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.