With Glowing Hearts

A reasoned argument (aka rant) about the lack of gender inclusiveness in our not-very-ancient Canadian national anthem.

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.

As I worked away, head down, I heard those words from the basement TV a few times during the 2014 World Junior Hockey Championship, signalling a Canadian win. Those are the words we all grew up singing, but it seems that they’re not good enough for everyone any more.

Last October, Margaret Atwood and some other female notables launched a campaign to change the words of the anthem. The basis of their appeal is gender inclusiveness, but they also cleverly appeal to tradition. Just before the First World War, the anthem’s author changed the words from their original gender-neutral form: True patriot love thou dost in us command. So what these self-styled Canadian patriots are suggesting is not a change so much as it is a restoration. Yeah, that’s it.

Of course, they’re not so fond of tradition that they want to restore the archaic phraseology of that more inclusive version. No, what they’re asking for is a simpler rendering, more suited to this modern age: True patriot love, in all of us command.

Their plan is for us to petition Parliament to amend the National Anthem Act of 1980. I didn’t even know that there was a National Anthem Act, but I should have guessed. These things can’t be left to amateurs.

Or can they?

Without the benefit of any legislative authority, I’ve been singing ‘in all of us command’ since I was old enough to take offence at the standard version: forty years at least, I figure. How did I happen to hit on exactly the same wording that would be proposed more than once over the next forty years? Hey, the revised (I mean, ‘restored’) wording isn’t rocket science.

As for the whole petition thing, my impulse is usually more to go with what Gandhi said: Be the change you want to see in the world.  I figure I can trust politicians to do the sensible thing or I can just do it my own self. Most days, the choice seems clear.

Yet, with due respect to Gandhi, I can’t say it’s worked great so far. When Canadians get all choked up and burst into song as the flag is raised over sweaty but jubilant hockey players or playerettes, it’s still those century-old words I hear.

And you know what? They really aren’t good enough for everyone any more.

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6 Responses to With Glowing Hearts

  1. It’s nationalism and the accompanying songs that are supposed to incite chauvinism and fervour — enough to kill for — that are not good enough anymore.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Well, no argument there. I don’t know if we can hang onto love of country without the rest of it, bit it seems like it should be possible.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    I wonder how many people, in how many countries, actually pay attention to the words they’re singing. “Deutschland uber alles” is hardly exceptional in its motivation and I’m sure other anthems espouse equally chauvinistic sentiments. I mean, it must be hard for Americans to think peacefully, when they’re asked to sing about bombs bursting in air, the rockets’ red glare….
    Maybe, instead of tinkering with the words of this anthem, we should be looking seriously at some other national anthem that sets an example for other nations. “The Maple Leaf Forever” has been suggested in the past; I also think Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom” might be an inspiring choice.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I figure we often don’t think about the words, at any rate. An anthem becomes a ‘set piece’, the civic equivalent of standard prayers or liturgies, maybe. While we’re, you know, just wishing as opposed to working on it, I’d like something with a bit more bounce.

  3. Greg Schmidt says:

    Ahh, national anthems, one wonders how they get written and adopted in the first place. Of course it took us quite some time to actually ‘get’ an official national anthem just as it did a flag.

    The Americans singing of bombs bursting in air are not singing in praise of the attendant violence but recounting the scene through which they saw their flag was still there. We should not impute intention to that phrasing.

    As for the Maple Leaf Forever, please let’s not go down that road again. If one wants to import offense then sing that one. Perhaps the tune should be appropriated for some modern rap song, much as Gilles Vigneault’s ‘Mon Pays’ was bastardized for Patsy Gallant’s disco “I’m a star…”. Is nothing sacred?

    Isabel, you got it correct, let it begin with you. Just like the wind stirred by that first Monarch butterfly. Thank you for focussing upon the portion you did and not the “God keep our land …” phrasing.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Greg – I remember being surprised by how late it was that we adopted O Canada as our anthem (to replace God Save the Queen/King) – not until 1980, although it was sorta the anthem since 1939, apparently. (Is there anything Wiki doesn’t know?) But all to say that people get surprisingly attached to things of not very long duration, as if they’d been in place forever. Something to do with inertia, perhaps, or with not knowing much history. As for commending my focus/restraint, stay tuned for next week’s blog.

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