Robert Stanley Weir, FRSC, was a Montreal, Quebec judge and poet most famous for writing the English lyrics to O Canada, the national anthem of Canada. He was educated as a teacher and lawyer and considered one of the leading experts of the day on Quebec's municipal civil law. He was appointed a municipal court judge and a judge for the Exchequer Court of Canada.
Weir published several individual poems in magazines and collections in books. His lyrics for the English version of O Canada eclipsed many others' lyrical attempts and songs to quickly become the most popular patriotic song in Canada for the past century.
Robert Stanley Weir was born in Hamilton, Canada West, the son of William Park Weir and Helen Craig Smith, who had emigrated from Scotland to Canada in 1852. Weir moved to Montreal, Quebec with his family as an infant, where his father became a Surveyor of Customs in the Port of Montreal. His brother, William Alexander Weir, was born there and would later become a Cabinet Minister in the Legislative Assembly of Quebec.
Weir studied at McGill Normal School, Montreal, and at the age of 19, was appointed principal of Sherbrooke Street School, one of the newest and largest Montreal public schools at the time. He continued his studies at McGill University earning his Bachelor of Civil Law in 1880 and a Doctor of Civil Law in 1897.
In 1882, he married Margaret Alexander Douglas, daughter of wealthy Montreal businessman Alexander Douglas. They had two children, a son, Douglas Weir, and daughter Marjorie Douglas Weir. Margaret would become known for her role in a movement to provide children's playgrounds in Montreal. The family divided their time between Montreal and a summer home named Cedarhurst, in Cedarville, a picturesque hamlet on the east shore of Lac Memphrémagog in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.
From 1881, Weir practised law in Montreal and took a particular interest in municipal questions and had several of his studies published. In 1892, he ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal for the Montreal No. 4 riding of the Legislative Assembly of Quebec. In 1898, he was one of several eminent advocates appointed to revise the charter of the City of Montreal. It is believed that, in particular, he wrote many of the sections relating to expropriations and the power of the city to pass by-laws.
On May 6, 1899, he was appointed Recorder for Montreal. During this time as a recorder, he also taught liturgics and jurisprudence in the Congregational College of Canada, which was affiliated with McGill University. Weir later served as a municipal court judge and was considered an expert on the historical aspects of municipal law. Lastly, he was appointed a judge for the Exchequer Court of Canada. In 1923, he was honoured as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
In 1908, Weir wrote English lyrics for O Canada while at his summer home, Cedarhurst, in time to honour the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.
The French version had originally been commissioned in 1880 by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Théodore Robitaille with lyrics by Sir Adolphe Basile Routhier and music composed by Calixa Lavallée in time for the Congrès national des Canadiens-Français which was to be held on St. Jean Baptiste Day of that year. The popularity of the song grew quickly in Quebec and was played frequently at special events in the province.
The first evidence of O Canada being sung in English Canada was when school children sang it for the 1901 tour of Canada by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall (later King George V and Queen Mary). Various translations of the French lyrics were attempted over the next few years but none were well-received until Weir's version. It gained acceptance quickly enough that it became the most popular patriotic song for Canadians by approximately the middle of the twentieth century, winning out over The Maple Leaf Forever and other less well-known alternatives. Weir amended the lyrics slightly in 1913, 1914 and 1916.
This Weir's version would eventually become the unofficial Canadian Anthem sung in English Canada at sporting events and by Canadian schoolchildren until 1980
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