Originally composed as a theme song for a film, Gilles Vigneault’s “Mon pays” expresses nationalism, solidarity and connection to the northern landscape, and was adopted as a Québécois anthem.

Background and Significance

Gilles Vigneault was commissioned by the National Film Board to write a theme song for Arthur Lamothe's 1965 film La Neige a fondu sur la Manicouagan. Vigneault wrote both the words and the music, and completed the song in 1964. A key chanson in the Québec canon, it quickly assumed political significance. In La Chanson québécoise, Benoît L'Herbier describes it as “a Québec anthem if there is one at all, hummed with self-respect and pride.” Vigneault, however, repeatedly denied having intended to compose a Québécois anthem.

The opening phrase — "Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver" ("My country is not a country, it's winter") — provides a good illustration of the metaphoric character of the song. Vigneault speaks of winds, cold, snow and ice, establishing the weather of Northern Québec as a metaphor for its cultural isolation. But "in this land of snowstorms," the author still vows to remain faithful and hospitable like his father before him, who built a home there: "the guestroom will be such that people from the other seasons will come and build next door to it." He also evokes in the second verse the solitude of wide open spaces, and the ideal of brotherhood and solidarity. Vigneault then ends with the words: "My country is not a country, it's the reverse of a country that was neither country nor homeland. My song is not a song, it's my life. It is for you that I want to possess my winters."

Recordings and Publications

Vigneault performed "Mon pays" on the LPs À la Comédie-Canadienne (1965), Mon Pays (1966) and Les Grands Succès de Gilles Vigneault (1971), as well as the compilation albums Les Chansonniers du Québec, J'ai vu le loup, le renard et le lion and Les Chansons d'or du Québec. The text alone appeared in Avec Les Vieux Mots (1964), a collection of Vigneault's poems. Edith Fowke provided the words and music in her songbook, Canadian Vibrations. The sheet music (harmonization and arrangement by Gaston Rochon) was published by the Éditions du Vent qui vire.

“Mon pays II”

Vigneault composed a sequel, "Mon pays II," originally published by the same firm (again in a harmonization and arrangement by Rochon), and in 1969 by the French publisher Sibecar. The lyrics of "Mon pays II" at first reduce the country to very small dimensions and then goes on to identify it with a town, a province and finally, a planet "which on a window sill is spun around by a child's finger."

Cover Versions

Several other artists have recorded the song, including Salome Bey, Neil Chotem (instrumental version), Roger Doucet, the Ensemble Claude-Gervaise, Judy Lander (as "My Country"), Danielle Licari, Monique Leyrac, Ginette Reno, Gaston Rochon, Catherine Sauvage, Michel Louvain, Michèle Richard and René Simard. André Gagnon used the music as the theme for the first movement of the fourth concerto of Mes Quatre Saisons. Acadian singer Patsy Gallant recorded a disco version in French and also one in English under the title "From New York to L.A." with lyrics completely different from those of the original. This version, which was disowned by Vigneault, was an international hit in 1976.

Honours and Legacy

"Mon pays" earned Vigneault, among other honours, the Prix Félix-Leclerc, awarded by the Montréal Festival du disque (1965). For her performance of the song, Leyrac won the International Day Grand Prize at the International Song Festival in Sopot, Poland in 1965. In 1987, “Mon pays” was voted the best Québec song in a competition held by Radio-Mutuel. "Mon pays" was inducted by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.

Lyrics

Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Mon jardin ce n'est pas un jardin, c'est la
plaine
Mon chemin ce n'est pas un chemin, c'est la neige
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver

Dans la blanche cérémonie
Où la neige au vent se marie
Dans ce pays de
poudrerie
Mon père a fait
bâtir maison
Et je m'en vais être
fidèle
A sa manière, à son modèle
La chambre d'amis sera
telle
Qu'on viendra des autres saisons
Pour se bâtir à côté d'elle

Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Mon refrain ce n'est pas un refrain, c'est
rafale
Ma maison ce n'est pas ma maison, c'est
froidure
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver

De mon grand pays
solitaire
Je crie avant que de
me taire
A tous les hommes de la terre
Ma maison c'est votre maison
Entre mes quatre murs de glace
Je mets mon temps et mon
espace
A préparer le feu, la place
Pour les humains de l'horizon
Et les humains sont de ma race

Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver
Mon jardin ce n'est pas un jardin, c'est la plaine
Mon chemin ce n'est pas un chemin, c'est la neige
Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver

Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'
envers
D'un pays qui n'était ni pays ni
patrie
Ma chanson ce n'est pas une chanson, c'est ma vie
C'est pour toi que je veux
posséder mes hivers