Calixa Lavallée was born on December 28, 1842 in a village near Montreal in the Province of Canada, now the Province of Quebec. He was a musical prodigy, the son of a blacksmith, logger and bandmaster.

Considering his upbringing, it is unlikely that he ever played pond hockey or shinny, as it was known before the formalizing of the game of hockey in 1875. Nevertheless, he is inextricably tied to the modern game of hockey played in North America and in ice arenas around the globe because Calixa Lavallée is the composer of the Canadian nation anthem, “O Canada.”

Even more interesting and somewhat improbable is that Calixa Lavallée lived in Rhode Island for a time and only a few months after southern rebels attacked Fort Sumpter in South Carolina in 1961 he enlisted with the 4th Rhode Island Infantry Regiment in Providence to fight with the Union Army in the US Civil War.

Calixa, a trained musician, mastered many instruments. As a teenager, in 1857 he left home in Canada for the United States with a musical troupe, the New Orleans Minstrels, and travelled throughout much of the United States and then settling in Rhode Island in 1860.

It is speculated that Calixa, raised in lower Canada under the rule of Great Britain, was enamored by the courage of the Americans who fought in the War of Independence to successfully break away from British rule, which he would later reflect on as four colonies (Nova Scotia, Ontario, New Brunswick and his own Quebec) eventually accomplished the same when they formed the “Dominion of Canada” to become a self-governing state in 1867.

And so it was that Calixa, now 19 year of age, enlisted as a Private in the 4th Rhode Island Infantry Regiment’s Band on September 17th, 1861 and mustered into service on October, 21st. He remained with the Regiment after most bandsmen, including his brother George, were mustered out on August 16th, 1862, but not before being wounded in Antietam, considered the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

As we see in documentaries and movies recreating the battle scenes of early wars, the band was no safe place in a war and Calixa was fully aware. Commanders recognized the role that music played in inspiring their soldiers and their drum and fifers played well into enemy positions and into harms way.

Music served a number of functional and symbolic purposes in the war. Sound facilitated the movement of troops by providing a steady and consistent rhythm that helped soldiers walk as a unit. From a tactical standpoint, musicians used a repertoire of signals, usually short and easily identifiable gestures that conveyed specific information to soldiers and commanders quicker than word of mouth and perhaps more reliably than visual cues, especially in the heat of battle

In 1863, Calixa retured to Montreal organizing concerts, composing and teaching. In 1866, he returned to the US, where he married an America woman while in Lowell, MA. They returned to Montreal in 1875. To celebrate St. Jean-Baptiste Day in 1880, Lavallée was commissioned to compose a national song for Canada. Although many English speakers considered “God Save the Queen” and “the Maple Leaf Forever” as unofficial anthems, these were not pieces that the French could relate to and something more universal was felt required. Calixa went straight to work.

Working alongside conservative judge and poet A.B. Routhier, who authored a poem that would be an inspiration for the anthem, Lavallée had requested that the poet wait until the music was first composed before choosing the lyrics. As Lavallée had recently conducted a series of performances of works by Mozart, master works such as the Magic Flute, the Twelfth Mass, and operas by Verdi, and Rossini, were likely fresh in his mind when he composed the music to what became known as “Ô Canada”. Routhier’s original French lyrics were translated to English in 1906 and were revised three times since, the final time by R.S. Weir.

While “O Canada” had served as a de facto national anthem since 1939, it officially became the country’s national anthem 100 years after its original writing in 1980 when Canada’s National Anthem Act received royal assent and became effective on July 1st as part of that year’s Dominion Day (today’s Canada Day) celebration.

I has since become an inspirational source of pride to Canadians at hockey games, sporting events and international medal presentations ever since. Rhode Islanders can take a little pride in knowing that its composer once put his life on the line bravely fighting with us in the American Civil War.