July 01, 2004

Happy Canada Day

Ottawa is the place to be on July 1, as several hundred thousand patriotic Canadians merge on Parliament Hill to party. This time of year, I wouldn't be anywhere else.

Over the years I've been online, it's been my habit to collect Canadian patriotic songs and hymns and say something about them on Canada Day. Since this is my first year with a blog, I thought I would start right at the beginning again with our national anthem, "O Canada."

"O Canada" was originally a French composition, commissioned in 1880 by the Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec. A music teacher and nationally known composer, Calixa Lavallée, composed the tune. To this was set a poem by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. The first performance of "O Canada" was on St. Jean-Baptiste Day, June 24, 1880. An English version was penned by Sir Robert Stanley Weir in 1908.

But it wasn't until July 1, 1980 that "O Canada" officially became Canada's national anthem. Both English and French versions are official. The French is:

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.

Here is my translation of the French words:

O Canada!
Land of our forefathers,
Your brow is wreathed with beautiful garlands!
Because your arm can carry the sword,
It can carry the cross!
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant endeavours.
And your valour, steeped in faith,
Will protect our homes and our rights.
Will protect our homes and our rights.

The English anthem is a slightly modified version Weir's original:

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.

Although the national anthem has official English and French lyrics, there is no official bilingual version, although frequently the two languages are blended into a single verse.

The very best renditions of "O Canada" were by the legendary Roger Doucet, who sang the national anthem for a generation of hockey fans at the Montréal Forum. Today, police constable Lyndon Slewidge is fast becoming an icon in his own right as he opens home games for the Ottawa Senators.