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Canadian Music Timeline

Innovators. Renegades. Pioneers. Canadian musicians have long punched above their weight both at home and internationally. The history of music in our country is filled with bold and surprising moments. Here are some of them.


Canada Mosaic


Drake releases his
fourth studio album, Views


Yannick Nézet-Séguin named Music Director of the Metropolitan Opera


Tanya Tagaq wins the Polaris Music Prize


Mychael Danna wins an Oscar and Golden Globe for Life of Pi score


Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts opens in Toronto

Under the leadership of Canadian Opera Company general director Richard Bradshaw, the hall opens to great acclaim. The first full performances were the first Canadian productions of Wagner's epic Ring cycle.


Howard Cable appointed member of the Order of Canada

His remarkable career spanned over 70 years, working with everyone from Canadian Brass to Sharon, Lois & Bram and producing shows for Expo 67 and the Canadian National Exhibition.


Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” wins two GRAMMY® Awards


Lilith Fair goes on tour

It was the most successful all-female touring music festival in history. Spearheaded by Sarah McLachlan, it included Canadian stars like Diana Krall, Chantal Kreviazuk, and Nelly Furtado.


Canadian women dominate the GRAMMY® Awards

Seven awards were won by Joni Mitchell, Shania Twain, and Alanis Morissette, whose Jagged Little Pill is among the best-selling albums of all time.


Angela Hewitt wins Toronto International Bach Competition

A Canadian star is introduced to the world. The young pianist dazzled the international jury with her sensitive Bach performances. She came out on top, winning a record deal, international tour, and cash prize.


Leonard Cohen releases “Hallelujah”


Claude Vivier murdered in Paris

Vivier was one of the most imaginative and successful Canadian composers, whose nearly 50 compositions are noteworthy for their expressive intensity and often exotic beauty. His life came to a tragic end when he was stabbed by a prostitute. By his side, his final work-in-progress ended with the chilling line: "Then he removed a dagger from his jacket and stabbed me through the heart."


The Tragically Hip forms in Kingston

After over three decades of recording and touring, the band performed its final concert in August 2016 in Kingston.


Rush releases Moving Pictures


“O Canada” becomes official national anthem

It was written 100 hundred years earlier as a "chant national" and was the de facto anthem until decades of legislative attempts culminated with the official proclamation and Royal Assent in 1980.


Healey Willan & Emma Albani become first Canadian musicians featured on a Canada Post stamp


National Film Board releases Log Driver’s Waltz

The popular short features the voices of Kate & Anna McGarrigle and is Canadian as maple syrup.


TSO becomes the first Canadian orchestra to tour China after the Cultural Revolution

Soloists Maureen Forrester and Louis Lortie joined Sir Andrew Davis on a landmark cultural exchange.


Joni Mitchell releases Blue


R. Murray Schafer composes No Longer Than 10 Minutes

It was the composer’s witty response to a special request from the TSO. Schafer is best known for his work in acoustic ecology through his World Soundscape Project and landmark book, The Tuning of the World.


Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” is certified gold by the RIAA


The Guess Who releases “American Woman”

The Winnipeg rock group becomes the first Canadian-based band to reach the No. 1 position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the USA.


Ottawa’s Paul Anka pens “My Way” for Frank Sinatra


Robert Charlebois releases “Lindberg”

One of Montreal's most iconic artists, Charlebois had an enormous influence on a generation of young Quebecers. This single, which made waves both at home and overseas, is among the first examples of psychedelic rock in Quebec.


Anne of Green Gables–The Musical opens in PEI


Buffy Sainte-Marie releases “Universal Soldier”


Glenn Gould’s final public concert

He was a genius, innovator, and international superstar. The legendary Canadian pianist had a rare gift for captivating the world with recordings and performances that were distinctly original. But the concert hall wasn't for him. "I detest audiences," confessed Gould. His final public performance took place in Los Angeles before turning his attention to the recording studio.


Oscar Peterson writes “Hymn To Freedom”

It became a crusade song of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr., and is frequently performed by choirs worldwide.


The rise of Canadian female composers

Women played an increasingly important part in Canadian musical life in the 1960s. Composers including Violet Archer, Barbara Pentland, and Ann Southam held key university posts and received commissions from major institutions across the country. Says Archer: “I was so deeply involved in making music that I couldn’t spend time worrying about not being a man.”


Newfoundland joins Confederation

The new province brought a rich culture of Irish and Celtic-inspired traditional music and storytelling.


Hugh Le Caine invents the “electronic sackbut”

Le Caine, the Canadian hero of electronic music, built the world’s first voltage-controlled synthesizer using a tiny desk.


10-year-old André Mathieu of Montreal performs his own composition in Paris

One critic exclaimed, “I declare that at the same age Mozart had written nothing comparable."


John Weinzweig writes Canada’s first twelve-tone composition

It was a bold move. In his Suite for Piano No. 1, Weinzweig was among the first Canadian composers to experiment with serialism. He fought to have it taught at The Royal Conservatory and succeeded, introducing an entire generation of Canadian composers to a new musical language.


Claude Champagne returns to Montreal

After rubbing shoulders with Paul Dukas and Vincent D’Indy in Paris, Champagne returned to Montreal to teach and compose. He trained the next generation of Canadian composers and became one of the most well-known composers in the country.


Toronto Symphony Orchestra forms

The New Symphony Orchestra under the Viennese-born conductor Luigi von Kunits gives its first concert on April 23. It is the successor to Frank Welsman's Toronto Symphony Orchestra, which was formed in 1906 but disbanded in 1918 due to the First World War. In 1927, the New Symphony Orchestra inherits the charter from Welsman's orchestra and is renamed the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.


Robert Nathaniel Dett writes essay “The Emancipation of Negro Music”

The Canadian-born composer and performer won the prestigious Bowdoin Prize from Harvard University for his groundbreaking thesis.


Sir Ernest MacMillan earns Oxford doctorate while interned as prisoner of war

While studying in Europe during WWI, he was interned for nearly five years as a prisoner of war in Germany. He became de facto music director at the Ruhleben internment camp, and led performances using parts he transcribed himself. In addition, he gave lecture performances and composed works that led to the Oxford degree. Upon returning to Canada he worked as an organist and choirmaster, and was TSO Music Director for over two decades.


Oldest orchestra in Canada formed

The oldest orchestra in Canada is the Société symphonique de Québec, which changed its name to Orchestre symphonique de Québec in 1942.


Canadian piano boom begins

Canadian pianos earned a reputation for being strongly built to withstand harsh climates. As the population grew and prospered, more Canadians wanted pianos in their homes. The industry employed 5,000 people, and produced tens of thousands of instruments each year during the next quarter century. During WWI, Canadian women rolled up their sleeves and worked in the factories, earning the same wages as the men.


Alexander Muir writes “Maple Leaf Forever”



Music-making in Canada began long before the Confederation papers were signed. Early settlers from England and France brought along their traditions, but soon new customs were born. From rowdy English country dances to military bands performing at stately balls, coffee-house concerts to amateur church choirs, music was an important part of day-to-day life as a Canadian. Meanwhile, Aboriginal peoples have performed music socially and ceremonially for centuries.