Grand River Branch
United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada
Selected Reprints from the
Grand River Branch Newsletter, Branches
"Oaths of Allegiance, Coat of Arms, Patriotic Anthems"
Gary Peters, editor, February 1996, Vol.8 No.1, Pages 1-2
The following news items are indications of the clash between traditionalists and revisionists over fundamental perceptions of this nation, its history and its destiny. Symbols, as you will observe, are far from being inconsequential. They are tools or weapons controlled and manipulated by the political elite and the media or the "fifth estate". In this country, national and historic symbols are being deployed, destroyed, invented and reinvented in a power struggle for the soul of the nation. Read on!
Last summer, about one month after his provincial colleagues were sworn into office, Ontario Liberal MPP, Dominic Agostino tried to change the traditional oath of office. A Canadian Press report noted that "Agostino added the words 'and to Canada' to the section of the oath where allegiance is sworn to the Queen". In July, Agostino swore allegiance to the Queen in the formal oath then read his own version, searing "full allegiance" to Canada. At the time, Agostino planned to introduce a private member's bill altering the traditional pledge of allegiance.
Several years ago Grand River Branch of the United Empire Loyalists' Association sent a letter to then Premier of the Province, Bob Rae, protesting the change in the oath of allegiance for new police officers. In December, 195, the Government of Ontario announced that the Police Services Act will be amended to restore the reference to "Her Majesty the Queen" in oaths of allegiance taken by new police constables.
It seems the federal Government forgot to inform the public about an addition to the coat of arms. According to the Canadian Press release, Québec Liberal backbencher Patrick Gagnon, on December 5, 1995 "set off an uproar in the House of Commons when he announced -- to everybody's surprise -- that Canada has a revised coat of arms". Gagnon noted that he always believed the coat of arms was too "closely associated with the British". The Reform party entered the fray, noting that the government had made the change without any national debate.
The revision is more than a year old. Queen Elizabeth, at the request of the present government, approved the addition to the Royal Arms in July, 1994. On a red ribbon encircling the centre is the Latin motto Desiderantes meliorem patriam - They deserve a better country. Reform MP, Deborah Grey, quite accurately observed that the Federal Government was preparing for separatist leadership in Québec and quietly slipped it past Parliament in order to avoid antagonizing Québecers. Government House leader, Herb Gray, countered that the coat of arms was within the jurisdiction of the monarch and did not require Commons debate, unlike the flag or the national anthem. Heritage Minister, Michel Dupuy argued that the new motto is a part of the Order of Canada and claimed it was added to give the Royal Arms "a more Canadian character".
An editorial on December 8, 1995 in The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo) ridiculed the Reform protest over government secrecy on the matter. The editorial scoffed at "the gaggle of outraged Reform MPs" and dismissed the affair as an issue "of inconsequence".
In our last issue (August, 1995), I reported on the successful efforts of Professor Derek Allison, Professor of Education at the University of Western Ontario, to re-instate the Royal Anthem at convocations. Professor Allison had a few detractors, as one might expect in a nation so confused by historical revisionism. However, his supporters are many and seem to have carried the weight of popular opinion.
On another political front, the Government of Québec announce plans in the summer of 1995 for a "words and music competition that will pick a national (i.e. Québec) anthem". According to the Canadian Press release, the "organizers want lyrics evoking Québecers' sense of history". the competition was launched on August 28, 1995 and will close by the end of March, 1996. A jury will make a choice but the final decision will lie with the Québec National Assembly. The launching of a Québec anthem will be pursued despite the outcome of the referendum in late October, 1995.
Branches of the Royal Canadian Legion are learning their new official march, called The Legionnaire. the new march, introduced in 1994, was written by retired Major Bernard Bogisch of Stanley, N.B. The Legionnaire replaces Alexander Muir's The Maple Leaf Forever, which the Royal Canadian Legion had been using for thiry-four years. A report on the change was made in the R.C.L.'s magazine The Legion in September 1994. Citing a variety of reasons for dropping The Maple Leaf Forever, the article also noted that "it has fallen out of favour with the public because of its pro-British Empire lyrics".
The English lyrics to O Canada are still under severe pressure by many politicians and others who assert that the words are dated and insulting to women, minorities and even atheists! Our national anthem was composed by Calixa Lavallée and the French lyrics were written by Sir Adolphe-Basile Routhier. It was first sung in French on June 24, 1880 and was proclaimed as our national anthem on July 1, 1980. A number of English versions appeared, but the lyrics of Mr. Justice Robert Stanley Weir, written in 1908, gained favour and our official English words were approved following recommendations by a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons, which met in 1968. The original French lyrics have never been changed. The citizens of La Belle Province have a far better sense of history, greater confidence and enough moxie to resist any silly movements to "modernize" the French version. "O Canada" is itself a French expression. The song was composed and intended as a Québec national hymn, extolling the glory of Québec's ancestral and Catholic heritage. For your interest, we are printing the French lyrics below:
Our English version of O Canada has had a rough ride in recent years. Political correctors in the media and in politics have suggested many changes. Former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, in 1991, suggested that out national anthem is not as catchy and stirring as the American national anthem. To that comment, she also added (as have others) that "True patriot love in all thy sons command" is just too sexist for modern Canadians. In July 1995, a Waterloo resident, in a letter to The Record, took the anthem to task for sexism, archaic language (thys and thees), racism ("native" does not apply to many Canadians) and obscurantism! Apparently there are lines whose poetic meanings are not sufficiently rational or intelligible to the writer.
Critics charge that O Canada in its English rendition is an embarrassing anachronism from the Victorian era -- exclusive, ethnocentric and arrogant. Irshad Manji, writing for the Ottawa Citizen in 1992 (shortly after the Meech Lake debate), suggested new and inclusive lyrics, primarily aimed towards present and future newcomers. In Manji's version of the national anthem, we celebrate the official multicultural present. We live and stay in Canada by choice. Neither political history nor cultural history has any place in Canada as a community representing only the living. The British past, with all its ugly warts, is verboten. Of course, Manji seems blissfully ignorant of the mundane fact that both hi article and revisionist lyrics are written in the English language. A disconcerting fact, a culturally inherited fact, which, once brought into consciousness, would assuredly bring no end of consternation.
I cannot speak for everyone, but I am not a citizen of the Dominion of Canada by choice, even if some day, the national anthem were to so declare. I was born here, as were many, if not most of my ancestry. To argue that I remain in this country as a matter of personal preference is insulting and simplistic. Emigrating from the land of one's birth today is largely determined by complex economic, political and legal factors, which are not always subject to personal choice. Moreover, many refugee immigrants are not necessarily here (or anywhere) through a volitional act of the will. The United Empire Loyalists did not elect to leave their homes in the new American republic and voluntarily take up residence in Nova Scotia or Upper Canada. For many people, yesterday and today, the final resting place neither was nor ever will be an option.
I am not such a curmudgeonly traditionalist as to argue that symbols, including the national anthem, should never be altered. Change, after all, is an absolute of human existence. Without change, there would be no history! My argument, in favour of stability in our national symbols, focuses on a principle which is poorly understood in modern Canada: The genealogy of a nation or its historic institutions is not the same as the multiple genealogies of its inhabitants or its ethnocultural groups. Our symbols ought to reflect the continuity and history of our country and its basic entities. Our Dominion has much in common with the United States, more so with Australia, New Zealand and certain other Commonwealth countries. We are a product of the great Anglo-Celtic diasporas which transformed much of the world between the 17th and 19th centuries. We use the English language. We inherited and adapted the institutions of Parliament and the Common Law. Our social fabric, our economic values, our educational and legal foundations, like it or not, have been immensely influenced and enriched by the diverse forms of Christianity -- a religion brought to this land by, among others, the Anglo-Celtic peoples. For better or worse, the Dominion of Canada, our Commonwealth sister states and the United States of America are products of British history. That history, its forms and institutions "built us", as much as we and our ancestors built this country.
Sadly, we have been denuded of many of our historic symbols. In their absence, Canadians have fallen prey to collective forgetting, social amnesia -- call it what you will. Today is a time for English-speaking Canada to recover its confidence, a time for those of us with a will to take charge of our history and symbols, to democratize our heritage and confront the patent nonsense of the past thirty years.