Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue are household names to Canadians who watched coverage of the Olympic games in South Korea. The figure skating duo jointly carried Canada’s flag as our athletes marched into the Pyeongchang Stadium for the opening ceremonies.
They also won their second gold medal in the ice dance competition eight years after claiming their first gold at the Vancouver Olympics. The pair set a record for the highest score ever for their sport and became the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history. Canadians can be rightly proud of these two outstanding Olympians for their athletic achievements. But I’m proud of them for another reason as well.
In a Toronto Star interview Tessa and Scott talked about how happy they were to sing the new lyrics to O Canada when the anthem was played after their gold medal win. Scott said, “It was important for us to set a tone by belting out the new lyrics after our victory. We are so proud of Canada for making this change. It’s 2018. It’s about time.” Scott thought the fact a man and a woman jointly carried our flag at the opening ceremonies, illustrated the recent change to one line of Canada’s anthem from “in all thy sons’ command” to “in all of us command”.
I have long advocated for this change and have now published four newspaper columns on the topic. I first wrote about it in 2002 when I was inspired by the vision of a Steinbach woman Sybil Shaw Hamm. She was collecting signatures for a petition to send to Ottawa in support of Senator Vivian Poy who had introduced a Senate motion to change the word ‘sons’ in O Canada.
“Thousands of little girls are being told they are not important every time they stand to sing the anthem” said Sybil in a media interview. Ultimately Senator Poy’s motion to change the wording was defeated.
I wrote about the topic again in 2016 after the House of Commons passed a bill sponsored by the late member of Parliament Mauril Belanger to change the sexist line of the anthem to its present gender- neutral alternative. This time I was responding to my fellow newspaper columnist Michael Zwaagstra who advocated for a national referendum on the change. I pointed out the words of the anthem had been changed many times in the past without a referendum. In fact, the currently contentious line had only had the word ‘sons’ added in 1914, as a way to counteract the influence of a vocal group of suffragettes lobbying for women’s right to vote.
I wrote about the topic again in 2017 when local senator Don Plett introduced an amendment to the bill as a way to try to stymie its passage in the Senate. He didn’t want to change the words because they were “an important reminder of the past.” I said the word ‘sons’ did reflect a past when women weren’t persons in Canada. They were their husbands’ and fathers’ property. They couldn’t vote and their contributions went largely unrecognized. Thankfully times had changed and so should the words of our anthem.
Of course I am overjoyed that despite Mr. Plett’s efforts the bill did pass the Senate. The changes to the anthem became law on February 7 just in time for the new version to be used at the Winter Olympics.
Language is a very powerful thing. I am proud that on the international stage our now inclusive national anthem reflected the fact that our Olympic athletes come from a country where both the contributions of men and women are recognized and respected.
Thing 2– One of the eight things I do each day here in Portugal is work on a piece of writing I know will be published or I would like to have published. This newspaper column was one of them. It was published yesterday in the Carillon. Other publishing projects I’ve worked on besides writing my regular columns include spending time rewriting some meditations that will be published this summer and doing publicity forms for another Chicken Soup story of mine that will be published in a book in spring. I am also working on edits to the first draft of a manuscript for a middle grade novel I want to submit to an editor when I get home, and I am writing more submission letters for a picture book I have finished and am hoping to get published. In addition I am working on another picture book manuscript and adding more short stories to a collection I’m writing about growing up in the 50s and 60s.