The first time I really encountered The Ode was in covering Rotary Club meetings for radio back in the 1970s. The meeting concluded each week with the members standing and singing the last verse. That’s the verse that starts with: “As loved our fathers so we love. Where once they stood, we stand. Their prayer we raise to Heaven above. God Guard thee Newfoundland.”
It was all so very solemn. It was almost holy. These older gentlemen with their hands over their hearts singing at the top of their lungs. These were the conservative business audience of the Newfoundland capital. These were the merchants, who looked like they were from the ‘Community Chest’ card in a Monopoly game. Let me give you some perspective on this. Newfoundland had given up its nationhood to join Canada just over two decades before these meetings. It wasn’t ancient history. These men knew that. They had lived through it. Many of them fought through it. Those Rotary meetings were held at the old Hotel Newfoundland in Cavendish Square. Many of the Rotarians would have known Newfoundland as a nation. They would have known Newfoundland under the Commission of Government. They would have watched our nationhood slip away.
Today, there is controversy over the decision to not have The Ode as part of convocation at Memorial University. Now, rather than a knee jerk reaction, I can tell you I understand the rationale. We are a Canadian province now. I remember some years ago at Beaumont Hamel, I believe it was the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, the Newfoundland Regiment was there but it was a British Commonwealth event and Canada was there as the invited guest. Newfoundland was represented but in the ceremonies it was made clear that O Canada was to be played and not The Ode to Newfoundland. There was minor grumbling but nothing serious. We were, after all, part of the Canadian nation. We all understood that. While it would be nice to have The Ode it was not a hill to die on. It was an event in which we participated as part of the Canadian nation.
Fast forward now to Memorial University and whether The Ode would be part of the convocation. My reaction is Gimme a break, will ya!
Memorial was built to commemorate the fallen in two wars and the Korean conflict. This is OUR university. Newfoundland’s university. I don’t want some ivory towered, new age hipster talking to me about diversity and references to God that might offend. I say play The Ode. The reason for my intolerance on this matter? We are very different than the other Canadian provinces because we were a country. We stood on the world stage by ourselves. We fought in two wars because we decided to, not because Canada told us to.
Play The Ode. It feels right. If God gets a mention the world won’t end. The dead of the wars aren’t crying out for inclusion. Play The Ode. There are no victims in that.