O Canada, Who Are You?
When a 9th grader asked me to teach him the Canadian national anthem earlier this week, I thought it was a pretty straightforward request, and a quick search online would fill in the blanks. But I was mistaken. Canada has no national anthem.
Most Canadians would dispute this. They made it through a record 14 gold medal ceremonies in the 2010 Winter Olympics, after all, singing the refrain, "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee."
But what about French Canadians? The English and French lyrics are not aligned. French Canadians don't stand on guard to protect Canada. Instead, they count on Canada to stand on guard for them--to protect their homes and their rights. Both sentiments are worthy of a national anthem, but at some point, you have to agree as a nation what it is you stand for. That's why it is called a national anthem, and not a this-is-what-it-means-to-me improvisation.
French Canadians have remained consistent, singing the same words to the same tune for 130 years. But English-speaking Canadians can't leave well enough alone. First, they translated the French lyrics but kept the sentiment. Then, they borrowed the tune but gave it completely different lyrics. Then they added extra stanzas. Then removed them. Finally, in 1980, the English lyrics were officially settled, based on an early 20th Century version that focused on the sacrifice of Canada's sons to protect its borders. Not surprisingly, this version gained popularity during World War I.
Trouble is, these lyrics have nothing to do with the French-language version. And as it turns out, the English version is still controversial. From 1990 up to the present day, both liberal and conservative Canadians have objected to a line in the current English version: "True patriot love in all thy sons command." Most recently, the ruling conservative party asked the Canadian Parliament to consider reverting the current English line about "sons" to an earlier, pre-WWI version that expressed the same sentiment but in gender-neutral terms. Interestingly, both versions were from the same author, Stanley Weir. No matter, the current opposition party felt that the suggestion was a political maneuver, and not worthy of consideration.Continued on the next page