O’Canada Revision Debate – What are you so angry about?

In case you haven’t heard, our national anthem has been undergoing a potential revision.

Bill C-210 is making its way to the Senate today after lawmakers within the House of Commons passed the bill by an astounding 225 to 74. I say “astounding” because one look at social media feeds shows almost unanimous annoyance at the very thought.

The revision? Altering the line “in all thy sons command” to a gender neutral “in all of us command”.

Two words. Two words causing an uproar in my otherwise polite, generally passive fellow Canadians.

The most common reason that I seem to come across by those voicing their concerns is routed in tradition. “Leave our anthem alone!” they’re shouting. “It’s tradition! It’s always been this way why do we need to change it!”.

Boy, have I got news for you guys. The anthem you and I and so many others have grown up to know as the “original”, “traditional” anthem is in fact, not the original lyrical content.


Beaver Holding Canadian Flag
Beaver Holding Canadian Flag

Originally written in 1880 in French exclusively, “O Canada” didn’t even have an English translation until 1906. Two years later, Robert Weir wrote a revised version of “O’ Canada” that took it’s own creative liberty from the “original”, “traditional” version, and was a less-literal adaptation from the French. While this version remains the most popular to date, it too had revisions before taking its present form in 1980. Two official revisions, in fact.

Are you enraged yet? The anthem you’ve come to know and love as the original works has already been through 4 versions! Lordy, no!

Here’s a brief timeline.

French version of “O Canada” is written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier, the music composed by Calixa Lavallée

An English translation of “O Canada” is written by Dr. Thomas Bedford Richardson.

Robert Weir revises “O Canada” in English.
No religious affiliation. One of his revisions includes adding the phrase, “thou dost in us command” (Sound familiar?).

“Thou dost in us command” is revised to “in all thy sons command”.

Why the change? A quick glance at the date is your clue. When World War 1 was beginning, there was a sense of urgency in the air to build a sense of community as we were sending our brothers, fathers, and sons to war. In an effort to bring the nation together in these troubling times, the revision was granted. Funny that, eh? Changes in the world we live in were deemed necessary to be reflected in our anthem? Hmmm.

A new verse is added of a religious nature.

Now, that’s just a mini timeline – that doesn’t include all the other revisions that were made of “O Canada” leading to the 1980 version we’ve all come to know and love and sing proudly before our first period class or sporting events.

So I ask you this – what is it exactly you are angry about? Our world is ever changing, and particularly here in Canada we are always aiming to ensure ALL of our citizens feel proud, welcomed, and at home here. Two words can change that feeling for a lot of people. This is about strengthening our community – our country, as whole. Are you truly angry that we’re looking for a revision because it cuts roots in tradition? ‘Cause if so, I implore you to motion that we return to the original version, written in 1880, and in French, exclusively.

But you won’t do that, will you? “Our official languages are French and ENGLISH!” you’ll proclaim. “I don’t live in Quebec!” you’ll spit until you’re red in the face.

Embrace change, my fellow Canadians – it is closer to the “original” than you think.