The National Anthem of Canada


Official Lyrics of O Canada!

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!

From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.


The History of the National Anthem

Summary

"O Canada" was proclaimed Canada's national anthem on July 1, 1980, 100 years after it was first sung on June 24, 1880. The music was composed by Calixa Lavallée, a well-known composer; French lyrics to accompany the music were written by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The song gained steadily in popularity. Many English versions have appeared over the years. The version on which the official English lyrics are based was written in 1908 by Mr. Justice Robert Stanley Weir. The official English version includes changes recommended in 1968 by a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons. The French lyrics remain unaltered.



Full History of "O Canada"

Many people think of Calixa Lavallée as an obscure music teacher who dashed off a patriotic song in a moment of inspiration. The truth is quite different. Lavallée was, in fact, known as "Canada's national musician" and it was on this account that he was asked to compose the music for a poem written by Judge Adolphe-Basile Routhier.

The occasion was the "Congrès national des Canadiens-Français" in 1880, which was being held at the same time as the St. Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations.

There had been some thought of holding a competition for a national hymn to have its first performance on St. Jean-Baptiste Day, June 24, but by January the committee in charge decided there was not enough time, so the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, the Honourable Théodore Robitaille, commissioned Judge Routhier to write a hymn and Lavallée to compose the tune. Lavallée made a number of drafts before the tune we know was greeted with enthusiasm by his musical friends. It is said that in the excitement of success Lavallée rushed to show his music to the Lieutenant Governor without even stopping to sign the manuscript.

The first performance took place on June 24, 1880 at a banquet in the "Pavillon des Patineurs" in Quebec City as the climax of a "Mosaïque sur des airs populaires canadiens" arranged by JosephVézina, a prominent composer and bandmaster.

Although this first performance of "O Canada" with Routhier's French words was well received on the evening, it does not seem to have made a lasting impression at that time. Arthur Lavigne, a Quebec musician and music dealer, published it without copyright but there was no rush to reprint. Lavallée's obit in 1891 doesn't mention it among his accomplishments, nor does a biography of Judge Routhier published in 1898. French Canada is represented in the 1887 edition of the University of Toronto song book by "Vive la canadienne", "A la claire fontaine" and "Un canadien errant".

English Canada in general probably first heard "O Canada" when school children sang it when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary) toured Canada in 1901. Five years later Whaley and Royce in Toronto published the music with the French text and a translation into English made by Dr. Thomas Bedford Richardson, a Toronto doctor. The Mendelssohn Choir used the Richardson lyrics in one of their performances about this time and Judge Routhier and the French press complimented the author.

  1. Richardson version:

    O Canada! Our fathers' land of old
    Thy brow is crown'd with leaves of red and gold.
    Beneath the shade of the Holy Cross
    Thy children own their birth
    No stains thy glorious annals gloss
    Since valour shield thy hearth.
    Almighty God! On thee we call
    Defend our rights, forfend this nation's thrall,
    Defend our rights, forfend this nation's thrall.

In 1908 Collier's Weekly inaugurated its Canadian edition with a competition for an English text to Lavallée's music. It was won by Mercy E. Powell McCulloch, but her version did not take.

  1. McCulloch version :

    O Canada! in praise of thee we sing;
    From echoing hills our anthems proudly ring.
    With fertile plains and mountains grand
    With lakes and rivers clear,
    Eternal beauty, thos dost stand
    Throughout the changing year.
    Lord God of Hosts! We now implore
    Bless our dear land this day and evermore,
    Bless our dear land this day and evermore.

Since then many English versions have been written for "O Canada". Poet Wilfred Campbell wrote one. So did Augustus Bridle, Toronto critic. Some were written for the 1908 tercentenary of Quebec City. One version became popular in British Columbia...

  1. Buchan version:

    O Canada, our heritage, our love
    Thy worth we praise all other lands above.
    From sea to sea throughout their length
    From Pole to borderland,
    At Britain's side, whate'er betide
    Unflinchingly we'll stand
    With hearts we sing, "God save the King",
    Guide then one Empire wide, do we implore,
    And prosper Canada from shore to shore.

However the version that gained the widest currency was made in 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir, a lawyer and at the time Recorder of the City of Montréal. This is the version which was published in an official form for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927, and has since been generally accepted in English speaking Canada.

  1. Weir version:

    O Canada! Our home and native land
    True patriot love in all thy sons command.
    With glowing hearts we see thee rise
    The True North strong and free!
    And stand on guard, O Canada
    We stand on guard for thee.
    O Canada, glorious and free,
    We stand on guard, we stand on guard for thee.
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!

Many musicians have made arrangements of "O Canada" but there appears to be a scarcity of recordings suitable for various purposes.

 


Calixa Lavallée

Calixa Lavallée was a "canadien errant", a man who left his country for greener fields, but who nevertheless loved Canada and returned to it, returned with a reputation well earned in the United States and France to become the "national musician" of Canada. He was, in his time, a composer of operettas, at least one symphony, various occasional pieces and songs; he was a pianist and organist of considerable note and he was a teacher who wanted to found the first Canadian Conservatory.

The famous Canadian choral conductor Augustus Stephen Volt said of him: "I became acquainted with Lavallée in the 80's of the last century, when I was in Boston as a student of music, and he impressed me as a man of extraordinary ability - not merely as a clever executant of the piano, and not merely as an adroit deviser of pretty melodies and sensuous harmonies, but as a genuinely creative artist, a pure musical genius".

Calixa Lavallée was born in Verchères, Lower Canada, on December 28, 1842, the son of Augustin Lavallée, a woodcutter and blacksmith, who became an instrument repairman, bandleader and music teacher. Later when the family moved to St-Hyacinthe, the father worked for the famous organ-builder Joseph Casavant and led the town band. Calixa showed talent early and played the organ in the cathedral at the age of eleven. Two years later he gave a piano recital at the Théâtre Royal in Montréal.

In Montréal Lavallée met Léon Derome, a butcher who loved music. He became Lavallée's lifelong patron and friend, often coming to his aid in bad times.

About this time, Calixa tired of regular lessons and left Montréal to try his luck in the United States. In New Orleans, he won a competition which in turn won him a job as accompanist to the famous Spanish violinist Olivera. After touring with Olivera in Brazil and the West Indies, Lavallée joined the Northern army during the American Civil War.

Leaving the U.S. army as a lieutenant, Lavallée returned to Montréal where he gave piano lessons and played cornet in a theatre orchestra.

In 1865 he returned to the United States to teach and give a series of concert tours. He married and began to work with Arnold de Thiers, with whom he composed a comic opera called "Loulou". The night before its first performance, the owner of the opera house was shot and the theatre closed. Lavallée, who had been conductor and artistic director of the theatre, the New York Grand Opera House, found himself out of a job.

He returned to Montréal in 1872 to a warm welcome from his friends, and had soon setup a studio with Jehin Prume and Rosita del Vecchio, well-known musicians. Success in Montréal brought him the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, to continue his musical education in Paris. A group of friends led by Derome made him a monthly allowance while he studied with Bazin, Boieldieu and Marmontel. A Lavallée symphony was performed by a Paris orchestra in 1874 and his teachers predicted a great future for him.

Lavallée decided to devote his life to the establishment of a conservatory in Canada. To prove that talent existed, he mounted a Gounod drama with an all-Canadian cast of 80. The venture was a great success and Lavallée had high hopes of interesting the government in his idea. But although the public responded warmly to his productions, official quarters gave nothing but vague promises.

It was during this Quebec period, in 1880 that Lavallée composed the music of "O Canada" for the "Congrès national des Canadiens-Français". But he could see nothing ahead but routine teaching and playing, so once again he took off for the United States.

Things took a turn for the better. He was appointed an organist and choirmaster; he toured with the famous Hungarian soprano Etelka Gerster; he increased his composing. many of his works were performed including "Tiq", a "melodramatic musical satire" on the Indian question and his comic opera "The Widow". As a member of the Music Teachers' National Association, he organized a number of very successful concerts, and finally, in 1887, was elected president.

In 1888 Lavallée represented the professional musicians of America in London and introduced American compositions in London where the Lord Mayor gave a dinner in his honour.

Lavallée's health had been poor for some years and after his return to Boston became much worse. By the autumn of 1890 he was bedridden and in financial straits. He died on January 21, 1891, at the age of 49, leaving some 60 works, only about half of which have been found.

Lavallée was buried near Boston but his body was brought back to Canada in 1933 and now rests in Montréal Cemetery Côte-des- Neiges.

 


Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier

Adolphe Routhier (1839-1920) was born in Saint-Placide (Lower Canada). He was a distinguished lawyer who, like many members of his profession, was active in the community life of both his profession and his co-religionists. He was appointed a judge in 1873 and was a founding member of the Royal Society of Canada. He was probably better known as a poet than as a judge, and it was natural that the Honourable Théodore Robitaille, Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, should turn to him to write the words of a hymn for the great "Congrès national des Canadians- Français" in 1880. Since Routhier was president of the Congress at the time, a happier choice could hardly have been made. His poem for "O Canada!" was widely praised on its first presentation.

Routhier who wrote under the name of Jean Piquefort, was later Chief Justice of Quebec until his retirement from the Bench in 1906.

 


The Honourable Robert Stanley Weir

Robert Stanley Weir (1856-1926) was born in Hamilton, in what was then Upper Canada. He took all his higher education in Montreal, and was qualified for both teaching and the law. He chose law and rose rapidly in the profession, becoming in due course, like Routhier, a judge first as Recorder of the City of Montréal and later to the Exchequer Court of Canada (now the Federal Court of Canada). He wrote both learned legal works and poetry, and his fame as a writer won him election as a Fellow of the Royal Society which Routhier had helped found.

Weir had been a member of the Quebec Legislative Assembly for Argenteuil from 1903 to 1910, during which period he served in the Parent and Gouin Ministries as Minister without portfolio, Minister of Public Works or Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

 


Parliamentary Action

By the time the World War broke out in 1914, "O Canada" was the best known patriotic song in Canada, edging out "The Maple leaf Forever" and others less well-known today.

1924 - The association of Canadian Clubs passed a unanimous resolution recommending the Weir version as suitable for use at Club meetings.
Since then the I.O.D.E. and the Canadian Authors Association have endorsed it and in 1958 the Native Sons of Canada found in favour of it.

1927 - An official version of "O Canada" was authorized for singing in Canadian schools and for use at public functions.

1942 - July 27. The Prime Minister, the Right Honourable William Lyon Mackenzie King, was asked if he did not think this an appropriate time for proclaiming a national anthem. He replied that "There are times and seasons for all things and this time of war when there are other more important questions with which parliament has to deal, we might well continue to follow what has become the custom in Canada in recent years of regarding "God Save The King" and "O Canada" each as national anthems and entitled to similar recognition." He said further that this was his opinion, his government's opinion and he had no doubt it was the opinion of most people in the country.
Some years later, his successor as Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Louis St-Laurent made a similar statement.

1964 - A government resolution authorized the formation of a special joint committee to consider the status of "God Save The Queen" and "O Canada".

1966 - January 31. The Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, placed a notice of motion on the order paper "That the government be authorized to take such steps as may be necessary to provide that "O Canada" shall be the National Anthem of Canada while "God Save The Queen" shall be the Royal Anthem of Canada.

1967 - March 15. The special joint committee "unanimously recommends that the government be authorized to adopt forthwith the music for "O Canada" composed by Calixa Lavallée as the music of the National Anthem of Canada with the following notation added to the sheet music: With dignity, not too slowly.

"God Save The Queen" was found to be in the public domain as the Royal Anthem of Canada, but for "O Canada" the committee deemed it "essential to take such steps as necessary to appropriate the copyright to the music providing that it shall belong to Her Majesty in right of Canada for all time. This provision would also include that no other person shall be entitled to copyright in the music or any arrangements or adaptations thereof."

The committee recommended further study of the lyrics. It discarded an otherwise acceptable bilingual version as being difficult for other ethnic groups in Canada to accept. It suggested keeping the original French version and using the Weir English version with minor changes - that is replacing two of the "Stand on guard" phrases with "From far and wide" and "God keep our land".

There was no trouble with the music copyright which had by now descended to Gordon V. Thompson. They were willing to sell for $1, but the heirs of Judge Weir objected to the changes in the original version. Since Judge Weir died in 1926, the Weir version would not come into public domain until 1976. There was some doubt that the Weir family had legal grounds for objection since Thompson's apparently held copyright on both music and English words. However the committee preferred to settle the matter amicably if at all possible. The Government acquired the rights from G.V. Thompson in 1970.

  1. The version recommended by the committee:
    O Canada! our home and native land!
    True patriot love in all thy sons command.
    With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
    The True North strong and free!
    From far and wide, O Canada,
    We stand on guard for thee.
    God keep our land glorious and free!
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

1972 - February 28 - The Secretary of State of Canada, the Honourable Gérard Pelletier, presented a bill in the House of Commons proposing the adoption of "O Canada" as the National Anthem of Canada. The recommendations of the 1967 study in Parliament are incorporated in the bill, which did not receive further study in Parliament and died on the order paper. The same legislation was reintroduced by Mr. Pelletier's successors at further sessions of Parliament; no action was ever taken.

1980 - June 18 - The Secretary of State of Canada, the Honourable Francis Fox, presented a bill, similar to previously presented bills on "O Canada", fulfilling a promise made earlier in the House that "O Canada" be proclaimed as Canada's national anthem as soon as possible in this year of the centenary of the first rendition. The bill was unanimously accepted by the House of Commons and the Senate on June 27; Royal assent was given the same day.

July 1 - The Governor General, His Excellency the Right Honourable Edward Schreyer, proclaimed the Act respecting the National Anthem of Canada, thus making "O Canada" an official symbol of the country. A public ceremony was held at noon on Parliament Hill in front of thousands of Canadians. Descendants of Weir and Routhier were on the official platform, as well as the successor of Robitaille, the Honourable Jean-Pierre Côté.


Original Poem by Weir

Originally "O Canada" was a patriotic poem by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier, a Quebec judge. Calixa Lavallée, the well-known Canadian composer, was commissioned to set it to music, and it was first sung in 1880 during a national convention of French Canadians in Quebec City. Many English versions have appeared, but the one which was widely accepted was written in 1908 by another judge, R. Stanley Weir, in honour of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. It was also published in an official form at the time of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927 and during the Royal visit of 1939. A slightly modified version of the first verse of Weir's poem was proclaimed as Canada's national anthem in 1980.

  1. O Canada! Our home and native land!
    True patriot love in all thy sons command.
    With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
    The True North, strong and free!
    And stand on guard, O Canada,
    We stand on guard for thee.

    Refrain
    O Canada, glorious and free!
    We stand on guard, we stand on guard for thee.
    O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!

    O Canada! Where pines and maples grow.
    Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.
    How dear to us thy broad domain,
    From East to Western Sea,
    Thou land of hope for all who toil!
    Thou True North, strong and free!

    Refrain
    O Canada, glorious and free! etc.

    O Canada! Beneth thy shining skies
    May stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise,
    To keep thee steadfast through the years
    From East to Western Sea,
    Our own beloved native land!
    Our True North, strong and free!

    Refrain
    O Canada, glorious and free! etc.

    Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
    Hold our dominion whithin thy loving care;
    Help us to find, O God, in thee
    A lasting, rich reward,
    As waiting for the Better Day,
    We ever stand on guard.

    Refrain
    O Canada, glorious and free! etc

 


English Translation of Routhier's Version

  1. O Canada! Land of our forefathers
    Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.
    As in thy arm ready to wield the sword,
    So also is it ready to carry the cross.
    Thy history is an epic of the most brilliant exploits.

    Ch.
    Thy valour steeped in faith
    Will protect our homes and our rights
    Will protect our homes and our rights.