Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Happy Tuponia Day, notwithstanding O Canada



By G.D. Maxwell

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." But there’s a 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.

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 most Canadian mix of two official languages. In French, the lyrics sound pretty good. Actually, in French even the most banal conversation, say, one about the relative merits of competing brands of haemorrhoid creams, sounds pretty good. That’s because then, as now, my knowledge of French is limited, a Canadianism meaning non-existent. Within the echoing confines of the Big Owe, Montreal’s Olympic stadium where the Expos used to play baseball, they only included a few snippets of English lyrics when they sang O Canada. True north strong and free, stand on guard for thee, and the rest is voulez vous this and voulez vous that. Little did I know those were just about the only English lyrics.

I also didn’t know Canada, the name not the country, won out over Tuponia. 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. Perleman 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. Besides, it has that very tongue-friendly ‘nya’ sound. Canada would too if we just changed it to Cañada and made tequila the national drink.

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 wouldn’t 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 tough to rhyme. 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. The Prairies would go along with just about anything but they always sing flat. Alberta’s already working on a version of It’s my Oil and I’ll Gouge If I Want To as the national anthem for an independent Alberta. BC’ll demure to any good song as long as we get to supply the party favours and a really wicked light show’s involved. And the Territories will lobby hard to keep the "true north" references in and make fun of us southerners. You see what we’d be up against.