The birth of Canada as a Dominion happened in 1867.
One of the ways that French-speaking Canadians in Quebec sought to hold on to their identity was through their annual Fete Nationale celebrations which was celebrated as St. Jean Baptiste Day. As a young nation with competing English-language and French-language customs, God Save the Queen and The Maple Leaf Forever were the ‘unofficial’ anthems of English Canada while the Chant National of 1880 (written by Routhier) was Quebec’s ‘unofficial’ anthem.
As a ‘Transplanted Canadian’ knowing about Quebec’s longstanding desire to be recognized as unique and special, I listened to The Maple Leaf Forever for the first time ever, while writing this article. I can see why the words would rub any Sovereigntist Quebecois the wrong way in those early days, so they would not want to sing THAT as a National Anthem. But the Freedom Convoy of 2022 proved that Sovereignty without Freedom rings very hollow. Quebecois, like any other Canadian want to live in freedom first. But I digress.
In 1901, a group of school children sang ‘O Canada’ for the visiting Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (then King George V and Queen Mary). It appears that this was the first time the song was performed outside of Quebec. In 1906, a company in Toronto (Whaley and Royce) published the music with the FIRST English translation by Thomas Bedford Richardson.
By 1908, it became standard procedure to sing it in French Catholic Schools, at official ceremonies, and was closely associated within francophone Quebec. In fact, it was performed for Quebec City’s 300th-anniversary celebrations. Also in 1908, in English Canada, the magazine ‘Collier’s Weekly’ held a competition to write new English lyrics for O Canada. The prevailing thought was, ‘Why not have an English version of what had become a patriotic version of this French Canadian song? After all, it had already been sung for 28 years’.
In 1908, a Montreal lawyer, judge and poet – Robert Stanley Weir – wrote an English version of the Chant National that gained popular traction. He was born in Hamilton but moved to Montreal in his youth, where he studied law at McGill University. In 1913, Weir changed the words ‘thou dost in us command’ which was in his 1908 version to, ‘in all thy sons command’. He made revisions in 1913, 1914 and 1916 before dying in 1926.
Research shows that his descendants are not too happy with the tinkering that is happening to the words of ‘O Canada’ by the woke crowd among us.
Weir’s Version of ‘O Canada’
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.
Verse 2: 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!
Verse 3: 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!
That 4th Verse…
Remember that convention I went to in 2005? That was the first place I heard this 4th verse. Christianity in Canada (in terms of the major Christian denominations) was still practiced by over 50% of the population, especially in terms of being devout in Sunday worship and the disciplines of prayer and Bible study.
The 1926 version which added the 4th verse of a more religious nature, became the popular version sung. By 1927, the slightly modified version was sung for the nation’s Diamond Jubilee of Confederation.
Verse 4: “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.”
It is said that this version was played at the dedication of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in 1936 when King Edward stood at attention for its playing. In 1939, King George also stood at attention for its playing at the dedication of the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
In 1980, a Parliamentary Committee successfully sought to make it the official national anthem. With a few minor changes and the acquisition of the copyright, an Act of Parliament approved Weir’s last version. This decision received royal assent to become effective on the next Dominion Day of July 1st, 1980. The French lyrics have remained unchanged from its original version.
… that our national anthem (Quebec’s Chant National) was first written primarily for a Quebec celebration.
… that the approved English version was also written by a Quebecer from Montreal – Robert Stanley Weir.
… that Quebec’s sense of national pride sprang from a desire to be blessed by God under His all-seeing eye.
… that the hope was for their sons and daughters to be enemies of tyranny and loyal people, grounded in knowledge of the truth.
…that the phrase ‘sacred love for the throne and the altar’ suggests a recognition of the priestly and kingly roles of Christ.
… that the desire was for God to fill their hearts with His ‘immortal breath’ or the Holy Spirit.
… it appears that their prayer was for the law of God to guide them, under the ‘yoke of faith’ to true brotherhood.
… that their victory cry would forever be ‘For Christ and King’.
Two years after the Act was passed to make ‘O Canada’ our National Anthem, Pierre Trudeau came along and started unraveling the Christian foundations. The noble, heavenward, hopes and aspirations were replaced by glorification and codification of the ignoble, self-centred, sensual Charter of Rights. While the Chant National was concerned with service to God and man, the Charter focused on service of self and its rights and a desire to expunge God’s law.
Now Let THAT sink in.
This history lesson begs the question, ‘What kind of people have we become? In Quebec? In the rest of Canada?’
Author’s Note: Lynette is the owner of ChristianRoots Canada. Blogger. Publisher. Course Creator. Passionate about Canadian History from the perspective of God’s Providence.
Remember, I am NOT the last word on History. I am just a compass pointing you in the right direction. Be a Berean. Do your own research. Follow links. Challenge everything.