Canada National Anthem

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Anthem History

"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 Canadians-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 Joseph Vézina, 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.

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.

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...

Buchan version:

O Canada, our heritage, our love

Thy worth we praise all other lands above.

From sea to see 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. A slightly modified version of the 1908 poem was published in an official form for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927, and has since been generally accepted in English speaking Canada. Following further minor amendments, the first verse of Weir's poem was proclaimed as Canada's national anthem in 1980. The version adopted pursuant to the National Anthem Act in 1980 reads as follows:

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.

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 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, Canada East, 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 townband. 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 set up a studio with Jehin Prume and Rositadel 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".

In 2018, The Canadian National Anthem was adapted and officially changed "thy sons" to "of us" to make it gender neutral.

Anthem Lyrics

Ô Canada! Terre de nos aïeux,

Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!

Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,

Il sait porter la croix!

Ton histoire est une épopée

Des plus brillants exploits.

Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,

Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

Anthem Lyrics English

Official Lyrics of O Canada!

O Canada!

Our home and native land!

True patriot love in all of us 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.

Canada Flag

Canada Flag

Flag History The maple leaf has been the symbol of Canada since at least the middle of the 19th century.
Flag Date of Adoption 22 October 1964
Flag Symbolism Two vertical bands of red (hoist and fly side, half width), with white square between them; an 11-pointed red maple leaf is centered in the white square; the official colors of Canada are red and white

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