The National Anthem

Canada’s national anthem started out as a French song written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The music was composed by a violinist and opera composer, Calixa Lavallée. It was the year 1880 and great festivities were planned to celebrate the French culture in North America. On June 24, 1880, St. Jean-Baptiste Day, it was sung for the very first time.

The tune was catching and it wasn’t long before an English translation was made. Dr. Thomas Bedford Richardson translated it in 1901. It was quite different from what we sing today:

O Canada! Our father’s land of old.
Thy brow is crown’d with leaves of red and gold.
Beneath thy 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.

This English version did not really catch on although people still hummed the tune.  In 1908, a magazine called Collier’s Weekly held a contest to write words to go with the tune. There were lots of participants, but the winning words still didn’t strike everyone’s fancy. People sang many different versions of this song.

Finally, in 1925 with Canada’s 60th birthday coming up, it was decided to find out which was the most popular English version and publish it as part of the celebrations. It was found that a version by Robert Stanley Weir, written in 1908 stood out from the rest. It was published in 1927.

In 1980, with the passing of the National Anthem Act, it was finally decided to use this version with a few changes as the English version of Canada’s National Anthem.

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.

PROJECT: Copy out the National Anthem and put it up on your fridge for a while. It’s a great song to sing really loud! Here’s the tune. You may notice that this anthem emphasizes that Canada is a free country. What makes it free? In what way do you benefit from this freedom?

BOOKS: O Canada: our national anthem, North Wind Press, 2003 (picture book); Our Song: The Story of O Canada, the Canadian National Anthem, by Peter Kuitenbrouwer, Lobster Press, 2004 (picture book).

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