By Dale Peacock
Hearing the opening bars of our National Anthem always makes me tear up just a little. And if I’m out of the country I am liable to burst into full blown sobs.
I was in middle of nowhere Mexico one time during the Olympics. The Canadian National Anthem was blasting from a massive old TV just inside the doorway of a modest wee house when I became overwhelmed with this feeling of patriotism that hit me in the gut like a donkey’s kick. I started to wail so forlornly that a kind woman came out with a glass of water and started patting me on the back while darting evil looks in hubby’s direction just in case he was the cause of my distress.
I say this to demonstrate – even defend – my love of country lest someone assume that I am lacking in true patriot love because I want to see change in the lyrics of the National Anthem.
First, a little history lesson. Originally called “Chant National,” it was written in Quebec City by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier and composer Calixa Lavallée and first performed on June 24, 1880. It later spread across Canada in a number of English language versions, the best known of which was written by Robert Stanley Weir in 1908.
The French version never changed but the English one was amended a number of times until being approved by a special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons in 1967. The current version was officially adopted as our National Anthem in 1980 under the National Anthem Act as proclaimed by then Governor General Edward Schreyer.
Revisions were made to Weir’s version in 1913, 1914 and 1916. In The Common School Book of Vocal Music, published by the Educational Book Company of Toronto in 1913, the original line “True patriot love thou dost in us command” was changed to “True patriot love in all thy sons command.”
This particular change was also included in a version published by Delmar in 1914, and in all versions printed thereafter. There is no solid evidence as to why the change to “sons” was made, although it is worth noting both that the women’s suffrage movement was in full swing and there was an huge upswing in patriotism at the start of the First World War . Perhaps the change was an opportunity for the power elite (read men) to both slap women down AND lift men up at the same time.
Why some people get their panties in a knot over the suggestion that we return to something closer to the original version is beyond me.
Most recently, Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, whose vocal chords have been damaged by Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is trying for a second time to change the English lyrics to O Canada to make the national anthem more gender neutral. It is a simple – in my view – request to amend the second line of the anthem from true patriot love “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command.”
Bélanger introduced an identical bill in the last session of Parliament; it was defeated at second reading last April by a close vote of 144-127. While MPs from all the opposition parties supported the change most Conservative MPs voted against it; I’d suggest it was mostly to be contrary.
Bélanger makes the point that the version he is espousing actually returns the anthem to a form closer to the original. Since 1980 there have been at least 10 attempts to change the second line to reflect the contributions that women have made to this country too and all have failed.
There is lots of passion around the subject: I understand that some people just don’t like change or see no point in it or they are traditionalists who don’t like feeling that important touchstones can be upended willy-nilly. Then there are those who believe that it disrespects men who have served and died for our country although I’m not sure how.
Others just think that talking about it is a waste of time and that ‘damn Trudeau’ should get on with something that IS important. Well, Mr. Bélanger doesn’t have much time: he is terminally ill and yet it’s important enough to him that he’s willing to spend his last days fighting for the change.
Look, nobody thinks the intent of the second line of the anthem is to marginalize half of the population. But words matter and they can lead to a change in attitude.
Why not change the words to make them more reflective of modern reality? Women work. They fight in the armed forces and female images will soon appear on currency. Our society has changed greatly since 1913 and pretty significantly since 1980; maybe it’s time for this change too. Einstein said, “When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.”
Following a career in the hospitality sector and the acquisition of a law and justice degree in her 50s, Dale embarked on a writing career armed with the fanciful idea that a living could be made as a freelancer. To her own great surprise she was right. The proof lies in hundreds of published works on almost any topic but favourites include travel, humour & satire, feature writing, environment, politics and entrepreneurship. Having re-invented herself half a dozen times, Dale doesn’t rule anything out. Her time is divided equally between Muskoka and Tampa Bay with Jim, her husband of 7 years and partner of 32 years. Two grown ‘kids’ and their spouses receive double doses of love and attention when she’s at home.
Feature artwork courtesy of www.anglotopia.net
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