O Canada is under attack for being a sexist relic of the privileged patriarchy, but most Canadians apparently are still proud to stand on guard for it.
A Globe and Mail-CTV poll released yesterday found that an overwhelming 77 per cent of English Canadians surveyed think that making the national anthem more inclusive and gender-friendly by changing its lyrics is a "bad idea."
And the view is held equally by men and women.
"In this case, people have spoken: not everything has to change," concluded John Wright, spokesman for Ipsos-Reid. "Some things should just be left alone."
A senator and a women's group touched off a debate recently by suggesting altering the anthem's third line to replace "in all thy sons command" with "in all of us command" or "in all of our command."
Among the opponents of the change are the descendants of the man who penned the words. The family of Robert Stanley Weir says efforts to neuter the anthem amount to tinkering with tradition.
From his summer home in Quebec's Eastern Townships, a short distance from where Mr. Weir wrote his original poem in 1908, Stephen William Weir Simpson called the proposal to change his grandfather's words "a bit of a crock."
"You don't change Shakespeare or Shelley," he said. "Either you have tradition or you don't.
"We want to change the words to become the most politically correct nation on Earth," said Mr. Simpson, a 65-year-old Montrealer. "But in the eyes of the world, we're going to look like we're trying to please everyone, and we'll end up looking ridiculous." Mr. Simpson has company. The Ipsos-Reid poll found that only 21 per cent of Canadians say modifying the line is a "good idea," suggesting that in these gender-conscious times, Canadians are attached to their history, even when it's politically unfashionable.
Support for the change edges up slightly in Ontario, at 24 per cent, and British Columbia, at 23 per cent. It is strongest Canada-wide among university graduates, reaching 32 per cent.
Support for the change is lowest in Alberta, at only 12 per cent.
(Francophones were not included in the poll because the French version of the anthem is gender-neutral.)
Robert Stanley Weir was a federal court judge in Montreal who loved golf and poetry and wrote the English lyrics to O Canada seated at his piano overlooking Lake Memphremagog.
Written in 1908 to mark the 300th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, the poem was proclaimed the country's national anthem in 1980.
O Canada was set to a melody composed in 1880 by Calixa Lavallée. The French lyrics were written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier. Although originally aimed at stirring French Canadians, O Canada soon caught on with English supporters.
Proponents of the campaign to change the lyrics, such as Senator Vivienne Poy, said the national anthem "defines Canada in the world" and leaves the impression that Canada remains "a patriarchal country."
"In the new millennium, which offers unprecedented opportunities to the daughters of Canada, it is incongruous that women are excluded from our national anthem," Ms. Poy has said.
But Mr. Simpson, the unofficial custodian of Robert Stanley Weir's papers, said his grandfather's poem reflected the times; women didn't have the right to vote, much less serve in the military.
Mr. Weir himself lost two sons, Douglas and Ronald, one in each of the World Wars.
His descendants have no legal grounds to preserve the lyrics. They sold the poem for $1 to the federal government in 1970.
"You don't hand something over and hope it's not going to get hacked to pieces," Mr. Simpson said.
The Ipsos-Reid poll, carried out between July 31 and Aug. 2, is based on a sample of 1,000 Canadians and the results are considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points.