History of O Canada House: Ewing Buchan’s Icon


O Canada House was built in 1897 and here Ewing Buchan would pen one of the first English versions of Canada’s National Anthem in 1908. A century later in 1997, O Canada House would be awarded the prestigious “City of Vancouver Heritage Award of Honour” for outstanding refurbishment of its Queen Anne-style exterior and lavish interior. Enhance your stay by learning the history of O Canada House:

Ewing Buchan was sent the sheet music to a stirring composition by his brother, Brigadier-General Lawrence Buchan, commander of the garrison at Quebec City. The composition was written 33 years earlier by Calixa Lavallée in anticipation for Quebec’s celebration of St. Jean Baptiste Day. Lawrence was so taken with the music performed for the 300th anniversary of Quebec, and by the Prince of Wales’ (later King George V) praise of it, that he immediately sent a copy west, complete with the original French lyrics.

Ewing, then manager of the Bank of Hamilton in Vancouver, was as smitten with the composition as his brother. Buchan was dissatisfied with the English translation of the French lyrics, however, and decided to write his own starting with a single stanza. Thus, accompanied by his daughter on piano, he began to write his own English version in the parlour of his private residence at 1114 Barclay Street.

Lavalle’s Version (English translation):

O Canada! Our fathers’ land of old
Thy brow is crown’d with leaves of red and gold.
Beneath the shade of the Holy Cross
Thy children own their birth
No stains thy glorious annals gloss
Since valour shield thy hearth.
Almighty God! On thee we call
Defend our rights, forfend this nation’s thrall,
Defend our rights, forfend this nation’s thrall

Buchan’s version:

O Canada, our heritage, our love
Thy worth we praise all other lands above.
From sea to see throughout their length
From Pole to borderland,
At Britain’s side, whate’er betide
Unflinchingly we’ll stand
With hearts we sing, “God save the King”,
Guide then one Empire wide, do we implore,
And prosper Canada from shore to shore.

Ewing, who was vice-president of the Vancouver Canadian Club, debuted his version of the song at a club luncheon meeting at the Hotel Vancouver on February 9, 1910. Promoted by the Vancouver Canada Club, Buchan’s anthem became the most popular patriotic song on the West Coast.

Despite the success of Ewing’s words, however, it was Robert Stanley Weir’s version of “O Canada” that was to become Canada’s National Anthem. Weir, a lawyer and Recorder of the City of Montreal, also wrote his version in 1908. Weir’s song was officially published for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation in 1927, and eventually became the accepted English version of the Canadian National Anthem.

For more on Vancouver in Ewing Buchan’s era, please watch this 1907 film for a streetcar view of some of Vancouver’s most iconic streets.

For more information about Canada’s National Anthem, please visit National Anthem: O Canada.