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Canada’s National Anthem Wasn’t Always The Version We Know Today

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The Canadian National Anthem, or “O Canada” as many call it today, was originally written in Québec City by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier in French. The anthem was originally called “Chant National” and 220px-Adolphe-Basile_Routhierwas first performed on June 24, 1880 for the Saint-Jean-Baptist Day celebration, which is actually Quebec’s national holiday, not Canada’s which is July 1st. The lyrics of this original version have been amended several times, however the original French lyrics have remained the same since then. The original manuscript doesn’t exist but there are two copies of the first edition. One copy is kept in the archives of the Séminaire de Québec, and the other at the Faculty of Music at the Université de Montréal.

Original O CANADA French lyrics by Adolphe-Basile Routhier, 1880

O 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 trempe,

Protègera nos foyers et nos droits.

Protègera nos foyers et nos droits.

Verses additionnel:

Sous l’oeil de Dieu, près du fleuve géant,

Le Canadien grandit en espérant.

Il est d’une race fière,

Béni fut son berceau.

Le ciel a marqué sa carrure Dans ce monde nouveau.

Toujours guidé par sa lumière,

Il gardera l’honneur de son drapeau,

Il gardera l’honneur de son drapeau.

De son patron, précurseur du vrai Dieu,

Il porte au front l’auréole de feu.

Ennemi de la tyrannie Mais plein de loyauté.

Il veut garder dans l’harmonie,

Sa fière liberté;

Et par l’effort de son génie,

Sur notre sol asseoir la vérité.

Sur notre sol asseoir la vérité.

Amour sacré du trône et de l’autel,

Remplis nos cœurs de ton souffle immortel!

Parmi les races étrangères,

Notre guide est la loi;

Sachons être un peuple de frères,

Sous le joug de la foi.

Et répétons, comme nos pères Le cri vainqueur:

Pour le Christ et le roi, Le cri vainqueur:

Pour le Christ et le roi.

Since 1880, the national anthem has appeared in many versions.

The Richardson Version

Despite the popularity of the original national anthem spreading throughout Quebec, it was not heard in English Canada until 1901 when a group of schoolchildren in Toronto sang the anthem for a visit by the Duke of Cornwall and York, future King George V. Richardson translated two of the four verses from Routhier’s lyrics. This version was published by 1906 and sung in Massey Hall by 1907.

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.

The McCulloch Version, a lady’s touch.

Mrs. Mercy E. Powell McCulloch’s version of the national anthem was chosen the winner amongst 350 submissions in the Collier’s Weekly National Anthem competition. This competition was organized for the purpose of finding a more suitable translation of the original French text as Richardson’s literal translation was not well received in Canada.

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, thou 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.

The Buchan Version

McCulloch’s version did not gain significant popularity. Several other versions of “O Canada” were created. The Buchan version was written by Ewing Buchan, a bank manager in Vancouver, and particularly gained popularity in British Columbia after being heavily promoted by the Vancouver Canada Club.

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.

The Weir Version

Robert Stanley Weir, a well renowned lawyer in Canada who later went on to become a judge, wrote this version to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City. This particular version went on to become the most widely used. The original line “True patriot love thou dost in us command” was changed to “True patriot love in all thy sons command.” Although there is no confirmed reason for the change in lyrics, it is important to note that by 1914 and 1916 there was an enormous surge of patriotism during the First World War, at a time when only men could serve in the armed forces. Despite the wide use of Weir’s version of “O Canada”, this version was under some scrutiny due to its similar composition to Mozart’s “March of the Priests” and debates over discriminatory aspects of its lyrics such as the use of “son”.

O Canada! Our home and native land!

True patriot love thou dost in us command.

We see thee rising fair, dear land,

The True North, strong and free;

And stand on guard, O Canada,

We stand on guard for thee.

O Canada! O Canada!

O Canada! 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!

O Canada! Beneath 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!

Ruler Supreme, Who hearest humble prayer,

Hold our dominion within 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.


Finally Becoming Canada’s National Anthem

Between 1962 and 1980, more than one dozen bills proposing that “O Canada” be adopted as the official national anthem were introduced in Parliament. On 15 March 1967, the special committee, created by the Federal Government, recommended keeping the original French lyrics, but amending the existing version of Weir’s English lyrics, changing “And stand on guard, O Canada” to “From far and wide, O Canada,” and “O Canada, glorious and free” to “God keep our land, glorious and free.” By 1970, both Thompson and Weir’s descendants surrendered their rights over O Canada to the Canadian government for one dollar.

Finally, on 18 June 1980, a bill was presented by Secretary of State proposing that “O Canada” be declared Canada’s official national anthem as soon as possible. The National Anthem Act was passed unanimously by the House of Commons and the Senate on 27 June 1980, and received Royal assent the same day.

And Here’s the Latest Version (for now)

Lots of objections and proposed changes have been made over the most recent decades, from “native land” not being relevant for millions of foreign-born citizens to complaints about the “God” reference being counter to a secular, increasingly atheist populace. However, the one change that seems imminent is converting the male-specific”all thy sons command” to “all of us command” to include the, uh, 50% of non-male Canadians. This change was approved by parliament in 2016 and is still-awaiting final approval by the Canadian senate.

So, as of our 150th Birthday Party it’s a one, two, three, four...

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.

And a possible future version (courtesy of Stephen Colbert and The Late Show).


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5 thoughts on “Canada’s National Anthem Wasn’t Always The Version We Know Today


    Our national anthem is just fine the way it is don”t mess with it

  2. Albert Howard

    If we are to continue this bleat of patriotic nationalism, at least let’s get rid of the references to imaginary beings. There is the de-gendering of our”son’s”, now lets secularize the anthem in respect of rationality and critical thinking.

  3. Brian Yeomans

    i like the national athem the way it use to be back in the 60s not the two times its been change.i wasnt offend by it .stop changing our natinoal athem . why dont we spell canada with a k instead of a C.

  4. Kathy Basque

    Our national anthem doesn’t need to be changed. . I’m proud to be Canadian. You don’t see the USA changing their anthem. They need to put their put down and say enough is enough. Changing the flag is another issue. If you don’t like that you are Canadian then leave.

  5. Georges Mainville

    Regardless of how many changes and tweaks our national anthem suffers, there will be disgruntled people. So why not keep the original words and sing it proudly,


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