Canada's National Anthem Becomes Gender Neutralby Yash Saboo February 13 2018, 6:14 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 21 secs
Canada's national anthem 'O Canada' went through a slight yet significant change thanks to Frances Wright, a woman who first noticed something was missing from O Canada.
"O Canada”, reads the first line of the anthem celebrating the vast country ranking second in the world on the basis of landmass. It continues, "our home and native land. True patriot love in all our sons command”. Or at least it did, until last Wednesday, when that second line was officially altered to read: "in all of us command”.
The two-word change took over thirty years.
Ms. Wright had started a campaign to build monuments to the Famous Five - women who fought for equality in Canada in the 1920s - and during one of their first events, everyone sang the anthem.
The song was originally written in 1880, but it didn't become Canada's official anthem until a century later. In the wake of Quebec's first independence referendum, in which 40% voted to leave Canada, the federal government dumped God Save the Queen as the country's anthem and replaced it with O Canada - both a workmanlike English version ("O Canada, we stand on guard for thee") and a more poetic French one ("O Canada… Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers").
It was a popular, catchy song and it seemed a choice few could argue with - but even back then, the English words annoyed many. The line about "sons" wasn't the only one causing problems. Another about "our home and native land" annoyed many indigenous people who pointed out that only they could actually claim Canada as their native land.
"Many would like to see the words… replaced to better reflect the reality of Canada," Frances told Canada's House of Commons at the time. "I believe all members are sympathetic to these concerns."
At the end of January 2018, Canada's Senate finally passed a bill making O Canada gender-neutral and it received Royal Assent on 7th February. The words "in all thy sons command" have now been replaced with "in all of us command". The vote was the culmination of the work of numerous women who had been calling for the change for almost 40 years. It's a campaign that shows both the stubbornness you need in politics, and the difficulty that goes with trying to change a national symbol.
She tells the broadcaster: "I'm very, very happy. There's been 30 years plus of activity trying to make our national anthem, this important thing about our country, inclusive of all of us. ... This may be small, it's about two words, but it's huge ... we can now sing it with pride knowing the law will support us in terms of the language. I'm proud to be part of the group that made this happen."