Hey, It’s Our National Anthem!

Hey, It’s Our National Anthem!

From Chicken Soup for the Canadian Soul

Hey, It’s Our National Anthem!

The moments are few and often fleeting—those moments when Canadians wear their patriotism on their sleeves. It seems it’s just not us to wave the flag too enthusiastically or belt out “O Canada,” hand on heart, at a baseball game. But sometimes we strut our patriotic stuff when no one expects it.

It all started with this little British TV show called Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The Americans, recognizing a ratings’ golden goose, snapped up the North American broadcast rights. Now that meant that we here, north of the 49th, could watch the show—we just couldn’t participate, and so we were feeling a little left out of what was fast becoming an international phenomenon. Then some smart folks at CTV got on the line to their American cousins and all agreed it would be a swell idea to do a special all-Canadian show—on the set in New York City. Of course, everyone knew that an American host would have a difficult time pronouncing “Saskatchewan,” never mind “Trois Rivières”. And so the phone call came. Would I host this special event? I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

Over the next few months, the country was in a tizzy, speed dialing the special hotlines—dozens, even hundreds, of times a day—for a chance at a million dollars, a trip to New York City and a place in TV history. The first programme (actually, we did two in the end) would be the highest-rated TV show in this country! There were even contests to select the audience members who would be flown to the Big Apple for the necessary cheering and moral support that have helped make the programme such a success.

As the hour approached, the excitement was palpable. The contestants, representing the width and breadth of this country, had been briefed, put through the paces and had tested all the actual high-tech toys that adorned the Millionaire set. Were the buzzers and buttons working? Did they understand the rules? Who would have the fastest finger? Would they freeze in the glare of the million-watt lights? Would the folks at home be proud or unforgiving if the answers were wrong? Could these chosen few show up at the office or even at home if they missed what seems so darn obvious when you’re sitting smugly in the comfort of your own home?

I was as ready as possible. There had not been a lot of time to rehearse, and the few precious hours squeezed in during Regis’s downtime were done at a frantic pace. Then, of course, there was the chair crisis. Regis is no taller than I am, but he does wear pants making his leap into the seat doable. This pedestal was a precarious perch not designed for tight skirts, high heels or a graceful mount.

Details. A discreet little box magically appeared that allowed me to step up to the host hot seat with a little dignity. As I talked with the contestants—trying to calmly reassure them this would be fun, regardless of the outcome— I soon knew I was in a crowd of Canadians. They didn’t care about the money, they said, they were just glad for the whole amazing experience. And so was I. This really was going to be a lot of fun.

The countdown to show time was about to begin when we heard the faint echoes of our national anthem. Backstage of the elaborate set, I peaked around the darkened corner to see what was going on. There was the audience—all those gentle Canadians—rising, some leaping to their feet, in song. This was not part of the plan. There had been no suggestion that we would sing.

It seemed that the poor, misguided, stand-up comic who had been warming up the crowd had offered a free T-shirt to the person who could name—and I quote—“that song of yours.” One woman had queried with a look of genuine puzzlement: “Do you mean our national anthem?” “Ya, whatever,” he shrugged in reply.

Then, without missing a beat, one lone Canadian man in the back row stood up—stood up tall—and bravely began his solo rendition. Before he even reached “Our home and native land,” the whole noisy crowd was on its feet belting out—yes, belting out—our national anthem. As the chorus rose, the tears began to flow. My make-up! I thought. I won’t have time to fix the tear streaks carving their way through the powder that coated my face. I turned to find that the contestants were also crying little rivers. But everyone had a smile on their faces.

As the proud and familiar sound rang through the studio, I could see the tears glistening in the eyes of those who were singing their hearts out. Everyone seized the moment, cheering, leaping about in their seats and hugging the strangers next to them.

Yes, we can do TV every bit as well as our friends south of the border, and yes, when someone appears disrespectful of those symbols we have come to cherish, that represent our Canadian separateness, we react—with our hearts.

Yes, we are Canadians, and we are proud. That night, we were wearing that patriotism on our sleeves, and using them to wipe away the tears of joy.

Pamela Wallin
Toronto, Ontario

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