Sunday, March 7

O Canada Remains...Sniff...

After those Canadians who verbalized their desire to leave the Canadian anthem alone, I have the following to say about the major concerns I read:

As stated previously, our current anthem was written in 1939, and at the time women had been considered people under the law for only 10 years and received lower wages, Native children were being forcibly removed from their communities and placed in residential schools, more people were religious in 1939 (2001 Religion Census - 77% of population Christian, 16% no religion, 6% other religions; 55,000 people said Jedi as in Star Wars), World War 2 began and Canada joined Britain in its fight for freedom. The beginning of WW2 perhaps explains the patriotic words in our anthem that I love singing. Since 1939, our ideologies toward minorities, gender, religion, and access to economic choices have changed dramatically (although the Jedi Knights may have increased). If we need to change the anthem to accommodate the changing population of Canada (we are growing in numbers due to immigration), modern day understanding of inclusivity (different genders, abilities, nationalities, religions, non-religious, etc), and to pay homage to the various groups of Inuit, Native and eventually Metis people who lived here for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived, then we would have an anthem that more truly represents who we are. Should the words we sing about our country represent how we have changed and continue to develop? Yes! (Put some great, succinct linguists on this and they would be able to widdle down the verses from the 10 to 2 or 3.)

$100,000 is a drop in the government bucket and is the government really just going to hand over this money to a Women's Shelter or pregnant teenager programs? Sadly, this is not how the regulations of such public organizations work. These organizations have complete extensive grant proposals for public funds or secure private donations. Perhaps Canadians should be more aggressively questioning the governments overspending on things such as the G8 & G20 summits (overspent by $179.4 million dollars in 2009). $100,000 to improve the anthem that states who we really are in 2010 is very little compared to other expenses the current government accrues, and in my opinion money well spent.

We are proud of who we are, especially after such a phenomenal demonstration to the rest of the world during the Olympics. However, did you hear the Russian anthem during the closing ceremonies? That was magnificent! Their anthem has been changed 8 times since 1815 to accommodate their changing political landscape. If change produces an anthem like that, bring it on!

I also think we were afraid of change and do not trust our government. There is also a strong backlash towards political correctness as we have forgotten the reasons why this movement began (see Canadian behaviour in 1939). I believe that political correctness makes us more understanding, willing to see other points of view, helps us improve our behaviours, and demonstrates knowledge that the world is full of different cultures and ways of life. Being able to see differences and respect them in a shrinking world is positive and I am concerned that Canadians are living in their small world afraid of being influenced by other ways of life, expecting conformity rather than living side by side in harmony.

Lastly, I enjoy being called a maiden and I am proud of our stalwart sons, so why can't we verbalize both genders in the first verse rather than burying it in the third? Therefore, I will continue singing ‘true patriot love in all of our command.”  Feel free to join me.


  1. Tonia, unfortunately people don't like to change. Just think about how many people get upset when Facebook changes things up a bit! I agree that we should change the anthem. Like you said, the anthem didn't have gender or god in it when it was first written... so you're actually a traditionalist, trying to change it back to it's original pristine state ;-)

  2. I think the current debate about the anthem could very well be a political distraction to keep us from debating more important issues (like domestic or foreign policy). Not that there’s anything wrong with playing politics (most people do it at some time in life), just that we should be aware that it’s happening.

    Now, your remarks about the Soviet/Russian national anthem are interesting. New regimes in Russia, from Peter the Great to the End of Communism, used renaming to form “new paradigm[s] of meaning” (Ryazanova-Clarke and Wade, “The Russian Language Today,” 85). Thus it should be no surprise that their anthem should change too. For example, Sergei Mikhailov, who died 27 August 2009, authored three sets of official lyrics to the same music. The first lyrics (1944) praised Lenin and Stalin; the second (1977) did not mention Stalin; the last (2000) does not discuss either. When The Economist (12 September 2009, 96) gave an obituary for Mr. Mikhailov, their comparison was to a Vicar of Bray, who would keep his position whether the area was Catholic or Protestant: “And this is Law I will maintain / Until my Dying Day, Sir, / That whatsoever King may reign, / I will be the Vicar of Bray, Sir!” This comparison may just be a way to poke fun at a man who was flexible enough to work with any regime, but the reality is that it is not part of the Canadian tradition to change anthems to suit the political trends of the day.

    A second thought, based once more on the admirable Russian anthem, is the extent to which an anthem should reflect contemporary society. The current iteration of Stalin’s anthem refers to Russia as a sacred power and that it is protected by God. Last time I checked Russia was considered a more secular society than Canada. Yet it uses religious rhetoric incongruent with contemporary Russian society. If the Russian anthem is a model for Canada, then reflecting modern culture is actually not important.

    Finally, on to “O, Canada:” Your recommended change to the line in question actually changes the meaning of the song, which I find more offensive than the current phrase. Using the term “O” means that we are using the vocative case. Thus we are calling upon the country, or perhaps the embodiment/personification of the nation. When we sing “True patriot love in all thy sons command” we are, as I understand it, asking the nation to command its (her?) sons to have true patriot love. It is even clearer in the original English (1908) lyrics, “True patriot love thou dost in us command.” By changing the phrase to “True patriot love in all of our command,” we command others (or possible Canada herself?) to have true patriot love. Whether that is a more democratic or totalitarian view is beside the point. The point is that it changes who commands true patriot love from the citizens. Granted, personifying a nation is a very romantic (and archaic) idea and there might be good reasons to change the whole thing to remove such stuff. Now, I have to admit that I really like the fourth verse because it changes the tone from addressing Canada and becomes a prayer ( so I hope we don’t change it, plus it’s a much easier song to sing than “The Star-Spangled Banner.” If you’re looking for a gender neutral phrase to sing, I’d go back to the 1908 line “thou dost in us command,” because it does not reverse the meaning. Why reinvent a functioning wheel, just because it got set aside for a while?

  3. (Thunderous applause for the previous speaker.)
    I salute your report on the history and meaning of the Russian anthem. I heard it and enjoyed it, but do not understand Russian and cannot comment on its meaning or message. So thank you for sharing and enlightening me.

    In reference to the Canadian anthem, might I suggest that rather than changing it we could learn it, all the verses and see the beauty and history in the words.

    The words are not mine, but I share my interpretation of them and the meaning I see in the whole of the anthem.

    The first verse refers to the beginnings of the nation and our early history where it is accurate to say that the patriots were the sons of the nation. Historians often comment that the birth of this nation really happened during the World Wars when Canadians began to see themselves as a separate nation rather than a nation within the British Commonwealth. My mother, who served in the RCAF during WWII, would be the first to say that the price to have this nation rise in stature was paid by the sons of Canada.

    The second verse pays homage to the beauties and vastness of the land itself and to the economic opportunities afforded to here, Thou land of hope for all who toil.

    The third verse speaks of the future generations of Canadians, "May stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise, To keep thee steadfast through the years", and the responsibility to maintain the freedoms and blessings we have in this great land provided in part to us by those patriotic sons from the first verse.

    And then the anthem ends in a prayer that the supreme ruler who hears our humble prayers (whatever you name call God and whatever you believe of God's attributes) will hold our dominion carefully and bless us to find a lasting, rich reward.

    I'm happy to keep the anthem as it is because I love it and it still speaks to me of gratitude for those who went before me and for the legacy they gave to me, of wonder and awe for the beauties of this fabulous land, of responsibility to maintain and protect both the land and the nation, and of humble pleading to God for help in these great challenges.

    I believe that those messages ring true to Canadians whatever their race or ethnic background, whatever their gender, no matter how long their families have lived in Canada, and wherever they live in this great land. Whatever the challenges we face and however the face of Canadians change, I hope we always have the positive, optimistic attitude that allows us to see this great land as a land of hope for all who toil and I hope we continue to be willing to work for the rich reward and better day that we envision.

  4. Your response was fantastic and really, you have much more Russian history than I, and their anthems were changed due to large and obvious regime alterations, not the problem the Canadian government had for the four days this issue was debated publicly.

    My comparison between the Russian and Canadian experience was to demonstrate that even if anthems change slightly or altogether, even if it is not tradition, change is something we should expect not fear. You are correct in stating that it is not our tradition in Canada to change our anthem based on the political party in power (and I am not sure Russians would call it a tradition to change their anthem, but what is the use of paying homage to a Tsar when you now have a Federation with a constitution). It is however, our tradition to improve, alter, change and adapt our countries laws, government policies, etc when the majority says it should be so (or when the government sneaks in changes in the 11th hour after a long day). On the issue of changing the anthem, I know I was in the minority, especially with the informal CBC poll and therefore this issue was put to rest due to the majority's voice. But had the majority desired a change, it would have been debated and we may have looked to a country such as Russia, whose current anthem is only 10 years old, as a positive example of change and not an outrageous, unpatriotic suggestion that would peel apart any shred of loyalty in our great nation (I heard some Canadians go a little out there with the 'end of all things Canadian' mentality). Canada would still be around, we would all still be proud and we would still have a magnificent song to sing at the next Olympic Games!

    As for my linguistic alteration to the first verse, this is really not considerate of you. I had to write an extra paper in high school so that I could pass my linguists course and you have a linguistic sister (a self professed geek of the subject) with whom you debate the nuances of language. Shall we include her in this portion of the debate?

    I shall give you my two cents worth nonetheless: You feel my change is more offensive, and I feel the lack of inclusion of 51% of the population offensive. Here we are at a cross-roads: the North going Zax and the South going Zax (see Dr. Seuss). 'In all of our command' means that we are, as individuals, commanding ourselves to be patriotic to Canada, not that Canada is demanding our loyalty. 'In all our sons (daughters) command' has meant that the power lies within the person to control his or her patriotism and it is directed toward our country. Any linguists out there want to assist here? Even with linguistic assistance, it is also about interpretation and these lines have always meant that I control or command my loyalty, and it is directed at my country, 'O Canada'.

    My quip: The other 1908 version does seem intellectually interesting, but it is a mouthful of old-school words that create more of a tongue twister than a sentence. How will the Grade 2's sing that at an assembly and not repeatedly bite their tongues?

    The forth verse is also interesting and I agree it is like a prayer, but fascinating that 'God' has two names, 'Supreme Ruler' and 'God'. I wonder if down the line more religions will desire one of their God's names be included: 'Great Spirit' 'Allah' or 'Divine Mother' (try squeezing that one in). We shall continue the debate when this occurs in 10 - 15 years.

  5. Patti, thank you for your thoughts too. The more I think about my country, the things that represent us, the more I learn about other places in the world, the more I love the ability we have to express our opinions without fear of censorship or brute force. So glad that people are using this blog do to so. We will never be of one mind on the issues around us, but I am certainly enjoying the expressing of thoughts here.

    PS. Patti! Nepotism is great here too! Who done just a darn great job teaching that 'tere son 'o yours?

  6. Patti,

    I had a further thought about the World Wars being won by the sons of the nation, and from this Canada rising to its independence. True many men who went to war fought on the front lines, in trenches, and foreign countries. (Both my Grandfathers were in France during WW2 but neither fought on the front lines.) I have walked through some of these trenches, visited concentration camps and most recently walked the D-Day Beaches of Normandy. The most interesting thing our Normandy tour guide (a British man, whose knowledge of the WW2 was astronomical) emphasized for the 5 days of our tour, was the war was won due to the group effort of ALL the countries and ALL the people.

    The World Wars were won because of the group effort of ALL the people in each country, including within Canada. It was socially acceptable and expected for men to fight on the front line, not for women. So the women fought in other ways. They went into the factories and made the bombs, ammunition, tanks, planes etc. that the nations needed to win the war. These women were also in the field as medics and nurses trying to save lives and comfort those who had been wounded. Women fought for our freedoms in countless other ways (like your mother). It was also women like my Grandma who, as a single parent during and after the war, raised children like my father alone, thus building a nation. Delete either gender and the wars would not have been won. Delete either gender and there would not have been a nation from which to build the country we both love. The wars and our nation were built by both genders. Why do we acknowledge one and not the other?

    Countries, news, the general populace have systemically ignored or pushed to the sidelines the contribution of women in their country's history. (The debate as to the reasons would be much for fun to discuss over a Dairy Queen blizzard.) As a modern nation, we have acknowledged that Canada has been guilty of this. As recompense and as an apology, we have been singing 'in all our sons command' for 30 years. Perhaps for the next 30 years we should sing 'in all our daughters command' and by 2040 we will be ready to find a more neutral term that acknowledges everyone who helped build our nation: from the Cree women who taught the French men to hunt, trap and survive and who jointly created the Metis nation; to those men and women who continue to fight and sacrifice lives for Canada; to the beauty of our natural landscape for which many people are currently fighting to preserve. If it changing the anthem to 'daughters' gets you hot under the collar, then why continue singing only about our 'sons'?

    Here are a few websites that highlight women in Canadian history, and women in world history:

    Books written about Canadian women in our history:

  7. We should get an O Canada rap, you know, to keep up with the times, yo. Peace out, Canadian homies!

  8. Ha ha ha! You write it, I may even sing along....I mean beat box along.