A group calling itself ‘Restore Our Anthem’ has recently put forth their campaign to make our national anthem, as they put it, restored to its original gender-neutral lyrics to reflect what they believe are the values of present-day Canada. Granted, we are a society well-known for its celebration of multiculturalism and which is welcoming to people from all over the world. But do our lyrics need to be changed to reflect this, and does this change need to be made on the basis of the beliefs of a small group of people who may or may not represent a cross-section of present-day Canadians?
While there is some merit to the statement that as our country evolves, so do our values and beliefs, I object to their claim that they wish to restore our anthem to its original gender-neutral state when, in fact, they only wish to make the lyrics gender-neutral and not to the original state as they were written by Stanley Weir in 1908, which begins “O Canada, our home and native land! True patriot love, in all thou dost in us command…” (The English version we currently use reflects changes made in 1968 by a joint committee of Members of Parliament and Senators.)
The official lyrics, as they currently exist, are as follows:
O Canada! Our home and native land! True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise, The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free! O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
The Restore Our Anthem group proposes to alter the line, “In all thy sons command.” to “In all of us command,” which is not, in fact, the original lyric.
So is the claim to make the lyrics original, or to make them gender-neutral? What, then, happens when a new group is formed to make the lyrics religion-neutral as all lyrics from the original to the proposed include references to God, a deity widely accepted as Christian.
Bearing this in mind, how many more attempts will be made to reflect the needs of the special interest groups who all want their voice heard in our lyrics? And then, in so doing, how much of the meaning will be lost and with it our national identity? And with so many Canadians already uncertain of the lyrics, do we have any hope of re-learning the new lyrics and in the process of muddling the original, with the official, with the revised, will we lose a sense of ourselves as Canadians?
Like our flag, our national anthem identifies us as a people, distinguishing us from the rest of the world. Would the same group wishing to change our national anthem’s lyrics support the changing of our flag? And after that, what else should be changed? Perhaps our system of government, our system of health care and with it our sense of national identity.
It is safe to say that if one approached an American and asked whether the lyrics to their national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” should be changed to reflect the wishes or whims of a special interest group, that it would be met with vehement opposition and a response which would likely be to the effect of, “If you don’t like it here, leave.” I believe the same could be said for England whose own national anthem changes only to reflect whether a queen or a king is currently sitting as monarch.
These other countries do not wish their lyrics to be changed because a national anthem is meant to symbolize a nation’s strength and place in the world. To change the lyrics would imply to the rest of the world that when put under pressure from special interest groups, we will not hold fast and true to our beliefs, but will instead limply bend to accommodate. In this world’s political climate, I am not certain this is the message we Canadians wish to send.
But I am happy to be a citizen of a country which not only allows my point of view, but the points of view – however misguided and selfish I believe them to be – of the ladies who form the group, Restore Our Anthem.