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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Another manufactured controversy?

First, people were up in arms of prorogation, with all sorts of twisting of facts and grand hyperbole.  Then Ignatieff tried to manufacture another controversy by bringing up abortion and trying to tie it to helping women and children around the world. 

Now the controversy is over changing the lyrics to Canada's official anthem.  There are already hundreds of articles about whether or not we should change our "sexist" lyrics, facebook groups against the idea have started, and people are suddenly all upset about the words to a song I doubt 3/4s of them even know the words to in the first place.

Now, I'm not too keen on the idea of the lyrics being changed - more for the reasons behind it than anything else - but why is it getting to over the top?  It's not like these are the original lyrics, anyhow.  The lyrics have gone through several changed.  When I first learned to sing it in elementary school (30 odd years ago), I learned the line "in all our sons command" ("thy sons," in the official version) as "in all our hearts command."  If fact, it's still the one word I get wrong when I sing the anthem, because I keep forgetting it's not the official line.

Here's a quick look at the changes O Canada's English lyrics have gone through.


Richardson version:
" O Canada! Our fathers' land of old
Thy brow is crown'd with leaves of red and gold.
Beneath the shade of the Holy Cross
Thy children own their birth
No stains thy glorious annals gloss
Since valour shield thy hearth.
Almighty God! On thee we call
Defend our rights, forfend this nation's thrall,
Defend our rights, forfend this nation's thrall."


McCulloch version :
" O Canada! in praise of thee we sing;
From echoing hills our anthems proudly ring.
With fertile plains and mountains grand
With lakes and rivers clear,
Eternal beauty, thos dost stand
Throughout the changing year.
Lord God of Hosts! We now implore
Bless our dear land this day and evermore,
Bless our dear land this day and evermore."

1908, popular in BC
Buchan version:
" O Canada, our heritage, our love
Thy worth we praise all other lands above.
From sea to see throughout their length
From Pole to borderland,
At Britain's side, whate'er betide
Unflinchingly we'll stand
With hearts we sing, "God save the King",
Guide then one Empire wide, do we implore,
And prosper Canada from shore to shore."

adapted from 1927
The version adopted pursuant to the National Anthem Act in 1980 reads 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."

 Wikipedia has more.

Weir's original 1908 lyrics
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.

Proposals to change the lyrics are hardly new, either.  From Wapedia

Weir's original lyrics from 1908, consisting of three verses, did not contain the word sons, instead using the somewhat archaic "thou dost in us command", and it contained no religious reference. [1] [10] [19] Weir decided to change his lyrics to "in all thy sons command" in 1914, [20] and in 1926 added a fourth verse of a religious nature. [21]
In June 1990, the city council of Toronto voted 12-7 to recommend to the Canadian Government that the phrase "our home and native land" be changed to "our home and cherished land", and "true patriot love in all thy sons command" be changed to "true patriot love in all of us command". Also proposed, but rejected, was the idea of a phrase "with patriot love, thy sons and daughters stand". City Councillor Howard Moscoe said that the words "native land" were not appropriate for the many Canadians who were not native-born, and that the word "sons" implied "that women can't feel true patriotism or love for Canada." [22]
Feminists such as Senator Vivienne Poy have criticized the English lyrics of the anthem as being sexist. [23] In 2002, Poy introduced a bill to change the phrase "in all thy sons command" to "in all of us command". The throne speech of March 2010 announced that the federal Parliament will be asked to review the "original gender-neutral wording of the national anthem". [24] In 2006, the anthem's religious references (to God in English, and to the Christian cross in French) were criticized by secularists. [25] [26]

I can understand people feeling passionately about proposed changes to the lyrics.  I have no problems with  a pro- or con- debate.  What I don't get, however, is what a big, stinking deal is being made of the whole thing.  The rhetoric is just as silly as the anti-prorogation freakouts.

As far as I'm concerned, it's becoming just another manufactured controversy.

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