On August 1, the Montreal Canadians faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs of the NHL, the North American ice hockey league. The game was played in Toronto for the pandemic. Before the prowess with poles and skates began, Michael Bublé intoned Or Canada, the Canadian anthem. She sang the English version, instead of the one interspersed with French verses. Reactions in Quebec were not delayed. Denis Coderre, former mayor of Montreal, said on Twitter: “Weren’t you able to put the anthem in both languages? Thanks to the NHL! “
The bilingual version is played at official ceremonies and when a Québec team plays. In 1880, Calixa Lavallée composed the music and Adolphe-Basile Routhier the lyrics in French. The English translation dates from 1906. Over time, Or Canada it gained popularity in the different provinces and became a de facto anthem. In 1980, the Canadian Senate declared it official.
At first sight, Or Canada it would seem removed from the tentacles of controversy. However, in addition to the hockey issue, a few days ago, the musicologist Ross Duffin published an article where he pointed out that the piece bears too many similarities with fragments of The magic Flute, from Mozart; The master singers of Nuremberg, from Wagner; Party sounds, Liszt, and The american anthemby Keller. A collage? “All composers are inspired by others. It is normal. What is new is that Duffin shows that there are not many original things in the anthem. It’s a bit disturbing, ”musicologist Marie-Hélène Benoit-Otis told Radio-Canada.
Another mess. If in October the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, broke out in a cold sweat over the publication of some old photographs where he appeared with his face painted black, in recent years two books showed that Lavallée wore the same makeup for many nights. The composer of the future official anthem traveled to the United States in his youth in search of fortune. Among other jobs, he served as musical director, singer and dancer of an orchestra of minstrel, that genre where artists used the blackface.
“We believe that racism is a cultural export, but it is as indigenous as Lavallée,” Laila el Mugammar wrote in the magazine Maclean’s, insisting that Canada is not a country free of racist expressions. Several companies of minstrel they performed in Canadian cities during the genre’s heyday. Years later, Calixa Lavallée participated in the American Civil War; she fought in the uniform of the Union Army and was wounded in combat.
Various projects had sought to change some words of the hymn (for example, to remove the religious references and make it more inclusive with immigrants), although without success. However, in 2018 an initiative was passed to make it gender neutral. The word children (male), in the English version, was replaced by “we”. A group of conservative senators blocked the vote several times, arguing that it was more important to protect tradition than to adhere to political correctness. Indeed, Or Canada it is not immune from controversy.