‘True Pastry Gloves’ – Stumbling Through the National Anthem

Dan Needles reflects on how Canadians seem to be the only people who stumble over the words of their national anthem.

September 8, 2023 | | Fence Posts

This past summer, an old friend of mine asked me to serve as an honorary citizenship judge for the annual Canada Day “reaffirmation” ceremony he supervises in my hometown. It took place on the main street where a large crowd gathered to hear a bagpiper play “The Maple Leaf Forever,” then our poet laureate read a piece she composed for the day and we heard greetings from three levels of government. Then it was my turn to step up and say something intelligent before leading the crowd in reciting an oath of allegiance to Canada, including King Charles III, his heirs and successors.

As we walked over to the platform, I asked our poet laureate, who is Indigenous, if she would be comfortable swearing loyalty to King Charles and she indicated she most definitely would not be doing any such thing.

“I completely understand,” I said. “My family crossed the Atlantic 250 years ago, below the waterline, to get away from plummy guys on horseback who trampled over our fields anytime they pleased. My knee does not bend either.”

What I love about this country is there is no legal requirement for us to swear allegiance to anybody or anything unless we are applying for a job in government or the military. (I think lawyers still have to swear an oath in most provinces.) The rest of us are free to remain silent or even mutter something rebellious on state occasions if we choose, because that is our inalienable right.

When it came time for me to speak to the crowd, I observed that Canadians are the only people who stumble over the words of their national anthem. That day we weren’t sure if we should be singing “Our home on Native land.” I said, “Sing whatever you like, folks.” For years my own kids sang “True pastry gloves” because they had a vague sense they were supposed to be expressing reverence for something and the first thing that came to mind was their mother’s home dessert business. They still sing “True pastry gloves” if they don’t have a pamphlet in front of them.

When the flag is fluttering and the anthem is playing – even if it’s that other anthem nobody remembers, about a tree that only grows reliably in temperate forests with topsoil – it is still important to remember what is sacred to us. Canada’s flag has never been a symbol of individual freedom, in spite of the current fad of fixing it to monster trucks. To me, the maple leaf stands for a fresh start.

Shake the dust of the old place from your feet. Shoulder your way into a human community and try to do good work. And above all, try not to start any of the crap that made it necessary for you to come here. That’s a wonderful narrative for a national symbol and it beats the pants off sulky lions and angry eagles.

There’s no real way of getting around King Charles. He’s in the constitution and to change that you need the unanimous agreement of the provinces, the territories and Lord knows who else. You can rail about it as loud as you like, but it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible to change, which is a good thing. Fads and enthusiasms come and go, statues go up and down, but the thinking of the founders remains in place. We’re stuck with Charles and he with us. On a trip to Canada, his father once famously said, “We don’t come here for our health!”

  • Story Continues Below Advertisements
  • Years ago, I got to know the minister for our little Anglican church who came to us after a long career as an emergency room nurse. She was far more interested in setting up a daycare or a coffee club for seniors than diving into theological rabbit holes. “I hadn’t thought about it either way,” she would say. “But if you’re coming Sunday, would you bring a hot dish?” Her advice to godparents struggling with the more difficult passages in the baptismal responses was, “If you’re not sure, just mumble.” This is wonderfully Canadian advice and deserves a much wider application.

    There’s a lot happening when a Canadian mumbles. The seed of skepticism has been planted, which is the traditional cover crop the brain needs when it is changing its mind about a long-held belief. In that mumble there is doubt, there is humility and there is curiosity, the three essential traits a person needs to find the path to true enlightenment and good citizenship.

    About the Author More by Dan Needles

    Author and playwright Dan Needles is a recipient of the Leacock Medal for Humour and the Order of Canada. He lives on a small farm in Nottawa.

    Related Stories

    Finding Our Way Around This New Neighbourhood

    Jun 16, 2023 | Dan Needles | Fence Posts

    Author Dan Needles reflects on the sudden growth of small towns as urbanites adjust to village life

    The Reformation of the Township Dump

    Mar 20, 2023 | Dan Needles | Fence Posts

    No longer reminiscent of a Mad Max movie set, the township dump has become something of a pleasant, well-managed place, finds Dan Needles.

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    By posting a comment you agree that IN THE HILLS magazine has the legal right to publish, edit or delete all comments for use both online or in print. You also agree that you bear sole legal responsibility for your comments, and that you will hold IN THE HILLS harmless from the legal consequences of your comment, including libel, copyright infringement and any other legal claims. Any comments posted on this site are NOT the opinion of IN THE HILLS magazine. Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed. Please report inappropriate comments to vjones@inthehills.ca.