A century of the Ode to Newfoundland
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are the only Canadians whose province has two national anthems. We sing our own Ode to Newfoundland fervently, to acknowledge our heritage as Newfoundlanders, and we sing O Canada with equal joy to celebrate that we are now Canadians, too.
But few among us know the story of how our Ode became our national anthem and even fewer of us know that it achieved this status before O Canada did so.
Sir Cavendish Boyle, the governor of Newfoundland from 1901 to 1904, wrote the words to our Ode during his term as governor. (He also donated the Boyle Trophy, emblematic of each year’s senior hockey champions.) It was originally sung to music written by professor E.R. Krippner, a German bandmaster who was living in St. John’s at the time. The anthem was first performed publically, to Krippner’s tune, on Dec. 22, 1902.
But Boyle didn’t like the music, which he considered too spritely. He wanted a tune more fitting to a national anthem. He asked Sir Hubert Parry, a British composer who was a personal friend of his, to compose a new musical setting. Parry did so, and the music to which we sing the Ode today was first performed in St. John’s on May 20, 1904. It found a ready acceptance, and soon won a place in the hearts of everyone who heard it. All of us were taught, as school children, to sing it.
The Ode to Newfoundland officially became our national anthem on Nov. 6, 1902, when the Government of Newfoundland led by Sir Robert Bond designated it as such. This was done by Order-in-Council, rather than by a statute. Bond pledged, in his manifesto for the 1909 general election, that he would give the Ode statutory status should he win. But he lost the election. The Ode, however, remained our national anthem. And it still is.
O Canada is a little older than our Ode; it was first sung publicly on June 24, 1880. It became popular as more and more Canadians began to sing it, to proclaim their pride in Canada. But it was not until 1927 that the Government of Canada officially recognized “O Canada” and authorized it to be sung “in Canadian schools and for use at public functions,” in the words used by today’s Canadian Heritage Department to describe it. There the matter rested; no government ever asked Parliament to declare it officially to be the national anthem.
We brought our national anthem with us into Canada in 1949, and continued to sing it together with our other national anthem, O Canada. Legally, both stood on the same status — given its standing by Orders-in-Council, adopted by a national government. And both enjoyed a place in our hearts.
Failure to salute
There the matter rested until 1974. That summer, Newfoundland’s lieutenant-gover- nor, Gordon Winter, noticed that officers and men of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment failed to come to attention and salute when the Ode to Newfoundland was played during a ceremony at which he presided.
Winter asked for an explanation. He was told that the soldiers meant no disrespect, but the Ode had no official standing. Winter promptly spoke with Frank Moores, then premier of Newfoundland, who readily agreed to remedy this. The House of Assembly voted unanimously to make it so, in 1975. I was one of the members who had the privilege of supporting it.
But the full truth of the story is that our Ode wasn’t the only national anthem that lacked statutory recognition. O Canada stood on exactly the same footing. It was not until 1980 — five years after our Ode was given formal legislative sanction — that the Parliament of Canada passed the National Anthem Act. (Parliament also changed the lyrics, to those that we sing today.)
The Ode, then, is the oldest of our two National Anthems. It was the first to be recognized as such by a government at a time when Newfoundland and Canada enjoyed equal constitutional status as self-governing entities within the British Empire. And our House of Assembly made it our official anthem by law five years before the Parliament of Canada accorded the same honour to O Canada.
The Canadian Forces, unfortunately, still fail to recognize our Ode. Canada’s soldiers, sailors and airmen are forbidden to acknowledge the Ode to Newfoundland when it is played at military ceremonies, although of course they do so with O Canada. The powers-that-be wisely do not enforce that rule in Newfoundland and Labrador. But as recently as six years ago the soldiers of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were ordered not to salute the Ode as a national anthem during their pilgrimage to France and Flanders.
This failure by the authorities doesn’t lesson our love and respect for the Ode. But neither does it negate the truth that our Ode became a national anthem long before O Canada was so designated.
Edward Roberts has had a lifelong interest in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was an MHA for 23 years, and served as the province’s lieutenant-governor from 2002 to 2008. He can be reached by email at the following: email@example.com