New national anthem

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In all of us command a new national anthem

Celebrating feats of athleticism is only one part of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Korea. Country and sponsor branding is on full display on every uniform, ad and venue. National anthems will be played while flags are raised and medals are handed out

Canada has just scored one for inclusivity. In anthems. A small change to the words of Canada’s national anthem has just become law. Passed by both of Canada’s Houses of Parliament, Bill C-210 received Royal assent this month.

Tessa Virtue Scot Moir receive gold medals and sing the national anthem at the Olympics

Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, of Canada, celebrate at the medals ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea, Feb. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Canada’s Olympians sang the new version at the flag raising ceremony at the welcoming Canada House in the Olympic Village. Virtue and Moir gave it a memorable sparkle in at the ceremony accepting their Olympic gold medals.

Proposed by the late MP, Mauril Bélanger, the bill altered one of the opening lines of the English version of O Canada to ensure gender parity. The third line “In all thy sons command” becomes “In all of us command”.

It has been a marathon to make this small but significant change. Finally Canada’s national anthem is contemporary, inclusive and reflective of both history and today.

Commanded for a different time and place

O Canada was not without controversy. It was a long time coming, in two official languages. Like the country, it has  distinct beginnings and close ties to history, language and culture. Commissioned by the Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, judge Adolphe-Basile Routhier wrote the French lyrics. Composer Calyx Lavallée created the music.

O Canada was first performed for 500 guests at a banquet for the National Congress of French Canadians on June 24, 1880. June 24 continues to be celebrated today in la belle province as Saint Jean Baptiste Day, or la Fête Nationale du Québec.

Uniforms and national anthems rooted in Canada's history at the Plains of Abraham

Uniforms in the Plains of Abraham Museum

Appropriately for a country which expects to win Olympic  gold on the ice, the venue for the banquet was the Pavillion des patineurs – a skating rink on the Grande Allée in Quebec City. The same rink where local boy, Joe Malone lead the Quebec Bulldogs in back to back Stanley Cup wins in 1911-1912 and 1912-1913. The building was destroyed by fire in 1918. It is now the main entrance to Battlefields Park otherwise known as the Plains of Abraham — a seminal place in Canada’s history.

This anthem has a masterful character and when sung by a great number of voices creates a most impressive effect — Review of the performance in Le Canadien on June 30, 1880.

Changing Tunes

Duke of Cornwall and York, later King George V heard O Canada in Toronto in1901

King George V, by Sir Luke Fildes, 1911

In 1901, school children in Toronto sang an English version for the visit of the Duke of Cornwall and York, the future King George V. Others crafted English versions of O Canada for competitions and ceremonies. The popular patriotic tunes of those days were “God Save the King” and the “Maple Leaf Forever”.

The English version of O Canada used today was written in 1908 by Montrealer, Robert Stanley Weir to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City.

While the French lyrics and score have remained the same, Weir’s version of O Canada has undergone several rewrites. The first version contained the awkward phrase, “True patriot love thou dost in us command”. It was changed in 1913 to “True patriot love in all thy sons command”. This was when the women’s suffrage movement was at its most controversial. So while O Canada was adopted in French as the de facto national anthem, in English it was “God Save the King”.

In 1927, for the Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, Weir’s O Canada lyrics were published by the federal government. This helped it become sung in schools and theatres.

By 1967 the country’s sesquicentennial year, singing O Canada was a morning ritual for schoolchildren in both official languages. Despite numerous attempts by parliament, it still failed to reach status as the country’s national anthem. It was not until 1980 when the National Anthem Act was passed.

O Canada National Anthem Act scoreSince then, no less than a dozen times bills were introduced but failed to change the English lyrics.

Times they are a changing
In a illustration of how Canada’s parliamentary democracy works, the latest bill was tabled in May, 2016 by Mr. Bélanger as a private member’s bill, not by a political party. The ailing Hon. Belanger made it back into the House of Commons in June 2016 for the sole purpose to move the bill to a vote. Bill C-210 passed in the House by a margin of 225 to 74, just a few weeks before Mr. Bélanger’s death.

It took a further 18 months of debate to finally pass third reading in the Senate in January 2018. Some members opposed the idea of changing the lyrics, saying the process was not democratic, and others felt “some things just shouldn’t change”.

The words “In all of us command” is another part of Canada’s history, signalling to the world a progressive and inclusive brand as a country. It also fits with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in  Canada’s Constitution Act of 1982 which guaranteed individual rights and freedom from discrimination.

Now the national anthem itself is a reflection of the equality of all people who call themselves Canadian.

Help in singing from the same song sheet
After more than 100 years, the tune is familiar to the people as the maple leaf flag. But sometimes the words fail. With such a long and changing history, O Canada is sung, but often mumbled or hummed in spots. Canadians of all genders, languages, backgrounds can be forgiven for sometimes tripping on the words in one or more of the official languages.

Now that the version in both official languages is set, voices can sing clearly. Here for reference at your next day of school, hockey game…or hopefully podium ceremony, the new official bilingual words to the new Canadian national anthem, O Canada:

English version (2018)

O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all of us 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.

French version:

O Canada! Terre de nos aïeux,

Ton front est ceint de fleurons glorieux!

Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,
Il sait porter la croix!

Ton histoire est une épopée

Des plus brillants exploits.

Et ta valeur, de foi trempée,

Protègera nos foyers et nos droits.

Protègera nos foyers et nos droits.

Bilingual version (2018):

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all of us command.
Car ton bras sait porter l’épée,
Il sait porter la croix!
Ton histoire est une épopée
Des plus brillants exploits.
God keep our land glorious and free!

O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.