Un Canadien errant

"Un Canadien errant" ("a wandering Canadian") is a song written in 1842 by Antoine Gérin-Lajoie after the Lower Canada Rebellion of 1837-1838. Some of the rebels were condemned to death, others exiled to the United States . Gérin-Lajoie wrote the song, about the pain of exile, while taking his classical exams at Nicolet. The song has become a patriotic anthem for Canadians who, at different times in history, have experienced the pain of exile. In addition to those exiled following the Lower Canada Rebellion, it has had particular importance for the rebels of the Upper Canada Rebellion and for the Acadiens who had suffered mass deportation from their homeland in the Great Upheaval between 1755-1763. The Acadien version is known as "Un Acadien errant."


There are several accounts of the song's origins, most affected by sentimentality. In Souvenirs de collège, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie says that he based his verse on 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.)." In that publication the song was titled "Le Proscrit" and the tune said to be "Au bord d'un clair ruisseau."

The melody is from the French Canadian folk tune "J'ai fait une maîtresse" (of which "Si tu te mets anguille" is also a variation). The musical form is "AABB" or double-binary, with the A phrase repeated before moving to the B phrase, which is also repeated. The musical form is reflected in the lyrics as follows: 'A' phrase, with repeat:

Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers,
Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers,
'B' phrase, with repeat:

Parcourait en pleurant
Des pays étrangers.
Parcourait en pleurant
Des pays étrangers.

The rise in the tune on the first line of the B phrase is inverted on the repeat (at the point of "en pleurant"), to make the phrase period, and thus provide closure to the AABB form.

Leonard Cohen recorded "Un Canadien errant" as "The Lost Canadian" on his 1979 Recent Songs album. His own song "The Faith", on his 2004 album Dear Heather, is based on the same melody.


Ernest Gagnon in 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 (somewhat altered) fragments.' Gagnon's analysis is considered definitive.

An Acadian variation appeared in 1844 as "Un Acadien Errant", sung to the Gregorian tune "Ave Maris Stella". Otherwise, to a few (and especially to expatriate Canadians), the original song remains a patriotic song; and to all, it is a poignant recollection of French Canadian history.

Original lyrics

Original French lyrics:

Un Canadien errant,
Banni de ses foyers,
Parcourait en pleurant
Des pays étrangers.

Un jour, triste et pensif,
Assis au bord des flots,
Au courant fugitif
Il adressa ces mots

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

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

"Non, mais en expirant,
O mon cher Canada!
Mon regard languissant
Vers toi se portera . . ."

English Translation:

An errant ‘Canadien’
Banished from his homeland
Weeping, he travels on
Wandering through foreign lands

One sad and pensive day
Sat on the river’s bank
To the evasive current,
Did he address these words:

“If you should see my home
My sad unhappy land
Go, say to all my friends
That I remember them

"O days once so full of charm
You are all gone away
And my homeland, alas!
I'll not see her again

"No, but with my last breath
O my dear Canada!
My languid glance toward home
Shall carry me to you"

English Version

This is the 1927 English version by John Murray Gibbon. It follows the same ABAB rhyme scheme of the original French and is singable, but it arguably sacrifices some accuracy and emotional depth in the translation. For example, the song was not written about a lad but a fully grown man, albeit a young one.

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."

Notes and references

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