Canadian Culture: Canada’s National Anthem


If you’re a student of the English language it’s probably because you either want to visit a specific English-speaking country or because you plan to move to one.

Regardless, it’s a good idea to learn a bit about the country, it’s culture and customs before visiting or moving there.

I’ve decided to start off by writing a series of articles about Canada, it’s culture, history, and geography. 

This will be helpful to visitors but it will be especially beneficial to those of you who would like to move to Canada and make it your new home.

Today we’ll be starting off by learning about Canada’s National Anthem.

 

“O Canada”

“O Canada”  was proclaimed to be Canada’s National Anthem on July 1st, 1980 but it was first sung in 1880.

Because Canada has two official languages, the Anthem has three different versions, an English, a French and a Bilingual version.

The music was composed by Calixa Lavallée and the French lyrics were written by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier.  As you can probably tell, the anthem was originally written in French.

As time passed and the song became more popular various English versions were written.  The final English lyrics were based on a poem written at the beginning of the 20th Century.

The French lyrics have never been altered since they were written in 1880.

 

A bit more about how the Anthem came to be

Mr. Lavalée was well known as a  composer in his time and for this reason, he was asked to compose the music for a poem written by Routhier.  The song was to be performed in honour of the National Congress of French Canadians on June 24, 1880 and also at the Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations.

It was first performed at a banquet in the City of Quebec.

The English version of “O Canada” was originally written by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908.  Even though there were other versions written throughout the years, none of them were accepted.

Eventually, after some minor changes, the first verse of Weir’s poem became Canada’s National Anthem.

Following are the lyrics to all three versions.

 

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.”

 

French Version

“  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 trempée,
Protégera nos foyers et nos droits.

Protégera nos foyers et nos droits. “

 

Bilingual Version

“  O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command,

Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,
Il sait porter la croix!

Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits,

God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee. “

 

When is the anthem used?

There really are no specific rules dictating when it’s appropriate to sing the anthem at an event.  Event organizers are free to decide whether the anthem will be sung at the beginning or at the end of a ceremony.

If two anthems are to be played at the beginning of an event such as a hockey or baseball game, “O Canada”  should be played first followed by the other team’s anthem.  If the anthem is played at the end of the event, it should be played last.

To show respect, a person should stand while the anthem is played and men remove their hats.  Women and children don’t need to remove hats or head covering.

Since there really are no laws governing national anthem etiquette, the above-mentioned acts are more of a tradition and used as a sign of respect.

The Bilingual version is used at many sports events but any of the three versions can be used.

Regarding the other versions, the English version is usually used in English-speaking Canada while the French version is commonly used in the province of Quebec.  But, again you may hear any of the three versions used.

In schools, it’s customary to stand up for the playing of the National Anthem but a person may be exempted from standing.

For example, some children didn’t have to stand up when I was growing up in the 7os because of their religious beliefs.

The National Anthem is always played at official ceremonies such as a Citizenship Ceremony.

 

Now you know a bit about the history of Canada’s National Anthem and that there are different versions of it. I truly hope you find this article helpful.

 

Visit soon for more language lessons and to learn about the culture of English-speaking countries.

If you have any comments or questions, you’re welcome to leave them in the comment section below.

8 Comments

  1. I think Canada is the best country to live in, not only English spoken country, but the best in the world. Do all Canadians need to learn the two languages (English and French)? I hope to visit Canada soon.

    • Hi Ruben,
      Thank you for reading the article. To answer your question, I grew up in Ontario and although English is the language used there, French is taught in all schools. However, in the real world unless you plan to visit Quebec you won’t really need to speak French. People mostly speak English in other parts of Canada. If you go to a federal building you will find that employees speak both French and English since citizens have a right to be served in either of the two languages.

  2. Thanks for this awesome post! I have always really loved the Canadian National Anthem. It’s so patriotic and seems to really bring Canadians together. I’m glad to know the official translation!

    • Hi Bailey,
      Thank you for reading the article. I’m glad you liked it. Regarding the French lyrics to the anthem they are not actually a translation but a whole different song. If you run the lyrics through a translator you’ll notice that it’s completely different from the English lyrics.

  3. It’s always great to learn something new every day, and I learned a lot of new things today. I have always been fascinated in other countries and how my town is just a small pixel in a huge image of our planet Earth. Thank you for sharing, was really nice to learn about the Candian national anthem.

    • Hi Yvonne,
      Well, the main language spoken by Canadians is English. The only province where you will find people speaking French is in the province of Quebec. Of course, there are French speaking families in other parts of Canada but in general terms Quebec is French and the rest English.
      Since Canada is a multicultural country there are many other languages spoken but the official languages are English and French.
      School children are taught both English and French but I think most kids that live in the English speaking provinces just study it but they don’t really speak it. It’s interesting to note that Quebecois French is different from the French spoken in France. The pronunciation is a bit different and so are a lot of words.

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