This morning on CBC Radio 1, Michael Enright on Sunday Edition had a program all about Canada. The first segment was about our National Anthem O Canada, the second part about EXPO 67 which was held 50 years ago in Montreal, the most successful World Exhibition ever held in the World, something I remember well I was 11 yrs old. How wonderful that was, one of my best childhood memories. The third segment was about how there his 3 founding Nations in Canada, the Indigenous, the French, the English and how we are finally coming to understand that fact.
He had Musicologist and Historian, Robert Harris to explain it all and how wonderful it was to hear. http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/sunday-edition/episode/13062323
Just wonderful, Robert Harris explained so many secrets about our National Anthem, the opening two stanzas of O Canada is taken from Mozart’s March of the Priest from the Opera Magic Flute. How wonderful is that given that our Country was born from a series of drinking and dancing parties here in Charlottetown and Quebec City held by the Fathers of Confederation in 1864.
The second incredible secret is that the National Anthem of Canada was written/com posed for the Saint Jean Baptiste Society in June of 1880. A French Nationalist Anthem to be sung at a Convention of French Canadians who had gathered from all over North America in Quebec City. The lyrics are about the French in North America and the music is martial, reference to God, the King (France) and our ancestors in this land.
How did it become the National Anthem of Canada? Harris explained that in 1902 King Edward VII was visiting Canada and the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir in Toronto decided that they needed to sing an Anthem about Canada and not the Royal Anthem, God Save the King. So they arrange for a quick translation of the lyrics into English to sing for the Royal visit, the result was not very good and was difficult, cumbersome to sing, nothing like the French version. A few years later in 1906 Judge and poet Robert Stanley Weir wrote the English lyrics to O Canada, he changed them again in 1908, 1909, 1913. For a long time we had the 1921 lyrics which most English speaking Canadians know.
We will have to wait 1964 and the debate on the New Canadian Flag in Parliament to have another debate about making O Canada the Official National Anthem. But that did not work out, to much opposition, too many English Canadians wanted to keep the Royal Anthem and having to swallow a new flag to replace the old Red Ensign was too much politically. Again in 1967 and 1968 Parliament tried and failed and again in 1976 and again in 1980 at the time of the first referendum on Quebec Independence. This time it worked and O Canada became our Official Anthem. Though many Canadians had taken it as the Official Anthem for many previous decades.
Currently a Bill in the Senate C-210 would amend one sentence of the English Lyrics of O Canada from IN ALL THEY SONS COMMAND to IN ALL OF US COMMAND. This to satisfy the Feminists in Canada. It would appear that many do not know that the English lyrics have been amended in the past many times, this includes the media who are very confused on the topic. Senators who hold a more traditional point of view oppose any change.
All this to say that the radio program was most interesting on the history of our Anthem, they also played several various versions from 1908, 1910,1927 and a famous one by Roger Doucet, tenor who for years would sing the National Anthem in both French and English before the beginning of a Hockey game at the old Forum in Montreal. He changed 2 words of the Anthem in 1979 before a game, at first the crowd in the Forum is silent not quite understanding what went on and then suddenly the reaction. The words, inserted by Doucet were Our Rights and Liberty, a reference to the upcoming Quebec Referendum and the demands of French speaking Canadians.
Nothing is ever simple in Canada. My favourite rendition c.1960 is the one with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal with Maestro Wilfrid Pelletier and chorus sung in French. It is quite beautiful.
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.
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.