June 24

1880

The first performance of O Canada

The Canadian national anthem O Canada was written in response to a commission by the Lieutenant-Governor of Québec and performed first on the feast day of John the Baptist, the province’s patron saint. The music was composed by Callixa Lavallée (1842-91) and the French lyrics by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier (1839-1920); an original set of English words was added in 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir. The Christian content of both official versions has of late come under attack by secularists, under the mistaken impression that Canada maintains an American-style separation of church and state. To understand the religious imagery of our national anthems, consider the full texts below.

First, the English translation of the French lyrics:

O Canada!

Land of our forefathers,

Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.

As is thy arm ready to wield the sword,

So also is it ready to carry the cross.

Thy history is an epic

Of the most brilliant exploits.

Thy valour steeped in faith

Will protect our homes and our rights.

Will protect our homes and our rights.

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 slogan: “For Christ and King! “

The slogan: “For Christ and King!


The Original English version
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.

 

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!

Chorus:

God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

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!

Chorus

 

Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,

Hold our Dominion in 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.

Needless to say, the naked sexism of terms such as “sons” or “gentle maidens” caused the offenderati to clutch their pearls and reach for the smelling salts. Changes had to be made.

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