O Canada, the Slow

If we’re looking for evidence of our deliberate nature we need look no further than establishing our national anthem, which took 100 years from commission to adoption. It was first sung; in it’s original French, at St. Jean-Baptiste Day celebrations on June 24, 1880. The Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, the Honourable Théodore Robitaille requested Calixa Lavallée, a well-known composer at the time, to set a poem by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier to music on occasion of the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français. The rest is history, a very long history.

The song garnered accolades but it would be nearly 20 years before it was even translated into English. It’s believed the first time “O Canada” was heard outside Quebec was during a recital of it by school children for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary) upon their tour of Canada in 1901. It was another judge; Routhier had been judge of the Quebec Superior Court, the Honourable Robert Stanley Weir who wrote the modern day version, which was published in an official form for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927 and authorized for singing in schools and at public events that same year.

As is our way, the government formed a special joint committee in 1964 to consider the status of “God Save The Queen” and “O Canada”. It took three years for a recommendation that one should be the Royal anthem and the second, our national anthem with the caveat that further review of the lyrics be performed. One might say we are intentional to a fault but “O Canada” was finally proclaimed our national anthem and received Royal assent on June 27, 1980. Phew!

Of course, being a national emblem, the anthem continues to be debated. Since 1990, two politicians have proposed lyric changes to remove language that could be considered racist (“native land”) and more recently, sexist (“thy sons command”). However, it would appear Canadians don’t want to fix what, they consider, isn’t broken. It seems the first 100 years was time enough.

-Tara Losinski