Our anthem shows the world we are dysfunctional
By Susan Michaels, artistic director, The Renanim Youth Singers, Toronto.
From Letters to the Editor, National Post, December 7, 2012
As Canadians we cherish our freedom — freedom from persecution, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, yet no one is discussing O Canada’s French/bilingual lyrics — which are a pledge and a fight for Catholicism.
Car ton bras sait porter l’epee (As in thy arm ready to wield the sword),
IL sait porter la croix! (So also is it ready to carry the cross!)
When sung bilingually, O Canada makes no sense. The English and French are thrown together without regard to coherence, communication, compatibility — any form of a relationship. An anthem is a nation’s showpiece to the world — our anthem highlights Canada’s two solitudes, showing the world we are a non-communicating, dysfunctional family.
I propose schools debate the lyrics of O Canada and have a contest to come up with new text that is translatable in either official language, that reflects our mutually held values: freedom, beauty of the land, equality and acceptance and faith should be expressed generically. Then and only then will Canadians finally unite — at least through song — to express our universally held objectives, as we look into the future past our two solitudes.
As their way of emphasizing the divide in Canada, the National Post included, above this letter, a colour photo of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, mouth closed, standing beside then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson heartily singing the french version of the national anthem. The cut line reads: Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson belts out O Canada in French in 1999, while Ontario premier Mike Harris stands in silence, as he is not familiar with the French version.
Whether O Canada demonstrates our dysfunction, it does demonstrate our lack of interest in formally inculcating a level of patriotic expression among the youth. Listening to some band's recording of the national anthem, in hundreds if not thousands of high school classrooms, while standing lethargically "at attention" is hardly worth the effort.
Canadians, unless there is an international hockey game about to begin, are nonchalant about our patriotism. In part, we seek to be "different" from our American neighbours, who, in our cliche perception, "wear their patriotism on their heart and sleeve"...in what we would consider brazen, 'in-your-face' nationalism. We, on the other hand, prefer a much more subtle, less brazen and thereby less offensive form of national 'pride'...while nevertheless not diminishing its authenticity. Even Americans going 'abroad' are advised to wear a Maple Leaf flag (The Canadian Flag) on their back-packs in order to engender favourable receptions.
Nevertheless, within the country, the single most frequent repetition of the national anthem on national television occurs(ed) on Saturday evenings when the now silent NHL teams faced-off. For a short time, the volume and clarity of the 20,000-odd voices singing the national anthem was another form of competition, from rink to rink, and city to city.
However, when the Montreal Canadiens were playing, at home in the Bell Centre, the bilingual version was sung, the only time that version made it to the national audience. The rest of Canada has simply never learned the bilingual version to know whether or not it made sense. Oops! The soloists in both the Bell Centre and in Scotiaplace in Ottawa, the home of the Ottawa Senators NHL franchise, both provide bilingual versions. However, in the other five cities, the bilingual version is missing, unless some producer thinks it would be appropriate, if and when the Canadiens come to town.
At both the Toronto Raptors and Blue Jays games, the unilingual English version is used for the television broadcasts.
The suggestion made by Ms Michaels, in her letter above, that a new version would bring together the shared aspirations of all segments of Canadian culture, while admirable, seems to put a considerable burden on the hosts and originators of such a friendly competition. Does she recall the length, breadth and depth of the national consternation when we attempted to 'birth' a new flag? Does she recall the consernation we go through every time some mention is made in the media about re-opening the talks on the Canadian consitution, and the relationship of Quebec to the rest of Canada? It seems that we "go apoplectic" whenever we might be pointed in the direction of having a national conversation about how we might get along, with some built-in dispute mechanisms, outside the court system, for safety valves.
At our core, (and this perception is not original here, but shared by many far more intelligent and more steeped in our history and culture than your scribe!) we are muddlers, not given to sharp edges and extreme clarity in our "nationalism"....if we even practice and preach a kind of Canadian nationalism.
We are not a melting pot, nor, it seems, comfortable with the "mosaic" of some sociologists in our past. We are continually searching for some over-arching metaphor that would capture our Canadian imagination and run it up the flag pole for indigenous Canadians as well as immigrants and visitors to share proudly.
We have attempted to build national "icons" like the two continental railways, and the CBC and the political structure of a federal state. We have more recently witnessed the embedding of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms into our case law. We have embraced regional expressions of culture, for example in celtic music, in all parts of the country, along with regional expressions of comedy, in such forms as "22 minutes" and the "Ron James Show"...
However, there is an open question, still unresolved, as to whether we really are a coherent and unified nation that welcomes all regions, provinces, languages and ethnicities under a flag, a national anthem, and a common consciousness about our national identity.
Gallons of ink have been spilled in attempts over the last two centuries to capture the Canadian "identity"...most of them devolving into what we are 'not'...
Perhaps it is the mystery and the ambiguity and the mistiness of our landscape including the many rivers, and the stunning landforms including the Canadian Shield, the Rocky Mountains, and the verdant and fertile valleys that we never cease to explore in wonder and awe that holds us together. And/or the hospitality of the people in every region to those 'from away' as the Newfoundlanders put it when talking about visitors. And the many cultural foods and traditions that identify the regions, all of them unique and welcomed by those visiting.
Yes we are 'nice' and mostly respectful and certainly restained in our public discourse, while underneath, there are still some deep reservoirs of darkness that our public face finds too uncomfortable to bring to light. And if we were to formally begin a conversation that was shaped by a desire to 'rise above' our differences and our dysfunction, we might retire to the pub to talk, to drink and to diss the effort as somewhat tendentious (having or marked by a strong tendency especially a controversial one) and even pretentious...and if we are anything, or seek to be, it is the opposite of pretentious and controversial....whatever that might be..