Canadian Studies 101


This is a selection of a dozen songs that can give one an overview of the Canadian spirit and experience. They include:

The Title Selection (Canadian Studies 101) that’s a summary of the parts of our system of government at the federal level, and how this has grown and changed over time;

Land of the Silver Birch – a song about the call of the land in an aboriginal perspective. Though most who sing it now are not indigenous, the underlying idea comes from Mohawk poet Pauline Johnson.

Jean-Baptiste au Canada – A 2000 years old prophet became patron saint to Newfoundland and French Canada as explorers from France and England arrived on his day. His message fits our country!

Northwest Passage – a classic by Stan Rogers that became an unofficial national anthem of English speaking Canada in the 1970s and 80s. A French translation is included too.

Frobisher’s Thanksgiving, another piece on the Northwest Passage that deals with North America’s first English language Thanksgiving (before the Puritans) and the significance of giving thanks.

Mon pays, c’est l’hiver/Wintertime is my country – Gilles Vigneault’s iconic piece that became Québec’s unofficial national anthem in the 1960s. An English version is included as well.

The Maple Leaf Together/La feuille d’érable ensemble – Written in 1867 to celebrate Confederation by Scottish born Alexander Muir, this became an unofficial national anthem in English speaking Canada before “O Canada” (written in French 13 years later).  It fell out of favour in the 1960s because of its reference to Wolfe and his victory over Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham).

Here’s a less partisan version but still colonial version, included here because we need to recognize and correct the old attitude that Canada’s story began with the arrival of the Europeans!

Canadian Railroad Trilogy – Gordon Lightfoot’s 1967 epic on the material link that made Canada a geographical reality from “sea to sea.”

The Hudson and the Saint Lawrence, a song that examines physical and historical reasons for the Canada-US boundary in three regions with three pairs of rivers each emptying into a different ocean.

Canada is Connections – the final song on the “Connections/Passages” series (found elsewhere in this section. “Connections” is a recurring, overarching theme in the Canadian story, whether we’re talking transport (waterways/railways/trails) or people reaching out to each other compassionately in time of need.

Both Sides Now, a song about love, life and illusion by Joni Mitchell, one of Canada’s greatest living songwriter. The refrain “I really don’t know… at all” is a lyric parallel to Bruce Hutchison’s title “The Unknown Country:” the challenge of explaining a vast, diverse country. It can’t be defined, only described, and the descriptions change from generation to generation and region to region.

A Call to Awareness, a song written in the 2015 election as it seemed that many of the values Canadians had accepted for generations were up for grabs. The visuals in the YouTube link may help remind readers/viewers what these issues and values were.


An overview selection like this is bound to leave some things out. Missing are the classic “this land of ours” type of songs that summarize the country geographically. Also missing are regional classics “Nova Scotia Farewell” and “Four Strong Winds” that are widely sung cross country. As pointed out elsewhere on this site, Canadian culture is largely regional culture. This is reflected in the large sampling of regional songs in the section. “Regions” is one of 3 Rs, along with Rail songs, and Rogers (Stan) and other bards.

This selection is limited to a sampling of highlights of the Spirit of Kanata that can be experienced in some way in all of our regions and cultures, and are not limited to any of them. For the regional flavours that give vitality to the whole, check out the entire smorgasbord.