Calixa Lavallee, Adolphe-Basile Routhier, Robert Stanley Weir
Date of Issue
June 6, 1980
O Canada!, 1880-1980
Series Time Span
Perforation or Dimension
Designed by Friedrich G. Peter.
A national anthem is a symbol of pride. "O Canada" gradually achieved a popular (though as yet unofficial) status as Canada's anthem in the years after Calixa Lavallée, Adolphe-Basile Routhier, and Robert Stanley Weir produced it. Calixa Lavallée, who wrote the music, was born at Verchères, near Montreal, in l842. Raised in a musical atmosphere, he was something of a child prodigy. At the age of fifteen he ran away to New Orleans, later performing as an accompanist to a Spanish violinist touring Brazil, the West Indies, and the United States. After a stint as a Union army musician during the Civil War, Lavallée returned to Montreal but in 1865 left again for the United States. He served as a conductor and artistic director of the Grand Opera House (a minstrel show theatre) in New York from 1870 until the theatre's notorious owner was assassinated in 1872. After two years of study in Paris, courtesy of his friends, Lavallée returned to Canada hoping to promote music here. There were setbacks. His proposed music school and opera company received no government support. The committee organizing a welcome of a new governor general to Quebec city in 1879 asked Lavallée to spare no expense in preparing music for the occasion. Lavallée assembled nearly 300 musicians for a spectacle that climaxed with a simultaneous rendition of "God Save the Queen", "Vive la Canadienne", and "Comin' thro' the Rye". The crowd was impressed, but the authorities refused to pick up Lavallée's deficit of several hundred dollars. In early 1880 Lieutenant Governor Théodore Robitaille of Quebec, working with a committee to plan music for a congress of French Canadians, asked Adolphe-Basile Routhier to write the words and Lavallée the music for a national song to be premiered on Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. At the time, Routhier was a judge who later rose to the post of Chief Justice of the Quebec Superior Court. Lavallée's now well-known tune thrilled the crowd when first played publicly on 24 June 1880. The tune didn't begin to sweep English Canada until 1908, when Robert Stanley Weir, a Montreal lawyer and later a judge, wrote the now popular English version as a tribute to the Quebec Tercentenary. Ironically, soon after his triumph with "O Canada", Lavallée moved to the United States. For a time he played the piano on a steamboat and eventually made a name for himself on the contemporary American music scene. Unfortunately, he died in poverty in 1891 at Boston, and admirers moved his body back to Montreal only in 1933. The designer of this pair of commemorative stamps is Friedrich Peter, graphic artist and teacher, of Vancouver, B. C. This stamp bears stylized portraits of Lavallée, Routhier, and Weir. The colour scheme for both evokes a bright, gay, holiday mood. As an indication of the special status of this issue, the stamps are presented se tenant in a miniature pane of 16 instead of the usual 50.
Canada. Post Office Department. [Postage Stamp Press Release], 1980.
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