A cen­tury of the Ode to New­found­land

The Compass - - OPINION -

New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans are the only Cana­di­ans whose prov­ince has two na­tional an­thems. We sing our own Ode to New­found­land fer­vently, to ac­knowl­edge our her­itage as New­found­lan­ders, and we sing O Canada with equal joy to cel­e­brate that we are now Cana­di­ans, too.

But few among us know the story of how our Ode be­came our na­tional an­them and even fewer of us know that it achieved this sta­tus be­fore O Canada did so.

Sir Cavendish Boyle, the gover­nor of New­found­land from 1901 to 1904, wrote the words to our Ode dur­ing his term as gover­nor. (He also do­nated the Boyle Tro­phy, em­blem­atic of each year’s se­nior hockey cham­pi­ons.) It was orig­i­nally sung to mu­sic writ­ten by pro­fes­sor E.R. Kripp­ner, a Ger­man band­mas­ter who was liv­ing in St. John’s at the time. The an­them was first per­formed pub­li­cally, to Kripp­ner’s tune, on Dec. 22, 1902.

Warmly re­ceived

But Boyle didn’t like the mu­sic, which he con­sid­ered too spritely. He wanted a tune more fit­ting to a na­tional an­them. He asked Sir Hu­bert Parry, a British com­poser who was a per­sonal friend of his, to com­pose a new mu­si­cal set­ting. Parry did so, and the mu­sic to which we sing the Ode to­day was first per­formed in St. John’s on May 20, 1904. It found a ready ac­cep­tance, and soon won a place in the hearts of ev­ery­one who heard it. All of us were taught, as school chil­dren, to sing it.

The Ode to New­found­land of­fi­cially be­came our na­tional an­them on Nov. 6, 1902, when the Gov­ern­ment of New­found­land led by Sir Robert Bond des­ig­nated it as such. This was done by Or­der-in-Coun­cil, rather than by a statute. Bond pledged, in his man­i­festo for the 1909 gen­eral elec­tion, that he would give the Ode statu­tory sta­tus should he win. But he lost the elec­tion. The Ode, how­ever, re­mained our na­tional an­them. And it still is.

O Canada is a lit­tle older than our Ode; it was first sung pub­licly on June 24, 1880. It be­came pop­u­lar as more and more Cana­di­ans be­gan to sing it, to pro­claim their pride in Canada. But it was not un­til 1927 that the Gov­ern­ment of Canada of­fi­cially rec­og­nized “O Canada” and au­tho­rized it to be sung “in Cana­dian schools and for use at pub­lic func­tions,” in the words used by to­day’s Cana­dian Her­itage Depart­ment to de­scribe it. There the mat­ter rested; no gov­ern­ment ever asked Par­lia­ment to de­clare it of­fi­cially to be the na­tional an­them.

We brought our na­tional an­them with us into Canada in 1949, and con­tin­ued to sing it to­gether with our other na­tional an­them, O Canada. Legally, both stood on the same sta­tus — given its stand­ing by Or­ders-in-Coun­cil, adopted by a na­tional gov­ern­ment. And both en­joyed a place in our hearts.

Fail­ure to salute

There the mat­ter rested un­til 1974. That sum­mer, New­found­land’s lieu­tenant-gover- nor, Gor­don Win­ter, no­ticed that of­fi­cers and men of the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment failed to come to at­ten­tion and salute when the Ode to New­found­land was played dur­ing a cer­e­mony at which he presided.

Win­ter asked for an ex­pla­na­tion. He was told that the sol­diers meant no dis­re­spect, but the Ode had no of­fi­cial stand­ing. Win­ter promptly spoke with Frank Moores, then premier of New­found­land, who read­ily agreed to rem­edy this. The House of Assem­bly voted unan­i­mously to make it so, in 1975. I was one of the mem­bers who had the priv­i­lege of sup­port­ing it.

But the full truth of the story is that our Ode wasn’t the only na­tional an­them that lacked statu­tory recog­ni­tion. O Canada stood on ex­actly the same foot­ing. It was not un­til 1980 — five years af­ter our Ode was given for­mal leg­isla­tive sanc­tion — that the Par­lia­ment of Canada passed the Na­tional An­them Act. (Par­lia­ment also changed the lyrics, to those that we sing to­day.)

The Ode, then, is the old­est of our two Na­tional An­thems. It was the first to be rec­og­nized as such by a gov­ern­ment at a time when New­found­land and Canada en­joyed equal con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus as self-gov­ern­ing en­ti­ties within the British Em­pire. And our House of Assem­bly made it our of­fi­cial an­them by law five years be­fore the Par­lia­ment of Canada ac­corded the same hon­our to O Canada.

The Cana­dian Forces, un­for­tu­nately, still fail to rec­og­nize our Ode. Canada’s sol­diers, sailors and air­men are for­bid­den to ac­knowl­edge the Ode to New­found­land when it is played at mil­i­tary cer­e­monies, al­though of course they do so with O Canada. The pow­ers-that-be wisely do not en­force that rule in New­found­land and Labrador. But as re­cently as six years ago the sol­diers of the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment were or­dered not to salute the Ode as a na­tional an­them dur­ing their pil­grim­age to France and Flan­ders.

This fail­ure by the au­thor­i­ties doesn’t les­son our love and re­spect for the Ode. But nei­ther does it negate the truth that our Ode be­came a na­tional an­them long be­fore O Canada was so des­ig­nated.

Ed­ward Roberts has had a life­long in­ter­est in the his­tory of New­found­land and Labrador. He was an MHA for 23 years, and served as the prov­ince’s lieu­tenant-gover­nor from 2002 to 2008. He can be reached by email at the fol­low­ing: ed­wardm­roberts@gmail.com

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