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The Canadian Boat Song


Thanks to Susan Manderrson for sending this in. She tells me she has the poem in an old book she has entitled "The Bedside Book" and she found the following comments about the poem on the Great Clan Ross web site.

Assuming that you are referring to a song with Scottish and Canadian connections, the only one which speaks to exiled or immigrant Highlanders is "Canadian Boat Song". The mention of a "degenerate lord" and "his sheep" is an unveiled reference to the Highland Clearances. The "sheiling" is a Highland cottage, and the "claymore" is a Highland broadsword. The line, "Yet the blood is strong, the heart is Highland", truly identifies the strong feelings of many Scottish Canadians.

The poem first appeared in the September 1829 issue of Blackwood's Magazine. Thus far, it continues to be attributed to an anonymous author of the 18th century. Several poets have been proposed as authors, but none has taken credit. One of the best possibilities was John Galt (1779 - 1839), the Upper Canada land developer after whom the Ontario town of Galt was named (now part of Cambridge ON). Correspondence with his friend, the physician and poet David Macbeth Moir (1798 - 1851), has been confirmed. In a conversation, Moir is quoted as saying, "By the bye, I have a letter this morning from a friend of mine now in Upper Canada. He was rowed down the St. Lawrence lately, for several days on end, by a set of strapping fellows, all born in that country, and yet hardly one of them could speak a word of any tongue but the Gaelic." As they rowed, the "voyageurs" sang many Gaelic ditties. Thus, there might have been some collaboration in the composition of the poem.

Canadian Boat Song
Anonymous

Listen to me, as when ye heard our father
Sing long ago the song of other shores -
Listen to me, and then in chorus gather
All your deep voices as ye pull the oars;

Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land.


 From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas -
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides.

Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land.


We ne'er shall tread the fancy-haunted valley,
Where 'tween the dark hills creeps the small clear stream,
In arms around the patriarch banner rally,
Nor see the moon on royal tombstone gleam.

Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land.


When the bold kindred, in the time long-vanished,
Conquered the soil and fortified the keep,
No seer foretold the children would be banished,
That a degenerate lord might boast his sheep.

Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land.


Come foreigner rage - let Discord burst in slaughter!
O then for clansmen true, and stern claymore -
-The hearts that would have given their blood like water
Beat heavily beyond the Atlantic roar.

Fair these broad meads - these hoary woods are grand;
But we are exiles from our fathers' land.

The Spring Newsletter for CRA-Canada, 1987, states: "The Canadian Boat Song is part of our heritage. It was sung by the Scots during their long canoe trips to western Canada in the fur trading days. The author of the song is unknown but he is thought to have been a 'Norwester.'"


We got a note in from George Bradley...

By the heading on this page referring to Thomas Moore, I thought perhaps you are inferring him to be the author of the song & poem 'Canadian Boat Song' that you then show.

If I am a stickler for correctness, I suppose it is inherited from my 'Son o' Scotland' Presbyterian grandfather, Charles E. Millar.  May I offer to you for the sake of clarity the poem that is attributable to Thomas Moore?  The  Irish poet who visited Upper Canada in 1804 and afterwards composed the following, should be distinguished clearly from the anonymous Scottish Author who provided the song and poem that you show.

I hope this has been helpful to you.  Sincerely, George Bradley, Red Deer, Alberta Canada.

"A Canadian Boat-Song" 
Written by Thomas Moore

Faintly as tolls the evening chime
Our voices keep tune and our oars keep time.
Soon as the woods on shore look dim,
We`ll sing at St. Anne`s our parting hymn.
Row, brothers, row, the stream runs fast,
The Rapids are near and the daylight`s past!

Why should we yet our sail unfurl?
There is not a breath the blue wave to curl;
But, when the wind blows off the shore,
Oh! sweetly we`ll rest our weary oar.
Blow, breezes, blow, the stream runs fast,
The Rapids are near and the daylight`s past!

Utawas` tide! this trembling moon
Shall see us float over thy surges soon.
Saint of this green isle! hear our prayers,
Oh, grant us cool heavens and favouring airs.
Blow, breezes, blow, the stream runs fast,
The Rapids are near and the daylight`s past!


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