All Thy Sons (and Daughters) Command

  • April 01, 2018
  • Tony Wilson, QC

BarTalk Nothing Official By Tony WilsonTony Wilson

O Canada’s new words

have this terrible problem with change. My wife and I have owned a timeshare at Club Intrawest since 2007. I like owning there because it forces us to go on holidays and we don’t have to worry about the trials and tribulations of recreational real estate ownership. We’ve used our points to travel to Zihuatanejo, Palm Desert and Whistler. But a couple of years ago, it was decided that the Club had to change its name and “rebrand.” A survey was sent out to solicit input from timeshare owners and it asked for ideas for the “new name.” Being a change-resistant curmudgeon, my first choice was Club Intrawest. My second choice was Club Intrawest. And my third choice was Club Intrawest. My advice was not taken, and Club Intrawest was rebranded as “Embarc” against my wishes (and the wishes of most of the other owners). So, in protest, I never call it “Embarc.” I don’t like the change and I refuse to acknowledge it. Consider it a combination of laziness, old age, nonviolent resistance and free speech.

A few years ago, my old alma mater decided to rebrand and change its official name from “University of Western Ontario” to “Western University.” When I was there in the 1970s, everyone called it “Western” in normal conversation, (sort of like “Tony”) but its official name was always the “University of Western Ontario” (sort of like “Anthony”). These days, I grimace every time I hear “Western University.” So, in protest, I refuse to acknowledge the new name and always make a point of calling it the University of Western Ontario. Because I don’t like change, my intransigence is a combination of laziness, old age, nonviolent resistance and free speech.

That brings me to yet another change. I think, for the second or third time in my life, the official words to “O Canada” have changed. The second line of the anthem’s English version was changed in January to “in all of us command” from “in all thy sons’ command” to make our anthem more inclusive and gender neutral.

My first impression was that this was an exercise in political correctness and I’d simply ignore the change, like I’ve ignored Club Intrawest’s new brand and the newly minted “Western University,” and sing O Canada the way I learned it in 1964.

But when I looked deeper into the history of “O Canada,” I realized the 1908 words were the inclusive and gender neutral “thou dost in us command.” They were changed to “all thy sons command” not for grammatical reasons, but for political ones. They were changed at the start of the First World War to inspire wartime patriotism when Canadian “sons” were sent off to fight the Kaiser as part of the British Empire. A little more homework revealed the 1914 change was a subtle exercise in wartime propaganda and 1914-political correctness, instigated at a time when women were neither soldiers, nor voters nor persons, (but who still made up 50% of the population).

I considered the position of those opposed to the change, particularly the homework-challenged scandalmongers at Ontario Proud, who were outraged by the change to our anthem and who claimed the words “all thy sons command” were a part of Canada’s “sacred history,” somehow forgetting that Canada is composed of sons AND daughters, and ignoring the fact that women have been part of our armed forces for generations. Some have died serving Canada.

So, despite my problem with change, I know what side of history I’d rather be on, and it’s not the side that doesn’t do their homework. It’s the side of change. I’m going to embrace the new words to “O Canada” for my daughter, my wife, my late mother, my late grandmothers and all those other Canadians who aren’t anyone’s sons. I’m going to embrace the new words because inclusiveness is the zeitgeist of our era.

It’s not 1914 anymore.


Tony Wilson, QC is a franchise lawyer at Boughton in Vancouver and a Bencher of the Law Society. The views expressed herein are strictly those of Tony and do not reflect the opinions of the Law Society, CBABC, or their respective members.