In all of us command!

Recently, the English lyrics to Canada’s national anthem have changed , while polling tells us the move was supported by 58% of the population, it’s no secret that it isn’t popular with everyone.  The new official version of the anthem has replaced the words, “in all thy sons command,” to, “in all of us command.”   The intention is to reflect how Canada has become an inclusive country that values its diversity and contributions from all its citizens. When the lyrics of the same passage were altered in 1913, women hadn’t even been granted the right to vote. Much has changed since then and the updated anthem reflects that.

The English lyrics to the national anthem were penned in 1908, although the song was commissioned in 1880 and the first lyrics were in French.  At that time, the section that has been recently amended was, “True patriot love thou dost in us command.”  The section became “in all thy sons command,” in 1913 which doesn’t support the notion that the changes were made to honour soldiers from the First World War.  Even if that were the case, our military history brims with the contribution of women who even serve in combat roles in our modern armed forces.

There have been many advances in gender equity since 1913. The federal right to vote came about in 1918, followed shortly by the right to run for office in 1921. The Persons Case that established the right of women to be appointed to the Senate took place in 1929, and is commemorated with a statue of the Famous Five on Parliament Hill.  By 1980 women were allowed to serve in the military and in 1982 women's equality was enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

It is interesting to note that the French lyrics – which are the originals – have never changed.  They are gender neutral to begin with and are not simply a translation of the English version.  To illustrate that, here is the official translation for the benefit of those who read this in English and may never have encountered them before.

O Canada!
Land of our ancestors
Glorious deeds circle your brow
For your arm knows how to wield the sword
Your arm knows how to carry the cross
Your history is an epic
Of brilliant deeds
And your valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights
Will protect our homes and our rights.

When the late Mauril Belanger introduced his legislation to change the national anthem, it was the tenth time in over a 35 year period that Parliament had debated making the anthem gender neutral.  In some ways, it was only a matter of time before the debate succeeded.  By changing the words, we have ensured that more than 18 million Canadian women are now included in our national anthem, and when we sing about Standing on Guard for Thee, it includes all of our soldiers as well.

Happy Canada Day!