The treble viol and much of the music in the colony originally came from France.

At that time, the viol and other stringed instruments were owned mostly by the aristocracy. They were both taught and played in New France. The viol is an ancestor of the violin and the viola. The treble viol was one of the most prestigious of the bowed string instruments.

After the Seven Years War, when the British took control of New France, most of the French nobility went back to Europe, taking with them all of their prized possessions such as paintings and musical instruments.

Although this viol would have been considered a prized possession, it was somehow left behind.

Most of the habitants (farmers) and voyageurs (fur-traders) also stayed in Canada. Together they greatly contributed to the musical traditions not only of Lower Canada (now Quebec) but of all of Canada.

Out of the musical culture of New France was born the music and lyrics of our national anthem ‘Oh Canada’. The music was written by Calixa Lavalée, and Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier wrote the original French lyrics. Both men were born in Lower Canada.

More information about this ROM artifact:

Small viols like this one sit in the musician’s lap; larger ones are held between the knees like a cello.

The viol has several distinguishing characteristics, the most important being the flat back, rounded belly, and frets on the fingerboard.

In 1860, ten viols were found in an underground basement in Quebec where they had been stored and forgotten. Five of them were in good condition. They are the only French instruments to have survived from this period of history in Canada. Of those five, one was given to a blind girl who traded it for a small violin. This viol passed through many other hands until 1913, when Roch Lyonnais sold it to Williams & Sons (music merchants in Toronto). This is the treble viol that is now at the ROM.

Three of the other four viols are now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
Royal Ontario Museum
c. 1700
© 2006, Royal Ontario Museum. All Rights Reserved.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans