Originally titled La complainte, Un Canadien errant was written in less than one hour. The next day, every college student knew the song and, shortly thereafter, every French Canadian in Lower Canada knew the words to Un Canadien errant. The song captured the deep feeling of sadness felt by many at the time.
In his memoir Souvenirs de collège, Antoine Gérin-Lajoie tells how he adapted his lyrics to the deeply expressive folk song he chose as a vehicle: “I wrote that song in 1842 when I was in Rhetoric Class in Nicolet, Quebec. I wrote it one night in bed at the request of my friend Cyp Pinard.”
Acadians also adopted the song as their own in 1884, changing its first line into Un Acadien errant. Many Acadians who had refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown emigrated to Lower Acadia or Cape Breton between 1749 and 1755. Fearing that they might join the French during the war, the Governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, decided in 1755, and again in 1758, to deport the Acadians to New England and the Atlantic Coast.
Un Canadien errant has been performed and translated into many languages, and is one of the world’s most recognized songs thanks to adaptations by such international artists as Leonard Cohen and Greek singer Nana Mouskouri.