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The Maple Leaf, but not forever
July 20, 2013 6:53 AM   Subscribe

Before the 1980 Act of Parliament which made O Canada the national anthem of Canada, the anthem was functionally God Save the Queen, but there was another patriotic song which served as the unofficial anthem: The Maple Leaf Forever. The song was written by poet Alexander Muir in October of 1867 to celebrate the confederation of Canada in July of that year and was famously inspired by a silver maple which stood in his front yard on Laing St in Toronto. Last night's storms brought the tree down, after a century and a half.

The song's lyrics have been modified many times; Muir's original version invoked only the British contribution to the founding of Canada, making no reference to the French, let alone the First Nations or any of the subsequent arrivals.
posted by ricochet biscuit (43 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
As a side note, I was chuffed to find "With Glowing Hearts" on Youtube -- this is the 90-second long NFB film that goes with O Canada that everyone who was living in this country in the 1980s saw essentially before every movie and at the end of every TV station's broadcast day.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:04 AM on July 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sad, but time passes I suppose. It kind of echoes the fate of the song. The Maple Leaf Forever is A much better "anthem" than O Canada, but no amount of re-writing can erase the burden of its original lyrics and social context. In short, they've both grown too old.
posted by Popular Ethics at 7:05 AM on July 20, 2013


This was always my favourite use of O Canada for a TV station sign-off.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:10 AM on July 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Meh. The Maple Leaf Forever might as well have been called "Three Cheers for White Colonialists."

Anyway, half the tree's still there.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:20 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


The tree is dead. Long live the tree.
posted by three blind mice at 7:23 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Australia's anthem originally included the lines
When gallant Cook from Albion sailed,
To trace wide oceans o'er,
True British courage bore him on,
Til he landed on our shore.
Then here he raised Old England's flag,
The standard of the brave;
"With all her faults we love her still"
"Britannia rules the wave."
So Canada, you're in good company.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:32 AM on July 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Heh - that's almost identical.

In Days of yore,
From Britain's shore
Wolfe the dauntless hero came
And planted firm Britannia's flag
On Canada's fair domain.
Here may it wave,
Our boast, our pride
And joined in love together,
The thistle, shamrock, rose entwined,
The Maple Leaf Forever.

posted by Sys Rq at 7:41 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


You have my condolences Canada. If it makes you feel any better, the US has systemically tried to ruin our semi-anthem as well - America the Beautiful.

Our skies are not quite as spacious from the smog above most major cities.
The amber waves of grain are still amber, but - Monsanto!
The purple mountains are actually slightly more purple, but that is mostly because we've been burying toxic waste under them.
The fruited plains have recently undergone drought conditions.
The one thing we have come through with though is 'brotherhood' as we've improved our race relations enough to no longer need key parts of the voting rights act! Oh wait...
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:55 AM on July 20, 2013


Always sad when a grand old tree dies. Remembering the Stanley Park storm still makes me tear up, but new plantings make me happy.
posted by arcticseal at 8:04 AM on July 20, 2013


I hope you won't think me a hopeless contrarian if I come to the defence of Muir:

Yes, by the standards of today, the original lyrics are hopelesly outdated, and they exclude the aboriginal peoples entirely and the reference to the Plains of Abraham is provocative to Quebeckers and many other French Canadians. So I'm not saying that we should be singing the original lyrics with gusto, or anything, but...

Let's look at them in the context of the time. A very key facet of the original lyrics is that Muir gives equal pride of place to the Irish, along with the English and Scottish. The last verse practically ends with a reference to 'Ireland's Em'rald Isle'.

Why is this significant? Because the previous year, Muir had fought against the Fenian Raid, Irish nationalists invading Canada from bases in the USA. When the song talks about 'never yielding rights' and dying to protect 'freedom', people of his own age would have understood that in the context of Irish invaders.

The original version of the Maple Leaf Forever was, in the context of its own time, a song of ethnic reconciliation. It's rather as if a New Yorker had written a song about the religious diversity of the US in 2002, and praised the Muslims as an integral part of the state. It was, in short, a song which attempted to convey the idea of a harmonious, multi-ethnic society.

And it kind of worked. Take a look at Canada's coat of arms today: you'll see a representation of what were (in the 19-teens-and-20's) different ethnic groups placed side by side, in a way that recognised distinction and union at once. Obviously, it was based on the UK arms too, but in Canada this was a deliberate choice. And underneath, in the 'compartment', we have "The Lily, Thistle, Shamrock, Rose", just like it says in Muir's original version of the song.

The Maple Leaf Forever is a rousing march. It's catchy, it has dozens of non-offensive sets of lyrics written for it, it was a signal moment in the creation of Canadian nationalism as it is currently conceived (at least outside of Quebec, where ethnicity is viewed very differently). It's a song that deserves rehabilitation. I hope they do something nice with the remains of the tree.
posted by Dreadnought at 8:06 AM on July 20, 2013 [16 favorites]


I always thought that tree would outlive the country.

:(

Maybe it did.
posted by mazola at 8:11 AM on July 20, 2013


As long as they don't mess with recipe for Tim Horton's doughnuts, I think Canada will be fine.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:22 AM on July 20, 2013


Let's look at them in the context of the time. A very key facet of the original lyrics is that Muir gives equal pride of place to the Irish, along with the English and Scottish. The last verse practically ends with a reference to 'Ireland's Em'rald Isle'.

Why is this significant? Because the previous year, Muir had fought against the Fenian Raid, Irish nationalists invading Canada from bases in the USA. When the song talks about 'never yielding rights' and dying to protect 'freedom', people of his own age would have understood that in the context of Irish invaders.


That's not significant at all. The invocation of England, Scotland, and Ireland is simply a reference to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:31 AM on July 20, 2013


Don't worry about the tree. We were going to build a condo there next week, anyway.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:32 AM on July 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


making no reference to the French, let alone the First Nations or any of the subsequent arrivals.

In which case, I'll keep holding out for Runnin' Back To Saskatoon. Not exactly something to proud of, but it speaks a certain truth. Red meat, weird place names, big distances, long nights, not a helluva lot to do.
posted by philip-random at 9:10 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


As long as they don't mess with recipe for Tim Horton's doughnuts, I think Canada will be fine.

Maybe the actual ingredients didn't change but I believe they pretty much did that already.
posted by philip-random at 9:13 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


simply a reference to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

I disagree. For 1860's people, Britishness was pretty contested. So, as you know, nationalism in the UK has long had a tension between Britishness and Englisness, Britannia (as in Muir's song) and Albion (as in Advance Australia Fair). Muir was Scottish, and as such he had a stake in emphasising Britishness over Englishness, but that should by no means make us assume that he was au fait with an equal place for Ireland within the world of the British Empire.

Because the Irish were really, really discriminated against in the British Empire in general, and in Canada in particular. Anti-Catholic sentiment was high in the UK, and it was probably even worse in Canada West, and the Irish were inextricably linked to Catholicism in the minds of many people. If Muir wanted to be all 'Britannia united' he could have talked about Ulster or Orange or the St Patrick Cross, or any number of pro-Protestant Irish symbols. More likely, he could have avoided the whole issue and talked about 'Britain' as a single entity, which many Scottish people were keen to do at the time.

But he didn't do this. He emphasised ethnic identity and harmony. And he described Ireland as 'Emerald', which is invoking the colour green, which was deeply linked to anti-British Irish nationalism. And yes, in the original version of his original lyrics, he put the Lily in there, to represent the French (this was later taken out by persons unknown, and then added back in again by Muir).

I interpret this as being, not a pro forma recitation of the constituent countries of the UK (as then was), but as a deliberate choice. And in a heavily Scottish city, like 1860's Toronto, it was actually kind of cool, and progressive for its day, even if it doesn't translate well to our own socio-political mores.
posted by Dreadnought at 9:40 AM on July 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


As long as they don't mess with recipe for Tim Horton's doughnuts, I think Canada will be fine.

This happened already. Now all donuts and treats are covered in a sugary goo that makes them totally inedible (at least, and thankfully so, to me).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:45 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


My son just "graduated" from elementary school, so I attended my first end-of-year assembly in about 30 thirty years. I was struck by the fact that they no longer sing God Save the Queen at the end of assembly like they did when I was a kid, growing up in Canada in the 70's.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:46 AM on July 20, 2013


My father has talked about assemblies including God Save the Queen, O Canada, The Maple Leaf Forever, AND Onward Christian Soldiers. One wonders when they had time for the talking bit.
posted by Gin and Comics at 9:55 AM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


They sang songs at my son's assembly this past June, and I do recall singing songs to departing teachers (and students) when I was a kid. It's an act of communion, I suppose.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:08 AM on July 20, 2013


Add to the list of interpretations this one from Finest Kind.
posted by mr vino at 10:27 AM on July 20, 2013


Old trees, man. In my line of work I deal with people who have a big beautiful old tree on their lawn and they're complaining. "Oh, it drops twigs and leaves all the time!" "Oh, sap gets on my car!" "What if we had a big storm and it fell?" It's healthy and it was there before your damned house was. Deal.

Too bad about the tree. They do have a lifespan though and it was going to happen sometime. Those Ontario summer storms are nasty.
posted by Hoopo at 10:54 AM on July 20, 2013


My father has talked about assemblies including God Save the Queen, O Canada, The Maple Leaf Forever, AND Onward Christian Soldiers. One wonders when they had time for the talking bit.

It's a good thing he never had to sing the Ontario Song.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:55 AM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


The maple leaf is sort of a strange national symbol, because the tree doesn't grow (naturally) here out west. There is the Western Bigleaf maple, but it's not common-enough a tree to be symbolic, and in fall the leaves don't have the crisp vibrant reds, yellows and oranges of their eastern cousins, but instead turn a dull orange, a colour that more resembles rotting flesh than anything else.

That's not to say the Bigleaf maple is not a majestic tree. It is, but in summer, when its beautiful broad, green leaves provide shade from the piercing, white rays of the mid-summer sun, especially on sandy bluffs above the beach.

But the maple leaf is really a symbol of Upper Canada and "Back East," the people running the show in Canada.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:03 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it did.

?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:13 PM on July 20, 2013


Here we are on Metafilter, an entirely English-speaking website, talking about the appropriateness of "The Maple Leaf Forever" as a national anthem for Canada. Contrary parties are not even privy to this discussion. It might be a decent song, but the reasons it has no business being even an unofficial anthem should be obvious.

If we ever take another crack at choosing an anthem, I'd like to see it include some aboriginal language (Cree and Inuktitut seem logical choices) not simply French and English.

It is a shame about the tree, though. I think we can all agree that trees are a good thing.
posted by rhombus at 1:37 PM on July 20, 2013


On the other hand, the French version of O Canada (and also the bilingual version) talks about carrying the sword and the cross in our arms...so...huzzah?

Maybe we should just have an entirely instrumental national anthem, and make it the old Hockey Night in Canada song.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:14 PM on July 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I was struck by the fact that they no longer sing God Save the Queen at the end of assembly like they did when I was a kid, growing up in Canada in the 70's.

There are three reasons I have never sung "God Save the Queen" in school. First: It hasn't been our national anthem since before I was born. (And I'm not particularly young. Just sayin'.) The second and (arguably) third are pretty self-explanatory. "O Canada" still mentions God, but at least it's not in the title, and asking for something worthwhile.

I did experience "God Save the Queen" in father-son Scout banquets, however. I think that was mainly because our dads were old and still thought of it as their national anthem. We kids knew the tune (having heard "My Country 'Tis of Thee" on American television), but not the words. "The Maple Leaf Forever" was also on the bill, but only the old folks knew it at all.

But the maple leaf is really a symbol of Upper Canada and "Back East," the people running the show in Canada.


Yeah. There's a lot about "The Maple Leaf Forever" that just hasn't aged well. The fact that the song was written for the 1867 Confederation -- long before most of the country even existed -- is kind of a big problem. (Not really sure what the flag's excuse is, though. Number of points, schmumber of schmoints.)
posted by Sys Rq at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2013


Yeah. There's a lot about "The Maple Leaf Forever" that just hasn't aged well. The fact that the song was written for the 1867 Confederation -- long before most of the country even existed -- is kind of a big problem.

... except the country that was formed in 1867 did see something in the maple leaf, and there's something to be said for being conscious of where your nation came from, what its founders were thinking and feeling and getting dewy eyed singing about (assuming there's any value at all in a nation state).


not that we need to have the flag tattooed on our children's backs ....
posted by philip-random at 3:44 PM on July 20, 2013


I'll never be again hear "The Maple Leaf Forever" without thinking of Michael Buble's rendition during the closing ceremony of the 2010 Olympics, complete with giant inflated mounties, beavers, and moose. I'm still not quite sure if I watched the most bizarre lounge act ever or suffered an acid flashback.
posted by HillbillyInBC at 5:32 PM on July 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Inspired by a silver maple, really? Those things are friggin' weeds with trunks. Might as well sing about dandelions.

As for rehabilitating the song, forget about it; you may sing it without referencing Wolfe, but every body will remember that it was in the original.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 5:56 PM on July 20, 2013


.
posted by windykites at 10:06 PM on July 20, 2013


If we ever take another crack at choosing an anthem...

If somebody could write a French-language version of Northwest Passage, I think we'd be set....
posted by e-man at 10:33 PM on July 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


maybe it did

?


Well, there once was a country called Canada, long long ago, ruled over by a variety of more-or-less competent people during the last 50 or so years anyways give or take. And as this nation grew strong with progressive social policies and relatively democratic governence, and developed a reputation as a fair land, one of wisdom and politeness and relative safety and low consumer debt. And as the land grew and flourished pretty ok, so grew the tree, a sign of the favour of the gods.

But one day a money-hungry (possibly), power crazed (possibly),- some say evil- man, a man with priorities almost unfathomable to charitable minds, came to reign over the land.

There were terrible outcries of pain and shame throughout the land, as one by one the formidable edifices of which had upheld that society were annihilated, torn asunder by that man's power, the power gained through the dark forbidden practise of baby-eating.


And lo, a curse was placed upon that country, that in punishment for its foolishness and disregard for basic decency, and the curse withered federally governed social services and ate away at freedom of speech and slowed the flow of carefully considered and research-backed economic and environmental policies that were once the lifeblood or at least some of the plasma of that great nation.

And lo, a storm came upon them and flooded them with the wrath of the gods of science and socialism, and the storms were fierce but not as fierce as the remorse of the people, and the gods looked upon the new Canada that had been wrenched out of the old and saw that it was not so good, it was not the living Canada they had once known, and the Tree of Silver Maple toppled and was eliminated like so many Environment Canada scientists and also any legitimate notion of freedom of the press in the CBC. For there was no longer a Canada. There was only a Harper Government.
posted by windykites at 10:33 PM on July 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm shocked that a Silver Maple could live for 150 years. They're the first to fall in any big storm.
posted by rocket88 at 10:42 PM on July 20, 2013


Of all beautiful trees, maples shine as a first amongst the great. And I'm not even Canadian. A shame this special tree has fallen. Quick! Someone plant 5 more. That'll show 'em!
posted by Goofyy at 5:38 AM on July 21, 2013


Toronto 'Maple Leaf Forever' tree lives on through offspring

Obvious sequel hook.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:49 AM on July 21, 2013


An old high school friend of mine used to argue that the national anthem should be Gilles Vigneault's Mon Pays, because it spoke a truth we could all agree on regardless of origin, language, skin tone (except perhaps for a few of us west coast types).

A translation:

My country isn't a country, it's winter
my garden isn't a garden, it's the plain
my road isn't a road, it's the snow
My country isn't a country, it's winter

In the white ceremony
where the snow is married to the wind
in this land of blizzards
my father had a house built
and I'm going to be true
to his ways, to his example
my guest room will be the one
that you go back to, season after season
to build beside it

My country isn't a country, it's winter
My refrain isn't a refrain, it's a gust of wind
My house isn't my house, it's the winter cold
My country isn't a country, it's winter

About my solitary country
I cry out before I am silenced
to everyone on earth
my house is your house
inside my four walls of ice
I put my time and my space
to prepare the fire, the place
for the people of the horizon
and the people are of my race

My country isn't a country, it's winter
my garden isn't a garden, it's the plain
my road isn't a road, it's the snow
My country isn't a country, it's winter

My country isn't a country, it's the contrary
of a country that was neither land nor nation
My song isn't a song, it's my life
It's for you that I want to possess my winters

posted by philip-random at 10:04 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Toronto 'Maple Leaf Forever' tree lives on through offspring

See. That's what I was talking about. Weeds, all of them. Had he been properly inspired, the author would have down the right thing, and then written an ode to his axe and saw.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:13 PM on July 21, 2013


Why don't they just put it back?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:12 PM on July 21, 2013


"With all her faults we love her still"

Interesting that this line seems to have been lifted entirely from a Cowper poem written 100 years previously.
posted by elizardbits at 7:47 AM on July 22, 2013


It's a lovely story but the idea of this tree being the tree is probably bullshit.
posted by chococat at 10:50 AM on July 22, 2013


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