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MHS Centennial Business: J. J. H. McLean

John Joseph Harry McLean had the vision to see opportunity when he opened his first store featuring pianos, organs, other musical instruments and sewing machines in boomtown Winnipeg at the corner of King Street and Market in 1881. After he died in 1903, his widow sold the store to businessman Ross Kelly and Redmond who retained the original name, J.J.H. McLean. Louis Redmond joined his father in the company and helped it develop and grow until 1972. Peter Redmond married a great granddaughter of the founder and their two daughters are fourth generation descendants of both J.J.H. McLean and Joseph Redmond and they have been involved in the family business.

During the period between 1903 and 1991 the store occupied several locations including the site of the current City Hall complex, Portage and Hargrave the site of the old Dayton's store, the Time building on Portage Avenue, Edmonton and Graham, and since 1991 957 Portage Avenue near Lipton Street.

During the 1920s and 1930s pianos were manufactured in Kingston for the Winnipeg store and were labelled, appropriately enough, Kelmonross (for Kelly, Redmond and Ross). The company survived the depression by renting pianos at $8.00 per month.

In 1954 a disastrous fire destroyed the Time Building forcing the McLean store and about 100 other businesses to find other premises. The company had just become the agent for Hammond organs. Fortunately, the first shipment arrived the day after the fire. Unfortunately, the two new Heintzman concert grand pianos destined for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were destroyed. An antique piano believed to be the oldest in North America survived the fire. It had been acquired by J.J.H. McLean about 1900, and had been brought to the USA from London in 1770 by the John Jacob Astor family. Also lost in the fire and in another fire in 1972 were early records prior to 1900. However, a company ad in the Manitoba Morning Free Press dated November 1, 1900 established that J.J.H. McLean was in business more than 100 years ago.

Today the company is owned and managed by Len Mark and David Deane, who have served since 1960 and 1987 respectively, in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and trust. Bramwell Tovey referred to them as special people and to the company as one of the ten best things he liked about Winnipeg. The employees are dedicated and much more like a family than a business. In today's business climate that says a lot. It is as much community-oriented as commercial and sells happiness in addition to pianos and organs. Its clientele ranges from great artists to families and their children learning to play.

A piano hand-made by Theodor Heintzman in 1858 is owned and was restored by J.J.H. McLean and is on loan to the Costume Museum of Canada in Dugald, Manitoba. Early in the 20th century, the company provided Heintzman grand pianos to Paderewski, Rachmaninoff and other great artists for their appearances in Winnipeg. In 1977, J.J.H. McLean became the first independent music dealer in western Canada to be appointed as representative of the world-recognized Steinway and Sons. It also handles several other famous brands.

J.J.H. McLean and Company enjoys an ongoing relationship with the University of Manitoba School of Music, Manitoba Conservatory of Music and Arts, and the Canadian Mennonite University. The store has a fine archive of memorabilia on display and I urge you to visit it. It is reassuring that even in today's fast-paced world we still have a business spanning three centuries, where hand-crafted pianos can be restored and serviced. Today, the company's concert grand is the official piano of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.

An MHS Centennial Business Award was presented by Sam Loschiavo in January 2002.

Page revised: 15 May 2011

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