Opinion » Maxed Out

Canada... true north strong and free

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Hail, hail Tuponia,

The true north strong and free.

A nation full of whiners,

From sea to sea to sea.

I'm not certain how it would translate into French and I'm having a devil of a time finding something to rhyme with "notwithstanding" in the second verse, but there's a perennial move afoot to rewrite Canada's national anthem and let's face it, almost anything would be an improvement over the one-two punch we have now — bad tune, worse lyrics. Well almost anything, we could end up with something as un-singable as The Star Spangled Banner.

I didn't realize how bad O Canada was until I moved to Toronto. For several years, living in Montreal, I'd only heard the song in Frenglish, that ne plus ultra Canadian mix of both official languages, sung by a sea of refugees in the cheap seat section of the Big Owe during the halcyon years when the Expos were contendahs.

In French, the lyrics sound pretty good. Actually, in French even the most banal conversation sounds pretty good to me. That's because then, as now, my knowledge of French is limited, limited being a polite Canadianism meaning non-existent. Within the echoing confines of the Big Owe, they only sang a few snippets of English lyrics: True north strong and free; stand on guard for thee. The rest was voulez vous this and voulez vous that. Little did I know at the time those were just about the only English lyrics.

I also didn't know Canada — the name not the country — won out over Tuponia... and, no, I'm not making that up. Canada, of course, means Big Village in the language of one or another subjugated First Nations tongue. I don't have a clue what Tuponia means or where it came from, but I half suspect S.J. Perelman penned it, that's why I lifted the first line from the national anthem of Freedonia, the fictional country of which Groucho Marx becomes leader in the film, Duck Soup, also written by S. J. Perelman. Besides, Tuponia has that very tongue-friendly 'nya' sound. Canada would too if we just changed it to Cañada and made tequila the national drink and mañana the day things got done. Oh well, one out of three ain't bad, especially if you're a baseball batter.

As heartening as it would be to dump O Canada in favour of something more reflective of the country that's grown up around the idea of confederation, it seems like one of those things that probably won't happen. Actually, it seems like one of those things — like almost everything else — we'd never be able to agree on. The Maritime provinces would most likely demand a passing reference to what a raw deal they got when they joined Canada. Quebec would want to include something about their unique status and that'd be as tough to rhyme as oranges. Ontario would twist themselves into a fit of pique wondering why the rest of the country couldn't be satisfied just letting them write the song, being as they are the centre of the universe. The Prairies would go along with just about anything... but they always sing flat. Alberta's already writing on their own anthem, working title Tarsands Forever. B.C.'ll go along with whatever as long as Christy Clark's conditions are met. And Nunavut and Therestofit will lobby hard to keep the "true north" references in and make fun of us southerners while they dance in the midnight sun. You see what we'd be up against here.

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