O Canada

O Canada

Original Text
Robert Stanley Weir, After Ipres and Other Verse (Toronto: Musson, 1917): 3-4. PS 8545 E432A7 Robarts Library
"That True North." -- Tennyson
5And stand on guard, O Canada,
6    We stand on guard for thee.
8    We stand on guard for thee!
9O Canada! Where pines and maples grow,
10Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow,
11How dear to us thy broad domain,
12From East to Western Sea;
13Thou land of hope for all who toil!
14    Thou True North, strong and free!
15    O Canada, glorious and free!
16    We stand on guard for thee!
17O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies
18May stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise,
19To keep thee steadfast through the years,
20From East to Western Sea.
21Our Fatherland, our Motherland!
22    Our True North, strong and free!
23    O Canada, glorious and free!
24    We stand on guard for thee!
25Ruler Supreme, Who hearest humble prayer,
27Help us to find, O God, in Thee,
28A lasting, rich reward,
29As waiting for the Better Day
30    We ever stand on guard.
31    O Canada, glorious and free!
32    We stand on guard for thee!


1] The official lyrics of Canada's national anthem (proclaimed July 1, 1980), with music by Calixa Lavallée (1880), are:
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.

That is, the origins of the song by which Canadians express their allegiance to their country are Quebecois. The French lyrics to Calixa Lavallée's music were by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier. "In 1908 Collier's Weekly inaugurated its Canadian edition with a competition for an English text to Lavallée's music" (Government of Canada Web site). Although Weir's poem did not capture first place at the competition, it won the people's loyalty. The addition of "From far and wide" (Canada is a nation of immigrants who come from other countries, not just the United Kingdom) and the name of God (to whom Weir alludes in the last stanza of his poem) were "recommended in 1968 by a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons." Weir's epigraph, "That True North," is by Alfred Lord Tennyson, recently deceased Poet Laureate of Great Britain, is from "To the Queen" (Victoria I), which describes public rejoicing at the recovery of the Prince of Wales from a serious illness in February 1872. Thanking Canadians for their good wishes, Tennyson takes the opportunity to reject a mooted cost-saving proposal that would break ties between Canada and Britain:
… witness, too, the silent cry,
The prayer of many a race and creed, and clime --
Thunderless lightnings striking under sea
From sunset and sunrise of all thy realm,
And that true North, whereof we lately heard
A strain to shame us "keep you to yourselves;
So loyal is too costly! friends -- your love
Is but a burthen: loose the bond, and go."
Is this the tone of empire? here the faith
That made us rulers? this, indeed, her voice
And meaning, whom the roar of Hougoumont
Left mightiest of all peoples under heaven?
What shock has fool'd her since, that she should speak
So feebly? wealthier -- wealthier -- hour by hour!
The voice of Britain, or a sinking land,
Some third-rate isle half-lost among her seas?
There rang her voice, when the full city peal'd
Thee and thy Prince! The loyal to their crown
Are loyal to their own far sons, who love
Our ocean-empire with her boundless homes
For ever-broadening England, and her throne
In our vast Orient, and one isle, one isle,
That knows not her own greatness: if she knows
And dreads it we are fall'n.
See Leslie Scrivener, "Parsing `O Canada,'" Toronto Star (July 2, 2006): D10. Back to Line
2] A wish: "[May] you [Canada] command true patriot love in all thy sons." The source for the phrase "true patriotic love" is "Our Native Land" by Helen Mar Johnson, another Quebecois (1834-1863; Canadian Wild Flowers: Selections from the Writings of Miss Helen M. Johnson of Magog, P.Q., Canada, with a sketch of her life, ed. J. M. Orrock [1884]: 85-86):
With loyal hearts we still abide
Beneath her sheltering wing, --
While with true patriot love and pride,
To Canada we cling.
Daughters were then not subject to conscription, a form of government command that forced sons to exhibit patriot love in military service. Only in 1989 did Canada allow women to fight in the country's regular armed forces. Back to Line
3] glowing hearts: traditional poetic phrase, as in "Written for the Bethel Church at Havre," a poem by Francis Scott Key (1779-1843; Poems [1857]: 147), author of the American national anthem:
Here in this house high hymns of joy
Thy rescued sons shall raise,
And glowing hearts and ready tongues
Their great Protector praise.
Back to Line
4] The True North: the loyal north. This builds on an older sense, "true north," the direction to the physical north pole ("the top of the world"), rather than the direction indicated by a compass needle to the north magnetic pole, which wanders somewhat as the earth's magnetic field changes. Back to Line
7] glorious and free: conventional poetic phrase, but one used notably in the poem "Saint John" by Martin Butler (Maple Leaves and Hemlock Branches. A Collection of Poems [1889]: 25):
My home, my country, fair Canadian land,
How do I sigh for thee,
When thou shalt rise, a Nation brave and grand
And glorious and FREE.
Butler's combination of the phrases "My home," "thou shalt rise," and "glorious and FREE" suggests that Weir was influenced by his poem. Back to Line
26] dominion: if only formally under British sovereignty, Canada from 1871 to 1982 was known officially as the Dominion of Canada after its creation in 1867. In 1982, the Canada Act, which completed the transfer of all powers from Great Britain to Canada, refers to it simply as Canada. Back to Line
Publication Start Year
RPO poem Editors
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition
2006 Canada Day