The Music of Osgoode Hall

This weekend, Osgoode Hall hosts Doors Open for the first time in three years. The theme for Doors Open this year is “City of Sound” and while music might be the last thing on your mind when you think of Osgoode Hall and the Great Library, we do have some musical connections.

There have been numerous cases heard in both the Divisional Court and the Court of Appeal housed in Osgoode Hall that are related to music, and not only those that have to do with copyright. We also have a few books in our collection that contain music, both lyrics and sheet music. We’ve selected 3 cases and 4 books from our collection to highlight in honour of Doors Open.


Composers, Authors & Publishers Assn. of Canada Ltd. v Western Fair Assn.

Heard in 1950, this case involves the copyright of two songs: Begin the Beguine1 and Tea for Two2. The two songs were played by a band during the Western Fair of 1948 in London, Ontario. The case heard before the Court of Appeal was about the motive of gain. While the Copyright Act of 1938 states that any performance without motive of gain at agricultural fairs are not an infringement of copyright, the Western Fair was accused of making money off the two songs without permission. The songs were part of the “special entertainment” of the fair, where people were charged admission to see horse races as well as vaudeville and acrobatic acts while music was continually played by bands. The case was originally dismissed by the lower courts but was appealed by the plaintiffs. The appeal was allowed and the plaintiff was awarded the nominal relief of $5.00.

R v Richards

Some of you who are Rolling Stones fans might be familiar with this next case. In February of 1977, Rolling Stones guitarist, Keith Richards, was arrested at the Harbour Castle Hotel in Toronto where he was found in possession of heroin. The subsequent criminal case caused a sensation. Conviction of heroin possession could carry as much as a seven-year prison sentence in Canada, however Justice Lloyd Graburn went in a different direction with his ruling. Noting that Richards was making efforts to get clean, Justice Graburn ordered him to play a benefits concert for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. Fans gathered outside the courtroom were ecstatic with the sentence. The show eventually took place at Oshawa’s Civic Auditorium3.

R v McLean

Our last case also involves a criminal charge against a band, but this time in terms of their explicit lyrics. McLean & McLean was a Canadian musical comedy duo. Formed by two brothers in 1972, they were known for performing rude versions of popular songs. They were charged under s. 163(2) of the Criminal Code for an immoral performance for a show they performed in Sault St. Marie in 1977. They produced 7 albums during their career with titles such as Toilet Rock, Bitter Reality, and Cruel Cuts. Their use of swearing and adult-oriented material barred their songs from being played on the radio4. If you are interested in what they sound like, check out this video (WARNING: EXPLICT LYRICS).


Duke upon duke: an excellent new play-house ballad

Our oldest example of sheet music, Duke upon Duke, was published in 1723 as a broadside pamphlet. Though the author of this ballad was originally unknown, it is now attributed to the poet Alexander Pope, who penned the famous quote “To err is human; to forgive, divine”. The sheet music that accompanies the ballad was composed by a Mr. Holdecombe. This particular ballad is loosely based on a true story of a fight between two men: Nicholas Lechmere, a Whig lawyer and politician, and a backwoodsman in the House of Commons, Sir John Guise.

While a duel most likely did not happen, these men (who were neighbours) were known to dislike each other. The poem consists of 47 ballad stanzas with puns, proverbs, bawdy language and witty innuendos5.

The Maple Leaf

The next item in our collection with sheet music is a run of children’s magazines from 1852 to 1854. Aimed at both boys and girls, the magazine stated purpose was “to elevate and improve the faculties of the mind, and soften and harmonise the affections of the heart”. The magazine published an assortment of non-fiction articles, poem and novel excerpts (most notably Uncle Tom’s Cabin), crocheting patterns, and one piece of music each month.

Canadian Folk Songs (old and new)

While the title would imply that these songs are from all over Canada, this book is actually a collection of 30 songs from the French Canadian people. Compiled and translated by J. Murray Gibbon in 1929, the book contains a mixture of chansons brought from Old France and “new” songs that reflected the life of a pioneer. Each folk song consists of two pages of sheet music, harmonized by Geoffrey O’Hara and Oscar O’Brien, followed by lyrics in both English and French.

Versions of these songs were previously published in a work by Ernest Gagnon titled Chansons Populaires du Canada, however never in English. In his preface J. Murray Gibbon states: “It was with the object of creating a better understanding of the French-Canadian character among English-speaking peoples that the translator conceived the idea of rendering the French words into singable English verse.”

Ballads and Sea Songs of Newfoundland

This collection of songs from Newfoundland, published in 1933, was collected by Elisabeth Bristol Greenleaf over a period of 10 years. She first became interested in writing down the folk songs of Newfoundland when she was a summer volunteer teacher at Dr. Wilfred Grenfell’s Mission, located in a small fishing village on the west coast of northern Newfoundland. During her two-year stay there, she collected 30 songs. She left Newfoundland and returned in the summer of 1929 with a trained musician, Grace Yarrow, who recorded the music.

Elisabeth Greenleaf notes that most of these songs were originally passed down by oral tradition and not written down. Many of the ballads and songs recorded in this volume also include a few bars of music at the beginning with the lyrics following.

If you are interested in seeing these unique items in person, come down to Osgoode Hall on Saturday. Volunteers in the library will each have one of the books featured in this blog.

More Information & References

[1] Begine the Beguine, by Cole Porter, Performed by Artie Shaw (YouTube Video)
[2] Tea for Two, Performed by Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra (YouTube Video)
[3] That time Keith Richards was ordered to play a free show. (2018, October 24). CBC Archives. Retrieved May 19, 2023, from That time Keith Richards was ordered to play a free show | CBC Archives
[4] Blair MacLean of comedy duo MacLean & MacLean dies. (2008, October 30). CBC Arts. Retrieved May 19, 2013, from Blair MacLean of comedy duo MacLean & MacLean dies | CBC News
[5] Rogers, P. (2004). Alexander Pope and “Duke upon Duke”: Satiric Context, Aims, and Means. The Modern Language Review, 99(4), 875–888.