The history of “O Canada”

“O Canada” came into being in 1880, 100 years before it became Canada’s National Anthem.

The song was commissioned by the Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, the Honourable Théodore Robitaille, to mark the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations in the City of Québec on June 24, 1880, a performance which was also meant to honour the Congrès national des Canadiens français (National Congress of French Canadians).

Calixa Lavallée, known as “Canada’s national musician”, was asked to compose the music for a poem written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. As intended, the first performance of “O Canada” took place on June 24, 1880, at a banquet held at the Pavillon des Patineurs in the City of Québec.

The playing of “O Canada” for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary), when they toured Canada in 1901, helped to introduce the song to English-speaking Canada.

As the song became increasingly popular in English Canada, many English adaptations of its original French lyrics were created and sung across Canada. Arguably the most popular version was written in 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir. Later published in an official form for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927, it gradually became the most widely accepted and performed version of this song in English speaking Canada.

Weir’s lyrics, having undergone a few minor modifications from their original form, became the official English version of Canada’s national anthem with the passing of the National Anthem Act, in 1980. The official French version of the anthem featured the original French lyrics, which have remained unchanged since 1880.

On January 31, 2018, legislation was enacted to change the English lyrics to ensure gender parity. The verse “True patriot love in all thy sons command” was changed to “True patriot love in all of us command.” No change was required to the French version.

Find out more about the people behind our anthem.

Read more on the history of the National Anthem of Canada at the Canadian Encyclopedia.

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