It’s been engrained in us since early childhood. We grew up hearing it every morning before school started. No matter where we go, we’ll eventually hear it every July 1st. Most notably, we hear it sung before every national sporting event. Of course, this familiar pitch that has become a part of our culture, heritage and way of life is the song, “O Canada,” known to Canadians as the national anthem.
While the anthem has been part of our lives for as long as we’ve lived, it seems, rarely do we stop to question its syntax and lyrics, for the real, literal meaning. However, that is exactly what the federal government is currently doing, voting in favour of the National Anthem Act, which marks a noble effort to expunge the lyrics “in all thy sons command,” in exchange for: “in all of us command.”
To those it’s not immediately clear for, the change is an attempt at creating a more gender-neutral anthem that properly represents our entire country. It’s not the first attempt by the Trudeau government to incorporate gender equality either—he vowed for a gender-balanced federal cabinet last fall— but it is one that is certainly long overdue.
No doubt this change is going to be a polarizing one. The Conservative party, for one, is hiding behind the cloak of fear and change, boasting that there should be no changes to our heritage. This argument, however, is nothing more than shortsighted and historically ignorant.
For “O Canada” to truly be a part of the Canadian heritage, you would have to assume it has been the official anthem for Canada since confederation in 1867. In fact, it has not. Created in 1880, O Canada was originally only available in French before being translated into English in 1906 before the most popular version was tweaked further in 1908. At the time, it contained the line, “Thou Dost in us command,” but was changed in 1913 to include today’s controversial line, “in all our sons command,” to honour the patriotic efforts of our soldiers in World War One.
However, O Canada was not the country’s official anthem at this time. In reality, it wasn’t until 1980 — a century after the song’s inception — that Canada had formally abandoned God Save the Queen as its national anthem in favour of O Canada. Thus, this idea that O Canada in its current form has been a part of our culture for as long as the country has existed is not only misguided; it’s factually incorrect.
By changing it, though, the government could be opening a door to a host of issues. First, Anglophones across the nation could be outraged by the fact that the English version continues to be changed while the French version has remained untouched since its original creation. The French version, too, should experience revision to incorporate both genders going forward.
At the end of the day, no sense of Canada will be lost through changing one word to Canada’s anthem to better reflect and respect our citizens. Instead, it will reflect the strong and unified country that we are today. The anthem has changed before to adapt to current values such as patriotism during a world of chaos. There’s no reason it can’t once again.