Canada's Two National Anthems

"O Canada" has a long and bizarre history. It's the topic we explore in our first episode of Canadiana (which you can watch below). The song didn't become our national anthem until 1980, but it was written a hundred years earlier. The music was composed by an American Civil War veteran from Montreal with the awesome name of Calixa Lavallée. The lyrics were penned by a Québecois judge who would be knighted by both the king and the pope: Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier.

But they didn't write the song to be Canada's national anthem — they wrote it to be Quebec's. "O Canada" was composed in honour of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day: an ancient religious celebration that would eventually become Quebec's national holiday.

So, as you might imagine, the original lyrics were written in French. Nearly 30 years went by before "O Canada" was translated into English by another judge: Montreal's Robert Stanley Weir. But, uh, maybe "translated" is the wrong word to use. Because Weir's English version bears little resemblance to the original French lyrics.

Anglophones and francophones are singing two very different national anthems.

For instance, in the spot where English-speaking Canadians are singing about "glowing hearts", francophones are singing about swords. Anglophones stand on guard for "thee"; francophones stand on guard for "our rights." And at the same time the English lyrics are talking about standing on guard "far and wide", the French version is celebrating Canadian history as "an epic of the most brilliant exploits."

That's just for starters. Routhier was deeply conservative and very religious. In his most famous decision as a judge, he ruled that it was perfectly fine for priests to tell their parishioners that if they didn't vote for the Tories, they would burn in hell for eternity. And he made sure his religious views were echoed in the lyrics of the anthem he wrote to celebrate Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. All four original French verses of "O Canada" are very, very religious — its most striking difference from the English version.

Just take a look at some of the lines:

Under the eye of God, near the great river / The Canadian grows in hope.
Sous l'oeil de Dieu, près du fleuve géant / Le Canadien grandit en espérant.

Heaven holds his destiny / In this new world. / Always guided by its light, / He will keep the honour of his flag...
Le ciel a marqué sa carrure / Dans ce monde nouveau. / Toujours guidé par sa lumière, / Il gardera l'honneur de son drapeau...

From his patron, precursor of the true God, / He wears a halo of fire.
De son patron, précurseur du vrai Dieu / Il porte au front l'auréole de feu

Routhier's original French lyrics also talk about "sacred love... under the yoke of the faith" and he personifies Canada as a flower-wreathed god with a sword in one hand and a cross in the other.

The song ends with a cry for patriotic Christian militarism complete with unfortunately gendered pronouns:

And let us repeat, like our fathers, / the victorious cry: "For Christ and the King!" / The victorious cry: "For Christ and the King!"
Et répétons, comme nos pères / Le cri vainqueur: Pour le Christ et le roi, / Le cri vainqueur: Pour le Christ et le roi.

(We'll post the full French lyrics and their direct translation below, so you can check out the whole thing yourself.)

In fact, by the time Pierre Trudeau's government finally approved "O Canada" as the national anthem in 1980, the Liberals had actually changed a line in Weir's original English translation in order to make it seem more religious than it really was. That's how we got the bit about god keeping our land glorious and free.

Today, of course, there's a third version, too — a bilingual version, officially endorsed by the Canadian government. It switches back and forth between the French and English lyrics. It's a bit awkward, but at least we have one version of "O Canada" during which anglophones and francophones are singing the same song.

 

 

"O CANADA"
ORIGINAL FRENCH LYRICS, 1880

Verse One

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 trempe,
Protègera nos foyers et nos droits.
Protègera nos foyers et nos droits.

Verse Two

Sous l'oeil de Dieu, près du fleuve géant,
Le Canadien grandit en espérant.
Il est d'une race fière,
Béni fut son berceau.
Le ciel a marqué sa carrure
Dans ce monde nouveau.
Toujours guidé par sa lumière,
Il gardera l'honneur de son drapeau,
Il gardera l'honneur de son drapeau.

Verse Three

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.

Verse Four

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.

 

DIRECT ENGLISH TRANSLATION

Verse One

O Canada! Land of our forefathers,
Thy brow is wreathed with glorious flowerets!
For thy arm knows how to bear the sword,
It knows how to bear the cross!
Thy history is an epic
Of the most brilliant exploits.
And thy valour, tempered with faith,
Will protect our homes and our rights.
Will protect our homes and our rights.

Verse Two

Under the eye of God, near the great river,
The Canadian grows in hope.
He was born from a proud race,
Blessed was his cradle.
Heaven holds his destiny
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.

Verse Three

From his patron, precursor of the true God,
He wears a halo of fire.
Enemy of tyranny
But full of loyalty,
He wants to keep in harmony,
His proud liberty;
And by the effort of his genius,
On our ground the truth is seated,
On our ground the truth is seated.

Verse Four

Sacred love of throne and altar,
Fill our hearts with your immortal breath!
Amongst this race of strangers,
Our guide is the law:
Let us be a brotherly people,
Under the yoke of the Faith.
And let us repeat, like our fathers,
the victorious cry: "For Christ and the King!"
The victorious cry: "For Christ and the King!"

 

Canadiana is a new web series on the hunt for the most incredible stories in Canadian history. Subscribe on YouTube, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.

 

Canada Wasn't Born in 1867

fathers-of-confed-ptng.jpg

Canadians across the country partied this weekend in honour of #Canada150. But while July 1, 2017 did mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation, the celebrations were also more than a little bit misleading. Canada isn't 150 years old, and Canada Day isn't really its "birthday". To suggest the country "began" in 1867 is quite bizarre, so we took to Twitter on Canada Day to do a little ranting on the subject.

You'll find our Twitter essay embedded below, and for more tweets about the history of Canada you can follow us on Twitter at @ThisIsCanadiana.

Canadiana is a new web series on the hunt for the most incredible stories in Canadian history. Coming Summer 2017. Subscribe on YouTube, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.

The Dark & Disturbing Tale of Jacques Cartier in Canada

The fellow in the middle of this drawing — the one with the cross and his hand on his heart — is Jacques Cartier. He was a French explorer one of the very first Europeans to ever come to Canada. At the end of his first trip here, he erected a cross on the Gaspé Peninsula, as a way of claiming the land for France. They say that's how he met Donnacona.

Donnacona was the Chief of Stadacona, a village around where Québec City is now. When the French erected their cross, they noticed that the chief seemed kind of annoyed by it. So Cartier decided to trick him. The French signalled as if they wanted to trade with the chief — and when Donnacona got close enough to their ship, they trapped him, forcing him and his two sons on board. Eventually, they came to an arrangement: the sons would sail with Cartier for France. They would learn French. And then, after the winter was over, they would return to North America with Cartier — where they would be his guides

So that's what they did. In 1535, Cartier came back with the sons in tow. They showed him where the St. Lawrence was (he'd totally missed it on his first trip) and took him to Stadacona, their village. In fact, Cartier took their word for village and used it to refer to the entire area around them. Five hundred years later, we still call this place by the name Cartier put on his maps after hearing it from them: Canada.

Cartier was pretty excited. He had "discovered" the St. Lawrence. The whole point of his trip was to find a trade route to Asia. This giant river seemed like a promising lead. But for good reason, Donnacona and his sons didn't trust the explorer. So they stayed behind while he sailed further upriver.

It seems Cartier went too far. He was supposed to sail home for France before winter, but when the snows came and the river froze, he was still here. In fact, he and his men were trapped in a spot not far from Stadacona. They would be forced to stay there until spring.

This was very bad news. The Europeans weren't equipped to deal with a Canadian winter. They had no idea how to keep themselves alive. As the days dragged on, the men fell ill.

"The sickness broke out among us accompanied by the most extraordinary symptoms," Cartier wrote. "For some lost all their strength, their legs became swollen and inflamed, and all had their mouths so tainted that the gums rotted away down to the roots of the teeth which nearly fell out. The disease spread among the three ships to such an extent that in the middle of February, of the 110 men forming our company, there were not 10 in good health."

They had scurvy. But the Frenchmen didn't know that; Europeans didn't understand the disease. So instead of being able to treat their illness, all Cartier and his men could do was to pray. And so they did.

"I gave orders for all to pray and to make orisons and have an image and figure of the Virgin Mary carried across the ice and snow and placed against a tree... and issued an order: that on the following Sunday mass should be said at that spot, praying the Virgin to be good enough to ask her dear son to have pity upon us. At that time, so many were down with the disease that we had almost lost hope of ever returning to France..."

It was Donnacona's sons who saved them. They knew exactly how to cure scurvy: with a tea from boiled cedar boughs. While Cartier's dying men refused to drink it at first, they were eventually convinced. The first to try it felt better right away. After two or three cups, Cartier says the sailors were cured. Twenty-five men had died of the disease, but the rest were going to make it.

Cartier assumed it was his prayers that had done the trick. The quick recovery of his men, he wrote, "must clearly be ascribed to miraculous causes... God, in his infinite goodness and mercy, had pity upon us." It would be hundreds of years before European scientists figured out what caused scurvy and how to cure it. The final big breakthrough didn't come until 1932. Those cedar boughs were full of vitamin C.

Cartier wasn't exactly grateful for what Donnacona's sons had done. He answered their kindness with more trickery. When spring came, he organized a great feast on board one of his ships. And he invited Donnacona, his sons, and some of the other Stadacona villagers to attend. They were reluctant and suspicious, but they came. As soon as they were on board, Cartier took them prisoner.

This time when Cartier sailed back to France, he had ten First Nations people with him: the kidnapped villagers and some children he'd been given as "gifts". Donnacona was presented to King François — he regaled the monarch with wondrous tales about the riches to be found in Canada. But no matter how much he begged and pleaded, he would never be allowed to return home to his friends and family. None of them would. We know for sure that nine of them died within a few short years. The tenth, a little girl, has disappeared from the historical record.

Cartier, on the other hand, did go back to Stadacona. When he got there, he lied about what had happened. He told the new chief that Donnacona had passed away, but that the others were rich and happy. It didn't do any good, though. Built on a foundation of mistrust, the relationship between Cartier and the Iroquoians of Stadacona quickly deteriorated. Soon, they would be at war — the first of many between the French and Iroquois-speaking nations over the next 200 years.

More than three centuries before Confederation, the history of contact between Europeans and the First Nations was already off to a deeply disturbing start.

 

Canadiana is a new web series on the hunt for the most incredible stories in Canadian history. Coming Summer 2017. Subscribe on YouTube, follow us on Twitter, or like us on Facebook.