O Canada… I Grieve, I Grieve For You

The original French version of O Canada

A few years ago, I went to a convention where I sang the many verses of ‘O Canada’ that reflected a rich fervent prayer to God. I thought, ‘Why isn’t  the entire anthem sung publicly? These are words rich in faith and and prayer.’

I actually thought that a conspiracy prevented us from knowing the ‘true’ words. In doing this research, I now understand for the first time, the history of the national anthem or ‘Chant National’. I guess it would indeed take a bit of time to stand at attention and sing four verses of a song (unless it is set to rap for young people).

According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Canada) and The Canadian Encyclopedia (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/o-canada/), the words for Canada’s National Anthem, ‘O Canada’ were written by a man who was a lawyer, author, judge and professor – Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier – in the Spring of 1880. He was born in Saint-Placide Quebec in 1839.

The music was written by the then popular pianist, composer, and music teacher, Calixa Lavallee who was born near Montreal Quebec in 1842.

O Canada was first performed jointly by three bands on June 24th, 1880 (thirteen years after Confederation) at a convention banquet as the patriotic song, Chant National, for the Saint Jean Baptiste Society in Quebec City.

It gained popularity and gradually spread across Canada with many English-language variations of the original. One version was even written by Sir George-Etienne Cartier for the Saint Jean Baptiste celebrations in 1884.

It is said that the original manuscript no longer exists, but two copies of the first edition exist. The first edition cover is adorned by the picture of then Lieutenant General of Quebec, Theodore Robitaille,  surrounded by maple leaves, and the name C. Lavallee printed across the bottom of the cover.

One copy is in the archives of the Quebec Seminary and the other in the Faculty of Music in the University of Montreal. Click here (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/o-canada/) to view the cover.

Since 1880, O Canada has appeared in many forms. It is believed that it was popular in Quebec for 20 years before an English version was heard, allegedly sung by schoolchildren in Toronto for the visit of the Duke of Cornwall and York, the future King George V.

The original French Lyrics (with translation) by Adolphe-Basile Routhier, 1880 are:

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

Le Canadien grandit en espérant.

Il est né d’une race fière,

Béni fut son berceau.

Le ciel a marqué sa carrière

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!”

Under the eye of God, near the giant river,

The Canadian grows hoping.

He was born of a proud race,

Blessed was his birthplace.

Heaven has noted his career

In this new world.

Always guided by its light,

He will keep the honour of his flag,

He will keep the honour of his flag.

From his patron, the precursor of the true God,

He wears the halo of fire on his brow.

Enemy of tyranny

But full of loyalty,

He wants to keep in harmony,

His proud freedom;

And by the effort of his genius,

Set on our ground the truth,

Set on our ground the truth.

Sacred love of the throne and the altar,

Fill our hearts with your immortal breath!

Among the foreign races,

Our guide is the law:

Let us know how to be a people of brothers,

Under the yoke of faith.

And repeat, like our fathers,

The battle cry: “For Christ and King!”

The battle cry: “For Christ and King!”


In 1908, Robert Stanley Weir, a Montreal Quebec judge and poet, wrote yet another English version which was not a literal translation of the original French, but it became the most popular version. In fact, he made revisions in 1913, 1914 and 1916 before he died in 1926.

In 1927, in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, Weir’s version of O Canada was officially published and became the most generally accepted version of the national anthem.

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 remain unchanged.

Weir’s Version:

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 your 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

It is very interesting to note the following:

  • 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’.

These verses, dear Friends, indicate the early acknowledgement of Christ as King over Canada, and all the earth. You don’t have to look far today to see how far Canada’s political and cultural leadership has strayed from this vision. And remember… if you can sing ‘O Canada’, thank a Quebecer.

What do you think? Leave a comment on the blog, or contact me at info@christianrootscanada.org. with your feedback.

Make It Personal:

  • Do you feel a sense of national pride when you sing ‘O Canada’?
  • Shared values are often embodied in national songs. Which of your values are reflected in the original version of ‘O Canada’?
  • What can you do to educate Quebecersof thetheir rich spiritual legacy?
  • How can you encourage them to stand on the shoulders of theirforbearswho embodied their hopes and dreams in the form of a national song?


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