A group of Canadian women is pushing to change one line in Canada’s national anthem to change a reference to “sons” to “us,” so that the song refers to women as well as men.
But these activists are not some fringe group. The lyric change advocates include some of the most famous and prestigious women in Canada, including a former prime minister and one of the country’s leading novelists.
The song “O Canada” was penned in 1903 by Judge Robert Stanley Weir, whose original English lyrics contained the line, “thou dost in us command.” But in 1913, that line was altered to read, “in all thy sons command.” There was never any reason stated for making the song refer specifically to male Canadians, according to Restore Our Anthem, the coalition advocating for the lyrical revision.
The song did not legally become Canada’s national anthem until 1980.
The group includes Kim Campbell, the first and only female prime minister in Canada’s 146-year history as an independent country. It also includes Margaret Atwood, the 73-year-old writer best known for her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Sally Goddard, whose daughter Nichola was Canada’s first female soldier to die in Afghanistan.
The group wants the new line to say, “in all of us command,” which would be both gender-inclusive and consistent with contemporary English usage.
Anticipating the criticism that they are pursuing a trivial issue, the group says on its web site, “Every small win for equality contributes to a larger goal to fully establish women as equals in Canada. Our support of this issue does not come at the sacrifice of other women’s issues but rather in support of them.”
Not everyone is behind the effort to make this seemingly minor alteration to the lyrics of “O Canada.”
“Almost all national anthems arise out of the bonding experience of war,” wrote National Post columnist Barbara Kay. “‘Patriot love is a call to real vigilance and a promise by men to take up arms if necessary, as well as an affirmation of emotional national attachment. It is a revisionist, and I might add rather kitschy, interpretation to assign merely sentimental value to the words.”