GO TO YOUR PORCH OR BALCONY.
Like you, I’ve sung O Canada hundreds of times. Like you, I can remember nearly none of them.
But there are two that have stuck with me over the years, both joyous, chest-thumping occasions when our voices choked as we belted out a national anthem that ranks, like its nation, well down on the most memorable list, far below my favourites of France, Germany and Russia.
The first was in 2010. Jean and I were in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics. During the Men’s Final hockey game, Canada vs. United States, we saw Sidney Crosbie’s near-invisible over-time goal that gave Canada the Gold Medal.
We saw it on the giant screen of a jam-packed downtown street. When our riotous cheering started to fade, someone in the crowd started singing O Canada. It quickly spread and thousands of us started to belt out the words that suddenly took on a new power. I remember glancing over at a couple next to us, a Sikh man and his wife. They were both wearing Team Canada scarves and even though they were a little wobbly on the words, their throats caught the way ours did on the incredible emotion of the moment, and how lucky we all were to live in a country like this.
Then on July 1st 2017, on Canada’s 150th birthday, we were heli-hiking with a lodgeful of friends high in the Monashees north of Revelstoke. Our hosts decided to surprise us with ‘one final run’ of the day. They helicoptered us all up to a mountain ridge for a Canada Day barbeque dinner. 48 guests, 20 staff, one helicopter, many trips. But it all worked out, and even the sun played its role, setting gently behind a mountain top as we all stood and belted out our national anthem to each other and any bewildered marmots and bears hiding from this strange noise. It was a perfect moment in a perfect setting.
It is neither today.
But national anthems don’t just lift our spirits in times of victory. They work even harder when our days are dire. We saw this ages ago on March 22nd when the people of Italy went to their balconies to sing their national anthem, in solidarity against the pandemic that was crushing their country worse than any other.
So it is that Toronto marketer Geoffrey Roche was thinking “to get a way for people to thank front-line workers across the country. Even if they‘re out in the wide-open spaces, I thought, how can we have them heard by our heroes? At one point, Marie Claire [Roche’s wife] shouted out ‘Have them sing O Canada!’ Boom. Great idea.’”
So at 12 noon this Sunday, why not gather your family and go to your porch or your balcony, rooftop, backyard or even bathroom.
When you’re done, applaud, holler, bang some pots, do that very unCanadian thing, make noise.
You might also want to record it on your phone so you can play it back when the fog begins to lift. Then post it to #thanksohcanada or send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, lest you blanche at the impracticality and evanescence of all this, after you’re done singing and posting and sending, you might also think of….
- Calling your local hospital and seeing if you can send pizza or some other food to the ER staff or inpatient nursing/janitorial staff
- Dropping off Tim Hortons gift cards to your local police station/ambulance station/firehouse
- Asking the grocery clerk (checkout or stockist) if they need any help with getting their own groceries
- Taking a meal to someone you know who is working on the front lines and thus does not have time to cook
- Offering to get some groceries for a self-isolating neighbour
- Sending a thank-you note or flowers to the local public health office
But before you do that, why not dial up your patriotism the notch it needs to thank the tens of thousands of Canadians who are saving the thousands of us who are sick or dying, or who are making our lives at home easier.
Because they deserve our thanks for sure.
But more than that, they deserve our true love, strong and free.