Canada’s National Anthem

Canada’s national anthem looked like it was up for a rewrite. The Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in Wednesday’s Throne Speech that it would ask Parliament to “examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem.” That’s opposed to the current, non gender neutral version. The problem with the current version is with verse two–for those unfamiliar with the English words, see verse two in the you tube clip below. For years some feminists, this one included, have taken to singing “in all of us command” instead of “in all thy sons’ command.” Queen’s University philosophy professor Adele Mercier weighed in the dispute in the Globe and Mail saying it’s about time the lyrics were changed. “The national anthem should reflect its population and Canada consists of 51 per cent women,” Mercier said. “Women soldiers fight in Afghanistan alongside the men and die alongside the men, and they hear that Canada is under the guy’s command.” See the Globe story here. There are now two further wrinkles. The first is a very Canadian problem: What to do about the French lyrics which are very different than the English? They have a different problem, not sexism but an endorsement of Christianity. The original French words to Ô Canada were the first verse of a poem penned by the conservative, staunch Catholic, French-Canadian nationalist judge, Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier. For a discussion of the French version, see the story in the Globe and Mail here. The issues around the French version have to do with whether the Catholic imagery is appropriate for modern multicultural Quebec. Second, the Harper government has now back pedalled and says it won’t raise the issue of rewriting the national anthem to do away with its sexist language after all. By Friday the government said that strong reaction had poured in from across the country about the government’s proposal to modify the lyrics to “O Canada.” The Harper government now says it will not go forward with a review of the song’s lyrics after all. Cowards. But perhaps not surprising from a government that just removed all mention of of LGBT rights from our Citizenship and Immigration Guide.

10 thoughts on “Canada’s National Anthem

  1. I do think the anthem (in both French and English) needs to be looked at. But at the same time, after proroguing Parliament for 2 months I kind of wish there were more substantive issues getting attention, rather than the symbolic ones (not to say that the symbolic isn’t important, but this doesn’t seem like the most important thing our Prime Minister could be fussing about).

  2. “But perhaps not surprising from a government that just removed all mention of of LGBT rights from our Citizenship and Immigration Guide” !!
    Please tell us more about this.

  3. I’m confused by the mention of “original gender-neutral language”. Did it start out neutral then get changed at some point?

  4. “In all they sons’ command” replaced “thou dost in us command,” not so sexist but not contemporary English either!

    Here’s the original 1908 lyrics:

    Weir’s 1908 lyrics consisted of the following three stanzas.A fourth stanza was added later.

    O Canada! Our home, our native land,
    True patriot love thou dost in us command.
    We see thee rising fair, dear land,
    The True North strong and free;
    And stand on guard, O Canada,
    We stand on guard for thee.

    O Canada! O Canada!
    O Canada. We stand on guard for thee.

    O Canada! Where Pines and Maples grow,
    Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.
    Thou art the land, O Canada,
    From East to Western sea,
    The land of hope for all who toil,
    The land of liberty.


    O Canada! Beneath thy shining skies,
    May stalwart sons and gentle maidens rise;
    And so abide, O Canada,
    From East to Western sea,
    Where e’er thy pines and prairies are,
    The True North strong and free.

    French, English, and Inuktutut versions are on the wikipedia page,

  5. Thanks for posting on the removal of LBGT rights in the immigration guide!
    As regards the anthem, was the issue about whether to revert back to the original? Not modern English, of course, but national anthems aren’t exactly modern entities either. In fact, it seems to me good that they show their archaic nature in the language itself.

  6. This whole debacle has completely alienated me. Stephen Harper is known for sticking to his guns and ignoring public opposition to his initiatives. But, on this one proposal, just 48 hours of public reaction was sufficient to make him back-pedal. It just kills me that the first time I ever agree with this guy is the first time he seems to give a fig about public opposition. Unfortunately, the whole business hasn’t just further alienated me from the Harper government (I didn’t even know it was possible to be further alienated from them until last week!); it’s also soured the national anthem for me. Whereas I used to regard the gender-exclusive lyrics as a quaint hold-over from a different time, the PMO’s move has made the lyrics a part of the present. The Government’s claim that the Canadian people overwhelmingly oppose changing the lyrics reads to me as “the Canadian people overwhelmingly oppose admitting that women exist.” (I know that this isn’t really the overwhelming view of Canadians, but the official position claims otherwise.) I’m not going to sing it anymore. At least not until it’s changed!

  7. Honestly? Change the national anthem because it says “Thy Sons?” That’s about as stupid as a complaint gets. Go do something useful.

  8. To Neutral Third Party: In my experience, when there is a complaint of a lack of recognition or bias that one doesn’t understand, one does better to attempt to listen to those making the charge than to dismiss them. The charge is precisely that certain things that ought to be valued are not, or not enough, and then the disregard is affirmed symbolically, in this case in a national anthem.

  9. want to know what the state of Maryland’s motto is?
    “words are feminine, deeds are masculine”

    (but it’s in Latin so not too many know this )

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