Old Favourite Songs
“And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And silently steal away.”
Thus reads the front cover of a Northern Business College music publication, Old Favorite Songs, part of Ellen Spears Collection (PF288). Quoted from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, “The Day is Done,” it reflects the life and values of NBC’s founder and president, Christopher Alexander (C.A.) Fleming (1857 – 1945).
C.A. Fleming was the eldest son of John and Margaret (Robertson) Fleming of Derby Township. In C.A. Fleming: A Biography, Dorothy Deans writes that John and Margaret were among the first settlers in the area to own a musical instrument, a large melodeon from the Bell Company of Guelph. (A melodeon is a keyboard instrument, sometimes referred to as a reed organ, which was popular as a domestic instrument in North America during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.) The family later purchased a piano as well. C.A. and his sisters, Mary Jane, Jessie Mellissa, and Ann Isabella, took lessons from Miss. Minnie Warren, a neighbour’s relative, initiating a life-long appreciation for music. As Deans describes, the family’s “chief diversion was to gather around the piano, and indulge in songs and harmonies.” C.A.’s uncle, James Fleming, was also very musical; he was an organist and the owner of a music store in Owen Sound that sold organs, pianos, and other instruments.
After C.A. moved away from the farm in Derby Township, his love of music did not stop, and his visits home often featured a sing-song with his family and neighbours. In a scrapbook on pioneer farm life in Derby Township, C.A. recounts one such evening after a bonfire: “An hour around the melodeon followed. Sister Mary, who was able to play the simple music of the songs and hymns, taught by the teacher of S.S. No. 3 and the Union Sunday School, accompanied our voices on the instrument.” The family also spent Sunday evenings around the piano where C.A. “learned to take all the parts, singing bass, tenor, or soprano.”
It comes as no surprise then, to find music books among the NBC publications. The Grey Roots Archives has two such books in the Ellen Spears Collection. Although NBC did not teach music, a College Glee Club is listed in an Annual Announcement from NBC, c.1905 – 1910. This musical association was linked with the NBC Literary Society and was likely inspired by C.A.’s time at the Hamilton Collegiate Institute in 1881 where he was part of the literary society and chorus. It is unknown whether NBC’s music books were published for the Glee Club, or if they were part of the business college’s advertising campaign.
Soon after C.A. established NBC, he also began writing business textbooks. At first, they were published by John Rutherford, an early Owen Sound printer, but by 1886, C.A. had set up his own printing press in NBC’s basement. There, he not only published textbooks, but also advertisements and other “features to attract patronage.” These “features” may well have included NBC’s music books, which were used to advertise the business college. Each book entices its readers to attend the college on the inside of its front and back covers with phrases like, “Every young man and woman should aim to make the most of life” and “Your every opportunity is waiting for you, too!”
Sold for 25 cents each, the books contain a variety of popular secular and sacred songs with simple piano accompaniment, such as “Nearer My God to Thee,” “Loch Lomond,” and “Joy to the World”. One of the books in the Ellen Spears Collection is made up almost exclusively of hymns. A member of the Church of the Disciples of Christ in Owen Sound, C.A. sang for several years in the church choir, and, near the end of his life, donated an organ to the church so that music would continue to inspire churchgoers. For him, music was integral to religious worship as long as it remained “simple and sincere and direct.” This is evident in NBC’s music publications, which also reflect his love of Scottish ballads and Christmas carols.
NBC’s music publications give us a glimpse into the personal life of a man remembered for his success as an educator and businessman. Not only the founder and president of NBC, C.A. was also involved in Real Estate development; the Owen Sound Sun-Times newspaper; Richardson, Bond & Wright; Galliver and Company, Auditors; the National Trust; and, the CFOS radio station. Amid such accomplishments, his contribution to the musical community may seem trivial, but music was an important part of C.A. Fleming’s life. As Dorothea Deans wrote, “Music added much gladness to the life of C.A. Fleming.” Once the business day was done, it was music that filled the night.
 This scrapbook is not part of the Archival Collection, but is quoted in Dorothy Deans’ biography of C.A. Fleming (PF288S1F2I8).
Sources: PF288 – Ellen Spears Collection, and AF8S1F6I20 – Fleming Family History by Lois Elizabeth McNaught