"Un Canadien errant"

"Un Canadien errant" ["The Lost Canadian"]. Folk song; lyrics written in 1842 by Antoine Gérin-Lajoie. There are numerous versions of the story of this song's origins, but few that are not distorted by sentimentality. In his manuscript "Souvenirs de collège," Antoine Gérin-Lajoie describes his tailoring of his verse to an existing folk tune: "I wrote it in 1842 when I was taking my classical exams at Nicolet. I did it one night in bed at the request of my friend Cyp Pinard, who wanted a song to the tune of 'Par derrière chez ma tante'... It was published in 1844 in the Charivari canadien with my initials (A.G.L.)." However, in that publication the song bore the title "Le Proscrit" and the tune was said to be "Au bord d'un clair ruisseau."

Ernest Gagnon in his Chansons populaires du Canada (Quebec City 1865) says "the original tune was 'J'ai fait une maîtresse,' of which the words of the variant 'Si tu te mets anguille' are only rather altered fragments." The Gagnon analysis is considered definitive.

The Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs, edited by Edith Fowke (Harmondsworth, England 1973), notes that after the rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada of 1837-8, rebels who escaped reprisal went into exile in the US. Fowke writes: "Their plight inspired a young student, M.A. Gérin-Lajoie, to write 'Un Canadien errant,' setting it to the tune of a popular French folk song, 'Si tu te mets anguille.' Soon after the song appeared in 1842, French Canadians were singing it from Acadia on the east coast to the distant reaches of the North-West Territories."

Antoine Gérin-Lajoie's lyrics were also informally adopted by the Acadians beginning in 1844, in the context of the Acadian deportation 1755-62. (After refusing to swear allegiance to the British crown, many Acadians fled to inland Acadia, Île St-Jean [Prince Edward Island], or Cape Breton, 1749-55. Fearing they might join the French during the war, Charles Lawrence, the governor of Nova Scotia, decided to deport Nova Scotian Acadians to New England and the Atlantic coast. When peace was restored, some of the exiles returned to Acadia and Quebec.) The descendants of these Acadians found the words of "Un Canadien errant" appropriate to their own situation. Adopting the piece as their national song, they changed the opening line to "Un Acadien errant" and sang the resulting variant to the Gregorian tune "Ave Maris stella."

Recordings and Arrangements

"Un Canadien errant" has been arranged or recorded a number of times. There is an English version of the song in Canadian Folk Songs, Old and New by John Murray Gibbon (London 1927, 1949). Albert Chamberland played his Fantaisie on the tune of "Un Canadien errant" 13 Apr 1926 at the Monument national. Morley Calvert also used the melody for a movement in his Suite from the Monteregian Hills (1961). Jean-François Sénart arranged the song for four-part choir (Alliance des chorales du Québec 1975, recorded on RCI 429); other arrangements exist as well. Joseph Saucier 's 78-rpm recording (1915, HMV XX-007) was one of the first recordings of the song in Canada. Several recordings subsequently appeared, including those by Éva Gauthier (1917, Victor 69311); Jacques Labrecque (9-RCI/RCA CS-100-2, reissued on CD as 5 ACM 39); Alan Mills with Hélène Baillargeon (as "Si tu te mets anguille" 9-RCI/RCA CS-100-1, reissued with the Labrecque interpretation above); Nana Mouskouri, who made the song well known outside Canada; and Leonard Cohen (as "The Lost Canadian," 1979, Columbia PC 36264, reissued on CD, Columbia CK 36264).

"Un Canadien errant" was inducted by the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2007.

English Lyrics

Translation by Edith Fowke

Source: Fowke, Edith and Alan Mills (eds). Singing our History: Canada's Story in Song, (Doubleday, Toronto, 1984)

Once a Canadian lad,
Exiled from hearth and home,
Wandered, alone and sad,
Through alien lands unknown.
Down by a rushing stream,
Thoughtful and sad one day
He watched the water pass
And to it he did say:

"If you should reach my land,
My most unhappy land,
Please speak to all my friends
So they will understand.
Tell them how much I wish
That I could be once more
In my beloved land
That I will see no more.

"My own beloved land
I'll not forget till death,
And I will speak of her
With my last dying breath.
My own beloved land
I'll not forget till death,
And I will speak of her
With my last dying breath."

French Lyrics

Un Canadien errant,
Banni des ses foyers,
Parcourait en pleurant Des pays etrangers.

Parcourait en pleurant
Des pays etrangers.
Un jour, triste et pensif,
Assis au bord des flots,
Au courant fugitif
Il adressa ces mots:
Au courant fugitif
Il adressa ces mots:

"Si tu vois mon pays,
Mon pays malheureux,
Va dire a mes amis
Que je me souviens d'eux.
Va, dis à mes amis
Que je me souviens d'eux.

O jours si pleins d'appas,
Vous êtes disparus...
Et ma patrie, helas!
Je ne la verrai plus!
Et ma patrie, helas!
Je ne la verrai plus!"