Opinion » Maxed Out

True north strong and free....



"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 — isn't there always? — 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 won out over Tuponia as the country's name. No, really. 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 over the last 150 years, 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 its unique status and that'd be tough to rhyme. Ontario would twist itself 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 that includes a plea for pipelines from sea to sea to sea. B.C.'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.

Actually, wouldn't it just be easier to proclaim the smallest Canadian's most famous song our new anthem? Paul Anka's "My Way," fav of the karaoke set, would be both fitting, nationalistic, and rife with Canadian humour, not to mention the irony of having drunken, off-key Idol-wannabes belting out Canada's national anthem in smoky bars all over the world.

But here I am, off on a tangent when the whole point of this column was supposed to be to welcome all our guests to Canada Day — 150! For those of you from Canada, you already understand what I'm talking about and while you'd never show off about either the fact you know what I'm talking about or it being your country's special day, try to be a little more excited, if only for the sake of the foreign tourists who puzzle over our subdued celebration of nationalistic pride.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times last Friday, Stephen Marche noodled about Canadian's lacklustre attempt at celebrating this sesquicentennial. He wrote, "The historical moment we will commemorate next Saturday is Confederation — a bunch of old White guys signing a document that bound a loose collection of provinces controlled by the British Empire into a vague and discontented unity without the slightest consideration of participation of the First Peoples." Italics mine. What he was suggesting, without saying it, is Canada foreshadowed the Britain's creation of Afghanistan. But we're even too modest to be aggressively tribal!

Oops, another tangent.

Where was I? Oh yes, Canada Day is our Independence Day, notwithstanding our incomplete independence from Great Britain, as evidenced largely by pictures of Queen Elizabeth on our currency. We celebrate it on July first because the Fourth of July is celebrated on July fourth, much as Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on May cinco and, being polite to a fault, Canadians wouldn't want to horn in on the celebrations of either of our NAFTA partners. Next year that may not be a problem with Agent Orange sitting — occasionally — in the White House.

In truth, July first was chosen for Canada Day because it not only gives Canadians one of the few chances — Thanksgiving being the other one — to say to Americans, "Beat ya to it," it provides an opportunity to get our blood-alcohol level back down to normal before we join you in celebrating the Fourth of July. We celebrate your Independence Day for several reasons. Canadians love a good party. Canadians don't really know, for sure, what's American and what's Canadian except for all the words you might have noticed in this column that have a seemingly random 'u' in them. And we like to think if we join you in celebrating your special day you won't invade us again... like you did during the American Revolution and again in the War of 1812. In both cases, we're pretty sure it was just a case of faulty compass reading but being both prudent and without any real standing army, we'd rather not press the point.

For all the rest of you visiting Whistler, put down the Pique and go buy something for heaven's sake.

Enjoy the parade, enjoy the fireworks, have some cake and be sure to tell all your friends back home what a grand time you had celebrating Canada's 150th birthday in Whistler. And yes, this is as good as it gets.