Stand on Guard

Posted by Daniel on Mar 29, 2009

Chuck Davis presents the BC version of our national anthem:

You will sometimes hear that our national anthem, O Canada, was written in Vancouver.

Not so. What was written was a set of words to the tune (composed in 1875 by Quebec's Calixa Lavallee) that a local banker wrote a century ago, in 1909. Ewing Buchan was manager of the Bank of Hamilton in Vancouver, and he worked from a copy of the sheet music sent to him from Quebec City by his brother, Brigadier-General Lawrence Buchan.

"It happened," Ewing Buchan’s son Percy wrote in 1947, "that in 1908-09 my father was second vice-president of the Canadian Club of Vancouver. The custom of the club was to open its luncheon proceedings with a toast to the King (Edward VII), followed by singing of the National Anthem, God Save the King, and to close with the first verse of The Maple Leaf Forever. Having O Canada in mind, he resolved to urge its substitution for The Maple Leaf Forever at all functions of the club and to that end devoted a considerable part of his leisure during the winter evenings of 1908 to quiet reflection on the matter."

Buchan’s lyrics were met with great enthusiasm locally, and supporters of his version distributed some 40,000 copies to Vancouver school children and kept up steady efforts on its behalf for years. By 1929 the fight between two factions, one pushing for Buchan's words, the other for Robert Stanley Weir's, broke into print. (Some backers of the Buchan version referred to the competing lyrics as "the Weird version.")

Then Prime Minister W.L. MacKenzie King, visiting the coast, heard the Buchan version sung at a meeting of the Vancouver Board of Trade . . . and liked it a lot. Better than all the others he'd heard, in fact. That really got the fur flying.

Which version would prevail?

Well, this is one story to which every Canadian knows the end. But, for the record, here are the words to "the Buchan version" of O Canada:
O Canada, our heritage, our love
Thy worth we praise all other lands above
From sea to sea, throughout thy length,
From pole to borderland
At Britain's side, whate'er betide,
Unflinchingly we'll stand.
With heart we sing, "God Save the King"
"Guide thou the Empire wide," do we implore
"And prosper Canada from shore to shore."