Well, hello there, Canada. Another birthday, eh? Dominion Day is my favourite holiday of the year, a time for us all to set aside those petty differences over just about everything the you-know-who gang does in Ottawa, and celebrate being Canadian. My Canada includes a Prime Minister who loves hockey and gets excited about finding Franklin’s ships up north. It doesn’t include an ugly monument to “victims of communism” beside the Supreme Court of Canada, nor a massive Mother Canada statue scarring Cape Breton’s beautiful Highlands National Park, nor…(fill in 50 blanks here)….but never mind. Happy Dominion Day! What’s that? It’s now called Canada Day, you say? Pity!
I usually celebrate Canada Day with a list of good old songs that best exemplify the spirit, history, beauty and character of this grand land of ours. The usual suspects are always at the top: The Great Canadian Railroad Trilogy, Northwest Passage, Four Strong Winds, Sudbury Saturday Night, Let’s Go Bowling, Ontario-ari-ari-o, and so on.
This year, I’m opting for something different. Being the kind of obscure guy I am, herewith my list of 10 fine songs about Canada that you may not know. They are compiled from my own collection of vinyl, CDs and cassettes (alas, no 8-tracks). So you will notice there are no relatively recent songs evoking where we live, such as Sam Roberts’ fierce Canadian Dream or Joel Plaskett’s bittersweet True Patriot Love. Folk, of course, looms large. Apologies for not being more tragically hip, and additions gratefully acknowledged. But it’s my list, and I’m sticking to it.
- Stan Rogers: Free in the Harbour. A lovely, evocative song about the heartbreak of having to leave the fading outports of Newfoundland for the “riches” of Alberta. A way of life gone. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbjEmEifZp4
- The Band: Acadian Driftwood. The timing of the expulsion of the Acadians is a bit off (history is hard), but there are references by the boys from southwestern Ontario to the Plains of Abraham, cold fronts and the lure of winter. A terrific Canadian version of The Band’s big hit, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=te7KW4K-00E
- Spirit of the West: The Crawl. Could there be a more Canadian song than this rollicking combination of sea shanty and drinking song? Become an expert on the geography and pubs of West and North Vancouver. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N37oQmdlrU
- James Keelaghan: Stonecutter. A powerful tale of the stonemasons called out of retirement to help rebuild the Parliament Buildings, after they burned down in 1916. The fledgling young apprentices had all been called to war. No video, but here are the lyrics. Well worth the iTune purchase. http://lyrics.wikia.com/James_Keelaghan:Stonecutter
- Barra MacNeils: The Island. Anthemic tribute to the history and enduring lure of Cape Breton. I guess it is pretty well known back east, but not out here in this parched part of the country. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apD1IuE5Lwo
- Stringband: Dief Will Be The Chief Again. Written by my good friend Bob Bossin, this is certainly the best song ever written about John Diefenbaker, and maybe about any Canadian politician. “Everyone’s happy back in ’57, and nobody’s happy since then.” Available right at the end of this Bossin jukebox compilation. http://www3.telus.net/oldfolk/jukebox.htm#dief
- The Byrds: Blue Canadian Rockies. Yes, by the Byrds, but from their best and one of my most-loved albums ever, Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It doesn’t get any better than this. Sorry, Wilf Carter, but Gram Parsons kills on this country classic, written by the legendary Cindy Walker. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJkXkvLNs6U
- Grievous Angels: Crossing the Causeway. There’s no sadder Canadian tradition than Maritimers leaving “the folks back home” for Toronto in search of work. Few have captured the poignancy better than this song by Charlie Angus (now an MP) and his band. “I wipe my tears on the kitchen wall.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSN_dZB55wg
- Sadly, besides suggesting anything from my numerous La Bottine Souriante casssettes, I have little to offer in this list category from Quebec. Robert Charlebois’ Québec Love talks about taking up guns. Yikes. And so on. So I include, instead, by far the best known song about La Belle Province, it’s unofficial anthem, Mon Pays C’est L’Hiver by Gilles Vigeneault. It’s wonderful. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CH_R6D7mU7M
- Finally, no Canada Day list would be complete without Stompin’ Tom Connors, even if The Hockey Song and Sudbury Saturday Night are too well known. Of course, he has a myriad other Canadian classics. I’ve opted, appropriately for his great Cross Canada. Sing it loud. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=012Bo_iihpI
Happy CA – NA -DA Day!
(As a bonus, here’s the Travellers’ maple syrup version of Woody Guthrie’s famous song, This Land is Your Land. We have our own identity, after all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwLyVl11iV4 )