Patriotic songs | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Patriotic songs

Patriotic songs. Songs expressing love of a country and usually intended for group singing, in unison or harmony. The texts of some Canadian patriotic songs are related to specific events or crises - eg, Confederation, the Fenian Raids, the two world wars.

Patriotic songs

Patriotic songs. Songs expressing love of a country and usually intended for group singing, in unison or harmony. The texts of some Canadian patriotic songs are related to specific events or crises - eg, Confederation, the Fenian Raids, the two world wars. More often they are non-specific, praising the country and proclaiming devotion to it. Many have been written with the intention of providing Canada with its national anthem. Only 'O Canada' has achieved this goal, although several other patriotic songs (eg, 'The Maple Leaf For Ever' among English-speaking Canadians) have enjoyed popularity. As the entries in Musical Canadiana, a Subject Index (Ottawa 1967) show, prior to 1921 some 200 patriotic songs had found their way into print. The following survey provides a cross-section; other songs will be found mentioned in the entries Beaver; Centennial celebrations; Confederation and music; Maple leaf; Political songs; Wars, rebellions, and uprisings.

Patriotic songs and national anthems essentially are creatures of the 19th-century struggle for the nation state - a single state for all people sharing a common language or culture in a common area. Only a few countries had national anthems in the 18th century. However, there was a growing awareness that folk and popular songs express the characteristics of a people and should be collected and treasured as part of a national heritage. Though not necessarily or even usually patriotic or nationalistic in content, certain songs - for instance in the repertoire of Irish and Scottish music - came to represent the people as a whole.

In French Canada 'À la claire fontaine', 'Vive la Canadienne', and similar songs came to be regarded in the early 19th century as embodiments of the people's spirit and invariably were intoned at patriotic rallies and ceremonial occasions. Dance suites, medleys, and song collections of the mid-19th century frequently included these tunes. Examples of medleys include Chants canadiens for piano (Crémazie ca 1856), Antoine Dessane's Quadrille canadien (mid-1850s), Ernest Gagnon's Le Carnaval de Québec (1862), and Joseph Vézina's Mosaïque sur des airs populaires canadiens (1880).

Among the Acadians of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, 'Un Acadien errant,' an adaptation of the words of 'Un Canadien errant' set to the Gregorian tune 'Ave maris stella,' has become the representative song.

Coincidental with the beginnings of sheet music publishing, the first Canadian patriotic songs appeared in the 1830s and 1840s. The earliest were in French, a fact explained by the high degree of political awareness and the Canadian roots of most French-Canadians of the time. Many Anglo-Saxons were recent arrivals whose ties with the mother country were stronger than those with the colony. J.P. Clarke's songs to texts taken from The Maple Leaf (annual anthology begun in 1847) and his song cycle Lays of the Maple Leaf (1853) may be considered early attempts to capture the essential spirit of Canada in song. However, after Confederation (1867) English-speaking songwriters outdid one another in churning out patriotic songs. Production reached a peak of fervour during World War I.

The following chronological lists present a selection of songs that either were widely sung or had well-known composers (a few non-Canadians among them). World War I songs are not included since their texts made them unsuitable for continued use in peace-time. A selection of patriotic songs, including a number of those listed below, has been reprinted in CMH vol 3 (English) and vol 7 (French).


'Canada, terre d'espérance,' chant patriotique (words by François-Réal Angers). Napoléon Aubin. In Le Canadien, 1 Jan 1836

'Noble patron,' chant canadien (F.-R. Angers). Charles Sauvageau (Quebec 1843)

'Dans ce banquet patriotique,' chant national (François-Magloire Derome). Charles Sauvageau. In Le Ménestrel, vol 1, 27 Jun 1844

'Le Drapeau de Carillon' (O. Crémazie). Charles W. Sabatier (Crémazie 1858)

'Sol canadien, terre chérie' (Isidore. Bédard 1829). In 1842 sung to a traditional tune. A new tune by T.F. Molt was printed in 1859.

'Avant tout je suis Canadien' (G.-É. Cartier 1835). Sung at first to a traditional tune ('La Pipe de tabac') and later to a new tune by J.-B. Labelle (ca 1860) and to 'Le Petit Mousse noir'

'Chant du vieux soldat canadien' (O. Crémazie). Antoine Dessane (Crémazie, no date; Le Chansonnier des Collèges 1860)

'La Huronne' (P.-G. Huot). Célestin Lavigueur (Brousseau Frères, ca 1861, et al)

'La Mère canadienne' (E. Blain de Saint-Aubin). Antoine Dessane (Sénécal 1862; Turcotte 1862)

'Canadiens, O notre patrie' (O. Dufresne). J.U. Marchand (no publisher; no place of publication, 1862?)

'Ô Canada! mon pays! mes amours!' (G.-É. Cartier 1834). Sung 1834 to a traditional melody. A new tune was composed by J.-B. Labelle in or before 1867.

'Rallions-nous' (B. Sulte). Charles-M. Panneton 1874

'O mon pays, terre adorée' (L. Fréchette). Guillaume Couture ca 1875 (manuscript at University of Montreal)

'O Canada, beau pays, ma patrie.' Words and music by C. Lavigueur 1880 (Bernard & Allaire 1880)

'O Canada, terre de nos aïeux' (Adolphe-Basile Routhier). Calixa Lavallée 1880 (A. Lavigne 1880)

'Le Canada' (O. Crémazie). Alfred La Liberté in Le Passe-Temps, 185, 26 Apr 1902. Also settings by Alexis Contant 1906 (manuscript at National Library of Canada) and by J.-J. Gagnier (Frères des Écoles chrétiennes 1916)

'O Canada, ma patrie' (J.H. Malo). Alexis Contant (Yon 1902)

'Hymne à la patrie' (A. Lozeau). J.-J. Gagnier, in Le Passe-Temps, 17 Jun 1905

'Canadien, toujours' (Gaston Leury). Charles Tanguy, in Le Passe-Temps, 15 Jun 1907. Also a setting by Alfred Lamoureux (Gaudin 1925)

'Lève-toi, Canadien!' Words and music by Rodolphe Mathieu (Édition exclusive de musique canadienne 1934)

A cross-section of contemporary patriotic songs is provided by the sheet music bound together in the album labelled 'Collection de musique composée par des auteurs canadiens... Exposition provinciale de 1863,' preserved at the BN du Q in Montreal. Collections which contain patriotic songs are Le Chansonnier des collèges (1850; musical notation added in 1860 ed) and Chants des patriotes (Yon 1893, 1903). See also St-Jean-Baptiste celebrations.


'The Emblem of Canada,' Canadian national song (words from the annual The Maple-Leaf). J.P. Clarke; first setting, Nordheimer ca 1850; second setting in Lays of the Maple Leaf (Nordheimer 1853)

'Let's Sing Success to Canada' (W. Mathews). Martin Lazare (Nordheimer 1859)

'The Maple Leaf For Ever' (A. Muir). Alexander Muir 1867 (The Guardian 1867?)

'Our Old Canadian Home' (C.P. Woodlawn). C.P. Woodlawn (Nordheimer 1868)

'This Canada' (J.D. Edgar). E.H. Ridout 1867 (Nordheimer 1873). Winner of a Montreal contest in 1868 as the best national song

'Canadian National Hymn' (G.C. Hutchinson). F. Muller (Nordheimer 1872)

'Canada, the Gem in the Crown' (J. Davids). F.H. Torrington (Suckling 1876)

'God Bless Our Wide Dominion,' Dominion Hymn (Marquess of Lorne). Arthur Sullivan (de Zouche 1880)

'May God Preserve Thee Canada' (R.S. Ambrose?). R.S. Ambrose (Suckling 1887)

'My Own Canadian Home' (Edwin.G. Nelson). E. Cadwallader (Daily Telegraph, Saint John, NB, 1890). Also a setting by Morley McLaughlin (Maritime Steam Lithography 1890)

'Canada for Ever' (A. Muir). Alexander Muir (Whaley Royce 1894)

'The Men of the North' (H.H. Godfrey). H.H. Godfrey (Whaley Royce 1897)

'The Land of the Maple' (H.H. Godfrey). H.H. Godfrey (Mason & Risch 1897)

'Canada' (H. Boulton). Edward German (Chappell 1904)

'Canada' (W.A. Fraser). Albert Ham (Whaley Royce 1906)

'A Song of Canada' (Percy. Semon). Percy Semon (Chappell 1909)

'Mighty Dominion' (Wilfrid. Mills). Laura Lemon (Boosey 1910)

'Hail Canada' (J.H. Anger). J.H. Anger (Whaley Royce 1911)

'O Canada, Dear Canada!' (Martha Pugh). G.V. Thompson (Thompson 1912)

'Our Canada from Sea to Sea' (Arthur. Stringer). Gena Branscombe (Thompson 1939)

'We Sing a Song to Canada' (F. Harris). Healey Willan (B652; Harris 1939)

An album of Canadian National and Patriotic Songs was compiled by Theodore Martens (Suckling 1890). H.H. Godfrey, like E. Cadwallader (fl 1890-1908) an inveterate writer of patriotic songs, had an album of his Canadian Patriotic Songs and Melodies published by Canadian American Music in 1902.

After World War I the vogue for patriotic songwriting was clearly on the wane. The main reason undoubtedly was that 'O Canada' had become accepted so widely that there was no incentive for writing another national anthem. Furthermore, the disillusionment of the 1920s and the Depression years stood in direct contrast to the imagery of traditional patriotic songs (remote from everyday reality) and to the naïvety and downright chauvinism of many of the earlier songs. In Canada World War II produced only a fraction of the number of morale-boosting patriotic songs brought forth by World War I.

The pop idiom of the mid-20th century was irreconcilable with the hymnlike music of earlier patriotic songs, and the genre in consequence became more and more the territory of amateur composers. Patriotism was not dead, but it expressed itself in less conventional garb. Examples of post-1950 songs about Canada, with strong admixtures of either folk music or pop are Gilles Vigneault's 'Mon pays, c'est l'hiver' (1964) (the composer is careful to describe it as 'not a patriotic song') and 'Gens du pays' (1975); Bobby Gimby's 'CA-NA-DA', the theme song for the 1967 centenary of Confederation; and Paul Halley's 'Song for Canada' (1984), written for Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa.

Further Reading