capitol Records.  British music label EMI acquired Capitol Records in 1955 and around the mid-1960s, the massive success of The Beatles made that the label controlled over forty percent of the Canadian market in those days.

It wasn’t long before Capitol Records Canada became the nation’s largest supplier of Canadian-based recording artists and it became the most important distributor of international artists in Canada. In 1966, Capitol-EMI Canada started an A&R operation in Montreal that later signed great Quebec performing artists such as Beau Dommage, Pierre Lalonde, Suzanne Stevens, and Les Cailloux. Capitol Records Canada promoted domestic talent under the 1970 campaign “Sounds Canadian” that became successful after Capitol-EMI Canada’s signings of Canadian artists like Edward Bear and Anne Murray.

The massive success of EMI Music Canada can no better be demonstrated than in the countless gold and platinum awards that the label’s artists received through the years, including an 8 times platinum award for the album  Mad Mad World, from Tom Cochrane. This album is among just a few recordings by Canadian artists to reach over one million sales in Canada that led to diamond status.  The collection additionally includes platinum music awards received by Gath Brooks, Anne Murray, Red Rider, Iron Maiden, Glass Tiger, and Beastie Boys.  There also are fantastic photographs showing the celebrations that came with the award presentations.