LESAGE, DAMASE (baptized Damas Hardy), piano manufacturer; b. 28 March 1849 in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville (Sainte-Thérèse), Lower Canada, son of Janvier Hardy, a farmer, and Florentine Ouimet; m. there 14 May 1872 Isabella King (d. 1924), and they had 16 children, 12 of whom died in infancy; d. there 21 Sept. 1923.
The name Lesage first appeared with the fourth generation of Hardys in New France, when Rose Matte, the widow of François de Sales Hardy, married Joseph Lesage in 1754. Lesage adopted Hardy’s three sons; some of the descendants took the name of Hardy, others Lesage, or else the double name Hardy, dit Lesage. Damase Lesage himself used the name Hardy until at least 1891.
Little is known of Lesage’s life before the 1890s. At the time of his marriage in 1872, he called himself a farmer. He apparently also worked as a carpenter for the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1891, at age of 42, he set up in business with two former employees of Thomas-Ferdinand-Guildor Foisy, a piano maker who had been established in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville since 1888. With his wife’s encouragement and $10,000 derived from the sale of his farms, he invested in a firm called Canadian Piano Manufacturing, which he founded on 22 March 1892, in partnership with two cabinetmakers, Rodrigue Légaré and Joseph Desjardins. The firm built two pianos a week, which seems a good rate of production for the period. However, on 20 October Lesage was given the task of winding up the company. He decided to launch the Compagnie Canadienne de Pianos de Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville in partnership with cabinetmaker Procule Piché on 9 November; they would remain in business together for 12 years. On 1 May 1905 Lesage made his son Adélard, who had worked for the firm since its opening, a partner. In the years that followed up to 500 pianos were produced annually. The Lesages became one of the largest suppliers of pianos in the province; their clients included the Montreal firms of Charles William Lindsay, Alexander Parker Willis*, and Edmond Archambault*. In 1907, with a view to building its own instruments, the Willis Piano Company Limited acquired a majority holding in the Lesage business. This partnership does not, however, seem to have benefited the Lesages, since Adélard sold his shares to the Willis family in 1911 and set up his own company, A. Lesage, in which he was joined by his sons Jacques-Paul and Jules, and a bit later Gérard. Damase Lesage retired in 1912 and it fell to Adélard to continue his work.
Despite a difficult economic climate, the ensuing years were prosperous; the factory was enlarged twice, in 1916 and again in 1926. Moreover, within ten years, the house of Lesage acquired three other piano manufacturing companies: Craig Piano Company of Montreal in 1930, Bell Piano and Organ Company of Guelph, Ont., in 1934, and Weber Piano Company Limited of Kingston in 1939. In addition to instruments sold under its own name, the Lesage factory made pianos with the brand names of Bell, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Belmont. In 1942 the company became Lesage Pianos Limited, with Jacques-Paul Lesage as its president. In this period, the family business, with its motto “Now is the time to think positive,” had an excellent reputation both locally and on an international scale: Lesage pianos were exported to Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Europe. Fine workmanship, the most modern equipment, and the excellence of its products seem to have been the basis of the firm’s success. From the 1950s, however, the company felt the effects of foreign competition, particularly from Japan and Korea. In the 1980s the recession and the rise in interest rates caused serious problems and the owners ultimately sold the business to PSC Management, a Canadian consortium belonging to Grant Clark. Attempts were made to relaunch the product, but they failed. The firm of Lesage Pianos Limited finally closed in early 1987.
For almost a century the Lesage family made an important contribution to the piano manufacturing industry, thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of Damase Lesage. He put all his energy into the business and played little part in the political, social, or religious life of Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville, except as a churchwarden in 1903. Despite a periodically sluggish economy, the company he founded produced many fine instruments and added lustre to the piano manufacturing industry in Canada.
ANQ-M, CE606-S25, 28 mars 1849, 14 mai 1872; TP11, S2, SS20, SSS48, vol.46-o, 3 mars 1936, no.495; S22, SS20, SSS48, 16 avril 1892, no.160; 28 oct. 1892, no.180; 9 janv. 1893, no.187; 21 déc. 1904, no.188; 3 juill. 1905, no.211. L’Avenir du Nord (Saint-Jérôme, Qué.), 25 sept. 1923. J.-P. Charbonneau, “Les nouveaux propriétaires ferment les Pianos Lesage,” La Presse, 28 avril 1987. Le Devoir, 6 juin 1925. Robert Gibbens, “Lesage Pianos’ future better despite two very tough years,” Globe and Mail, 11 April 1983. Jacques Roy, “This piano-maker keys on European market,” Gazette (Montreal), 1 May 1982. La Voix des Mille-Îles (Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville [Sainte-Thérèse], Qué.), 15 août 1941. Encyclopedia of music in Canada (Kallmann et al.), 744, 1053–55. Wayne Kelly, Downright upright: a history of the Canadian piano industry (Toronto, 1991). Soc. Hist. de Sainte-Thérèse-de-Blainville, Cahiers hist.: histoire de Sainte-Thérèse ([Joliette, Qué.], 1940).