In All Our Songs Command
Opinions / July 26, 2016
What our anthem lacks in common appeal speaks to our confused national identity
When a bill which changes the lyrics to “O Canada” from “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command” comes into effect later this fall, we Canadians will solidify our national identity as a citizenry obsessed with not hurting anyone’s feelings. At no time in history have changes to our national anthem been more necessary.
But it’s not minor changes that are necessary—I’m talking about sweeping reform.
It’s high time we made wholesale revisions to our expression of national identity. Why arbitrarily limit ourselves to gender inclusivity? If we’re on the slippery slope of political correctness, why not be even more inclusive with the revisions?
Our anthem is arguably anti-Semitic, for instance, as it makes no effort to mention the well-documented plight of Jews, no? And how about polytheists, who worship multiple deities, or atheist for that matter, who worship none? Surely these groups find no consolation in the appeal, “God keep our land glorious and free!”
Given that Robert Stanley Weir’s original 1908 English version of the lyrics had zero religious connotations, perhaps a move toward a more secular anthem—one not subject to religious rule and sensibilities—would be best.
If you remain unconvinced that changes to our national identity are needed, then consider how a new anthem would reinvigorate Canadian nationalism. What we need is a more of a mantra than an anthem. We need a contemporary chant that is elegant, yet aggressive—something progressive, yet evocative of our rich history and collective spirit. We need a striking melody that allows us to proudly stand on our own merit and not have to continually look around for acceptance.
Whether such a piece of music even exists is not the point; let us first accept the gravity of our problem. If we replace our existing anthem with something fresh, we would drastically shift not only the collective global perception of Canadians, but also our perception of the rest of the world.
Sam Roberts’ “The Canadian Dream”, though perhaps politically problematic, is provocative in an understated way. Though it wouldn’t cut it as a true anthem in any meaningful sense, Roberts’ song is an attempt to illuminate the numinous quality of our nation through its methodical and relaxed rhythm. The melody stays with listeners long after the lyrics subside. Gone are any outdated mentions of the supernatural—instead the music does the heavy lifting.
At the very least, beginning every school assembly and hockey game with an ode to socialism would be hilarious.
Alternatively, and as The Walrus columnist Stephen Marche suggests, many more traditional replacements remain viable. The “Hockey Night in Canada” original theme song, for instance, is an obvious choice. Even though it contains no lyrics, it is “a song that everyone in Canada already knows,” as said by Marche.
Brian Adams, Neil Young, The Tragically Hip, and The Guess Who, among other famed Canadian acts, provide an inexhaustible list of further, more obvious choices, too.
However, going further back in time to conclude our search for a different anthem may prove to be rewarding. In Marche’s estimation, a slightly revised version of “The Maple Leaf Forever”, Canada’s “unofficial anthem up until the 30’s”, would rid us of the problematic portions of our current anthem while preserving parts of our heritage worth showing off.
On the other hand, if self-awareness is of no concern, there’s always Nickelback.