O Canada!

By July 10, 2012

In keeping with a family tradition that we began last year in St. George, Utah, we turned MHA (the Mormon History Association annual meeting), which was held in Calgary this year, into an excuse for a very big (9,000+-mile) family road trip this year. In preparation for our border-crossing, I read a short story by author and English professor Thomas King titled “Borders” (if you haven’t read it, check it out). It is a story about a Blackfoot woman and her son (told from the perspective of the adolescent son) who get stranded at the U.S.-Canadian border–in Blackfoot Territory–when the mother insists that her nationality is Blackfoot and refuses to specify whether she is from the Canadian or American side: she is from the Blackfoot side. The two are on their way to Salt Lake City to visit the woman’s daughter who had previously moved there, convinced by a friend that it is the greatest place on earth, which the daughter reiterates in her postcards and travel brochures sent home (though, upon their arrival, she admits that she is thinking of returning home). Though never directly or explicitly so, the story is an excellent study in the complex mingling of Canadian-American-Blackfoot-Mormon identities that combine and comingle for several individuals in the area often referred to, among others things, as southern Alberta.

To conclude our own Canadian Mormon experience, we checked out of our hotel early Sunday morning and drove from Calgary south to Cardston, Alberta, to attend church services in the Kainai Branch, which I learned about from lds.org.  The Kainai, or Blood Tribe, are part of the Blackfoot Confederacy, which also includes  the Peigan, Siksika and South Peigan–often collectively referred to as the Blackfeet–whose current territory (though traditionally much larger) straddles the Canada-U.S. border in southern Alberta and northern Montana–in some of the most beautiful and scenic territory one can find anywhere.  We drove through a portion of the Blood Reserve on our way to Cardston–which has to be one of the smallest towns to boast an LDS temple (though it is right in company with Manti and Vernal, sizewise).

The branch was very small, composed primarily of members from the Kainai Reserve. We attended on July 1st, which, incidentally, if you are unaware, is Canada Day. In keeping with the occasion, “O Canada” was the opening hymn. It struck me as an ironic yet somehow fitting ending to a trip begun with a reading of King’s short story “Borders” to conclude my Canadian journey singing, while standing in the midst of Kainai Latter-day Saints who were also singing, “O Canada! Our home and native land!” It also struck me just how much the anthem refers to the physical landscape of the land called (by some) Canada: “Where pines and maples grow / Great prairies spread and lordly rivers flow.”

But what really stood out to me was the fact–the materiality of the fact–that the anthem was pasted into the back of the hymn book and marked as hymn #342 (and announced as such on the marquee in the chapel), following the final officially printed “hymn,” #341, “God Save the King.” These, of course, were hymn books the Kainai branch members shared with other wards in the Cardston Stake. I wondered whether this represented a more general Canadian practice or whether it was particular to the Cardston Stake. Do hymn books in LDS chapels in Calgary and Saskatchewan and Quebec and Manitoba also have photocopies of “O Canada” pasted into the back of the book? How much does the church have to grow in Canada before the practice becomes official, in published print? Of course, as I imagine the argument going, the church cannot publish everyone’s national anthem in the hymn book of a going-global church (whose hymn book does includes “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “My Country ’tis of Thee,” and “America the Beautiful”). But even as I imagine that rationale I can’t help also imagining the rejoinder: why not? Both the absence of “O Canada” and every other national anthem (with the exception of “God Save the King”) and the inserted (asserted) presence of the Canadian anthem in LDS hymn books in Canada speaks to the Americanness of official Mormonism and the adaptability of it to other contexts, where Saints work to create their own nationally-inflected versions of (uncorrelated) Mormonism.


Article filed under Conference/Presentation Reports International Mormonism Material Culture Miscellaneous Politics Reflective Posts


  1. “O, Canada” was pasted into the hymn books we used in Calgary as well! On the “Borders” story, that sounds like a fantastic short story, which sadly reflects the status of many native peoples. I have a friend who is a member of tribe that historically had land on both sides of the American/Canadian border. Technically, she doesn’t need a passport to cross the border and should be able to use her tribal identification card. In reality, whether or not she is able to do so often depends on the border guards working that day. There are tons of news stories about other members of First Nations and Indian tribes having similar difficulties. Here’s an example: http://www.mohawknation.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=52:iroquois-passport-woes-continue&catid=34:newsflash

    Comment by Amanda HK — July 10, 2012 @ 9:19 am

  2. In case you didn’t know, in the back of the hymnbooks it says:

    “National Anthems

    A few patriotic songs have been included in the hymnbook; with priesthood approval, local national anthems may be added. Members may stand for national anthems in Church meetings according to local custom and priesthood direction.”

    Comment by mapman — July 10, 2012 @ 9:39 am

  3. Native border crossings are also a problem on the southern border, and the problem is being exacerbated by the border fence. Here’s a story about the O?odham Nation in southern Arizona/northern Sonora:


    In short, take the situation on the Canadian border and add a lot of heat and cactus and guns.

    Comment by Amy T — July 10, 2012 @ 9:40 am

  4. Fascinating stuff, Stan. Thanks.

    I sort of love that Canadian hymnals include “O Canada” as hymn #342. What a fascinating bit of local lived religion.

    Comment by Christopher — July 10, 2012 @ 9:48 am

  5. Thanks for the post, Stan. A friend was just asking the other day if hymnals in other languages had the translated American patriotic songs or the patriotic songs of the countries, so this has been on my mind. I figured the Saints in Mexico wouldn’t be all that keen on singing American patriotic songs, but wasn’t sure if they had their own songs. I kinda doubt that the church would pay for separate hymnals for Mexico, El Salvador, etc.

    On the Blackfeet along the border, Andy Graybill (SMU) is finishing up a book that looks at the experience of one biracial family to examine changing views on race, with the father being a white trader and the mother a Piegan woman. The first generation was well-respected in Montana and it was well-known the mixed status of the family. The second generation was able, for the most part, to pass as white, but by the third generation, the kids were seen primarily as Piegans by the broader society. I was able to attend a discussion of one of the chapters at SMU’s Clements Center, and the book should really be fantastic.

    Comment by David G. — July 10, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  6. My Canadian buddy here at work confirms that in his experience (also in Alberta), this paste-on is very common.

    Comment by smb — July 10, 2012 @ 10:41 am

  7. I noticed the same posting of hymns near Vancouver last fall.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — July 10, 2012 @ 11:36 am

  8. Pasted in O Canada is also the norm here in Ontario. King was a professor at my city’s university until he retired. His “Green Grass, Running Water” is also very good.

    Comment by Kris — July 10, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

  9. Mapman: thanks for pointing that out–I was unaware of that statement in the hymnbook. Interesting. Guess the practice isn’t quite so “uncorrelated” then. I stand corrected.

    Amanda, smb, Michelle, and Kris: thanks for the confirmations on other parts of Canada.

    David: Thanks for the heads up on Graybill’s forthcoming work–sounds fascinating! And good questions about American patriotic songs in translation. I have noticed that Spanish himnos books look slimmer but haven’t looked to see if the star spangled banner is in there.

    Amanda and Amy: Thanks for the border crossings thoughts and links.
    And Kris, thanks for the further Thomas King reference.

    I’ve always found it kind of odd that “God Save the King” is in there. As a kid I assumed “the King” referred to Jesus (or God), until I realized it was the (de facto) British anthem. A sort of implicit recognition of the U.S.’s heritage as an extension of British imperialism?
    (I noted in the past few conferences the statement, which I think was earlier made by President Hinckley: “The sun never sets on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”)

    Comment by Stan — July 10, 2012 @ 1:28 pm

  10. The paste-in is common, but the one in my hymnbook was produced by the church and follows the exact style of the other hymns (author adn composer names, metronome markings, scripture references, intro brackets). So your scanned image showing the handwritten “O Canada 342” does not reflect my experience.

    Comment by Joanne — July 10, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

  11. Interesting; I hadn’t realized these paste-ins were produced by the church. Even less “uncorrelated”!

    The handwritten bit was on the back of the paste-in, which seemed to be taped in on some and pasted in on others. It looks like it was probably produced by the church as well, from the looks of the second image. I flipped through a handful of books though and found one that looked a bit different.

    Comment by Stan — July 10, 2012 @ 8:10 pm

  12. All the hymnals in Waterton certainly had the inserts. The 1st of July / 4th of July weekend was always the biggest there and we typically sang patriotic songs for both nations. (Probably the majority of the tourists were American)

    Comment by Clark — July 10, 2012 @ 11:28 pm

  13. BTW – it always bugged me that the song in the Hymnal was “God Save the King” when clearly we had a Queen.

    Comment by Clark — July 10, 2012 @ 11:29 pm

  14. I’ve been told (not sure if this is true, though!) that the thinking behind “God Save the King” instead of “queen” was that 1. Surely Queen Elizabeth would not live to be the oldest English monarch ever. There was an expectation that there would be a king by now. 2. The current hymnal was made with the general assumption that it would never be replaced, so, since England was likely to have kings in the future, the hymnal would eventually be correct.

    Also, I believe there are official inserts for “Hymn #342” for Advance Australia Fair, O Canada, and God Defend New Zealand.

    Comment by PostScript — July 11, 2012 @ 12:52 am


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