A tip of the Stetson to Mauril Belanger, an MP who has again introduced a private member’s bill seeking to make a few minor edits to a Canadian classic – our national anthem.
Ailing from ALS, the Ottawa MP is losing his own singing voice, but suggests we take a stab at making O Canada more gender inclusive. He proposes replacing “In all our sons command” with “In all of us command.”
According to Canadian Press, he introduced an identical bill in the last parliament session but it was defeated at second reading by the then-Conservative majority (all opposition MPs supported it).
“Belanger said the objective of the bill is to ‘pay tribute to all the women who have worked and fought to build and shape the Canada that we know today … to at long last honour their sacrifices and contributions.’”
I haven’t been singing “sons” since the 1980s at least, when I formed the distinct impression that the line was changed to “us”, and have been confused about what we’re supposed to be singing ever since.
It turns out the lyrics have been somewhat fluid over the decades, ebbing and flowing to suit the times.
According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, O Canada was originally called “Chant National” and was written in 1880 in Quebec City by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier, who supplied the words, in French, and composer Calixa Lavallee, who wrote the music.
Robert Stanley Weir is credited with penning the best-known English version of the song, which has undergone a number of lyrical amendments since it debuted in 1908.
Weir’s original line, “True patriot love thou dost in us command” was changed to “True patriot love in all thy sons command” as a show of support for Canadian soldiers fighting in the First World War.
Further, the refrain carried no reference to God. It simply went: “O Canada! O Canada! O Canada! We stand on guard for thee. O Canada! We stand on guard for thee.”
Various parliamentary bills that proposed adopting the song as the official national anthem appeared between 1962 and 1980.
In the 1960s, both the Senate and House of Commons were instructed to look into the matter, finally recommending changes to the lyrics, proposing “Oh Canada, glorious and free” (which I remember singing as a kid here in B.C.) change to “God keep our land, glorious and free.”
The current version was officially adopted in June 1980. (In case you were wondering, the original French lyrics – which instead focus on how the country’s “brow is wreathed in a glorious garland of flowers” – remain unaltered.)
The notion of updating the lyrics in the interests of gender inclusivity has surfaced a number of times since then.
Toronto city council, Senator Vivienne Poy, and former Governor General Michaëlle Jean have all raised the issue. Even a former prime minister has weighed in on the matter: In 2013, Kim Campbell helped head up the Restore Our Anthem Campaign.
Come to think of it, “Our home and ‘Native’ land” isn’t very inclusive to Canadians who were born somewhere else, so it’s not just about making gals like me happy.
The bottom line is the current wording is sounding increasingly out-of-step with contemporary Canadian values and risks diluting the anthem’s patriotic appeal to Men Who Were Born In Canada.
And maybe not so much everyone else.
Don’t get me wrong – they’re a great group of guys. And I know they’d love the rest of us to join them in standing proud for Canada when we sing our anthem.
Why, you ask? Because it’s 2016.
– Jennifer Lang is the editor of the Cloverdale Reporter