349 Carlaw Avenue: Piano Man

349 Carlaw is the Barthelmes Building near the northeast corner of Carlaw and Dundas. 349 Carlaw is a very special place, built by one of Canada’s best “piano men” and if it  has any ghosts, they are probably making music — piano music. A. A. Barthelmes was one of the best builders of piano actions and constantly innovated, creating improvements to the design of his products. He built one of the most modern factories in Toronto at 349 Carlaw in 1908 to make his high quality products. At the time the building was considered an architectural wonder: one of the first 349-carlaw The Barthelmes Building still stands but with a makeover — the facade has been redone.

What is a piano action?

The piano action mechanism, or the key action mechanism, or simply the action of a piano or other musical keyboards, is the mechanical assembly which translates the depression of the keys into rapid motion of a hammer, which creates sound by striking the strings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_(piano)

The action is like the nervous system of the piano, transmitting the message mechanically so that the music happens.


The Barthelmes Building, 349 Carlaw Avenue, February 24, 1939 when Stanley Piano occupied it. Photo from the Toronto Public Library
Series 372, Subseries 58 - Road and street condition photographs
The Barthelmes Building, 349 Carlaw Avenue is on the right in the middle distance.
Goad’s Atlas, 1923. Dundas Street was not built through the East End until the mid-1950s. The Barthelmes Building sits on Block A-1, just North of the short street that will become part of Dundas Street.
This piano’s action is from Messrs. A. A. Barthelmes & Co. Image from


With over 10,000 individual parts, the action is without doubt the most complex part of the piano.




They were originally quite small and on Niagara Street, in the Bathurst/King area. They were truly pioneers.


The Canadian Patent Office Record, Vol. 18, no. 1 (Jan. 1890)


Music Trade Review, Aug. 19, 1894. From mtr.arcade-museum.com



One of Barthelmes’ designs for a piano action


Music Trade Review, Aug. 19, 1894


The Monetary Times, Vol. 32, no. 52 June 23, 1899

Piano manufacturing was a huge industry and large employer in Toronto as this list of Canadian manufacturers shows. Even very humble homes had pianos. Back then it was as much the centre of the family’s life as the hearth.



The Canadian Magazine, [VOL. 14, NO. 2 (DEC. 1899)]
The Canadian Magazine, [VOL. 14, NO. 2 (DEC. 1899)]
The Canadian Magazine, [VOL. 14, NO. 2 (DEC. 1899)]
The Canadian Magazine, [VOL. 14, NO. 2 (DEC. 1899)]

The Canadian Magazine, [VOL. 14, NO. 2 (DEC. 1899)]
The Canadian Magazine, [VOL. 14, NO. 2 (DEC. 1899)]
More pictures of the process of building a piano. The factory is that of Sherlock-Manning in London, Ontario. Barthelmes did not make pianos, but manufactured the actions and sold these to makers of fine pianos.

Canadian Woodworker and Furniture Manufacturer, Vol. 22, No. 2, Feb, 1922

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In 1907 Barthelmes purchased property on Carlaw Avenue to build a modern new factory, using state-of-the-art construction techniques and materials. It was one of the first buildings of its kind in Toronto.

Toronto Star, June 26, 1908

Permit issued to A. A. Barthelmes to build a 3-storey concrete factory, near Gerrard st., on Carlaw ave., $19,000. Toronto Star, June 26, 1908

Construction [Vol. 1, no. 9 (July 1908)]





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