I am old. Well, okay, not old so much as crotchety. I like things how I knew them, and I get cranky when I have to learn a new way when the old way was perfectly acceptable—if only to me.
Thus, as with so many Canadians, when I heard that The Tenors had altered the lyrics of Canada’s national anthem at the MLB All-Star Game last night, I was initially outraged (see video).
But as the evening wore on, and I watched diatribe after diatribe on social media, I began to realize that in many ways, this was a litmus test on what it is to live in Canada, a nation that at the best of times, struggles to define itself if only because it is constantly evolving.
In my life time, we have had two official changes to the English lyrics for O Canada.
Three decades ago, it was a reversion of sorts from “O Canada, glorious and free” to “God keep our land glorious and free”. As a then anti-religious zealot, I was outraged that you would introduce religion into my anthem, being completely ignorant of the fact that it had been there in the beginning (as makes sense for our history). I am less a zealot today, but continue to sing the God-free version.
More recently, Canada’s Parliament has debated rewriting the refrain “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command”, suggesting that women are invested in this country as well as men. I did not rage against this, but many Canadians did, most ignorant that this change too is something of a reversion to an older lyric “dost in us command”.
My point is that the song, like the nation and its people, continues to evolve.
And while we as individuals may only wish to accept the version with which we grew up or alternatively, the “official” version enacted by Parliamentary vote, Canadians as a populace have decided to live in a nation that is open to change, open to new views on the world, open to rediscovery of our history as a nation.
My instinctive reaction to last night’s events at the All-Star Game was to cry “Shame”, and if the anthem was used to spread hate or fear, I might still be justified in that cry. Rather, it was used to spread love and acceptance, and what (or so we hold) could be more Canadian?
Perhaps this is too much. Perhaps I am being over-indulgent. But if your heart is pure and you sing the song with pride, what do I care what lyrics you sing? Sing about the Canada you know and love, and sing it loudly so we can all share in that love.