The Search for English Lyrics
The first known instance of an English “O Canada” occurred in 1901, sung by schoolchildren for the visiting Duke and Duchess of Cornwall, the future King George V and his wife. The text they used for this occasion, which did not catch on with English audiences, was a translation of Routhier’s lyrics by Thomas Richardson. Though the English-speaking public lacked a consistent set of lyrics around which to rally, Lavallée’s melody gained popularity. Seizing a publicity opportunity, Collier’s Weekly magazine hosted a public competition to find English poetry to suit Lavallée’s melody. Over 300 submissions were received from across Canada; the winner was Mercy E. Powell McCulloch. While McCulloch’s lyrics were praised initially, they were not widely adopted.
The search for English lyrics to “O Canada” continued well into the 1920s, until a nationwide poll conducted by Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s government revealed that most Canadians preferred lyrics by one R. Stanley Weir, written in 1908.
Prevalent themes in the numerous English versions of the lyrics include: an abundance of wilderness landscape imagery; slightly less-zealous but nonetheless reverent Protestant symbolism; a distinct sense of northern pride; emphasis on the country’s sheer size; and expected anthemic motifs such as justice, peace, and comradeship.
Below, you will be able to browse various English lyrics, including Richardson’s translation, McCulloch’s version, the Buchans’, Balfour’s, and the version that should be most familiar, R. Stanley Weir’s.