Bugs in the National Anthem.

tl;dr There is a problem with the National Anthem as presented by Canadian Heritage, and also theNational Anthem Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. N-2, and Something Should Be Done. (Business should be taken care of.)

I was looking for a nice patriotic video of O Canada for an app I had in mind, and happened to come across the Canadian Heritage Ministry’s National Anthem site.

One of the links on that page lets you download the Sheet Music. Go ahead. Take a look. I’ll wait.

Notice anything strange? Here’s a list.

1) It is typeset really badly, almost as if it was prepared by someone who is not aware that there actually are music typesetting programs that know how the rules of typesetting. For starters, the treble clef here is a space too high.

First Bar of O Canada

2) It’s in F. I am obsessed with the key signature of O Canada. It is traditionally played and sung in E♭, and there are recordings on this web site where you can hear the Toronto Symphony Orchestra perform it – in E♭. Take a listen! Just don’t try to play along using the sheet music above.

3) The bar lines are missing at the end of each staff. That’s sloppy. NewImage

an actual issue

4) There’s a wrong note in bar 5!


That C♮ should obviously be a B♮. My other complaints might be nitpicking but this one is inexcuseable. You can’t publish obviously wrong notes. My friend Guy pointed out that the C and D here should really be B♭ and C too. Come on.



And there’s another odd statement on that site.

Timing and etiquette for anthem use

There is no specific rule as to when it is appropriate to sing the national anthem at an event. It is up to the organizers to determine if “O Canada” will be sung at the beginning or at the end of a ceremony. If two anthems are to be played at the beginning of an event, “O Canada” should be played first followed by the other one.

Wait, what? Every sporting event I’ve ever been to that features two anthems plays O Canada second, not first. The home country’s anthem is the second one. Have we all been doing it wrong?

what does the law say?

Let’s consult the National Anthem Act, R.S.C., 1985, c. N-2.

It says

The words and music of the song “O Canada”, as set out in the schedule, are designated as the national anthem of Canada.

Here is the schedule. Take a look.
The sheet music in that schedule, as far as I can tell, is legally the official National Anthem of Canada, as passed by Parliament in 1985.


Wait, what’s this in bar 10?
I’ll remind you this is the official music as passed into law in 1985.


The B♭ above the word “The” has a dot, ABOVE it. Dots above a note signify that the note is to be played stacatto. Dots BESIDE a note indicate it should be 50% longer.

The dot was no doubt supposed to go beside the note, but as passed into law, it’s above the note.

As a result, this bar is short one sixteenth note. It is not a complete bar of 4/4.

Canada’s National Anthem Act specifies an anthem with 27 bars of 4/4 and one bar of 15/16.

The late Neal Peart would have no trouble with that time signature but the average Canadian would. You’ve been singing and playing it wrong your whole life, or at least since the National Anthem Act was passed in 1985.

What Should Be Done.

  • Parliament should amend the National Anthem Act to correct the error in bar 10.
  • Canadian Heritage should fix the extremely sloppy typesetting and obvious wrong notes in the Sheet Music pdf file on their web site.
  • Both versions should be transposed down a tone into E♭ to match the most common way the tune is played (and so that I can claim that E♭ truly is the National Key Signature.)
  • Clarify the rule about playing two national anthems before an event. Surely O Canada should go second.

  • Parliament should consider an amendment that says the last two notes go up an octave, especially after a Team Canada victory.

while we’re at it

  • Designate Taking Care of Business as the National Rock and Roll Anthem of Canada.