By George Brown, editor
I don’t know an octave from my elbow.
I sing only in the key of me.
But I do know the words to our national anthem.
And dammit, if you’re going to ask me to stand and sing along to O Canada, then you had better sing the official words to the arrangement that I — and 34 million other Canadians have become accustomed to singing.
I don’t know how many versions of O Canada I heard on Dominion Day — that’s Canada Day for our younger readers— some were pre-recorded instrumentals to which we sang along, others were led by Canadians young and old alike. They all had one thing in common — they were all different.
Being invited to sing O Canada, our national anthem, before the drop of the puck at a hockey game, at the cenotaph on Remembrance Day or at the grand entry of a rodeo is an honour. It’s not your opportunity to lay down an interpretation for YouTube or to bastardize the lyrics because you don’t like them or you can’t get your tongue around them.
Some of those versions would send lyricist Calixa Lavallée spinning in his grave.
Only an Act of Parliament can alter the words and the last time that was done was in 1980 when the present lyrics became official. With a little editing, they were essentially the same lyrics we had sung for more than 75 years.
You might recall the kerfuffle this spring when the prime minister mused that the lyrics should be changed to become gender neutral. He backed off in a hurry; that would have also opened the can of worms about removing the reference to God and no Christian prime minister would want to be involved in that debate.
I remember being at a political meeting in Eckville in 1982 and we all stood to sing the national anthem. Premier Peter Lougheed was booming out the words and when he sang the old “And stand on guard, O Canada, We stand on guard for thee” there wasn’t one of us who had any thought about drowning him out with the new “From far and wide, O Canada, We stand on guard for thee.”
We also heard God Save the Queen a lot last week as Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh were in Canada. God Save the Queen is Canada’s royal anthem, played at special occasions where Her Majesty or the Governor-General is present. Little did I know that there are more verses to that anthem than are traditionally sung — at least by Canadian subjects. I attended the presentation of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medals that MP Dale Johnston hosted in Wetaskiwin in 2002. The program listed all of the verses, including my favourite:
O Lord our God arise
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix
God save us all
Back in Queen Victoria’s day, the words to the second verse were:
From France and Pretender
Great Britain defend her,
Foes let them fall;
From foreign slavery,
Priests and their knavery,
And Popish Reverie,
God save us all.
No doubt about the supremacy of the British monarchy back in those days.
It’s uniquely Canadian that we have more than one “official” version of our national anthem and we get to enjoy it every Saturday from October to June when we watch Hockey Night in Canada. (Don’t get me going on how that theme was hijacked.) Most Canadian men know how to sing the French version, at least phonetically. Roget Doucet in the old Montreal Forum could seamlessly stitch the English and French versions together.
Our national anthem is a song expressing our loyalty and patriotism toward Canada. It’s not a ditty you can personalize or add a new twist to for the new millennium. O Canada is not “With a Little Help From My Friends” and you’re not Joe Cocker. O Canada is not “Proud Mary” and you’re not Ike or Tina Turner.
Please respect our country, respect our flag and respect our national anthem.
Clip this out and stick it in your wallet for future reference:
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.