March 13, 2010

O Canada!

Our neighbor Lorraine Collins always has an interesting perspective on a wide range of topics. Here's another that should spark some interest up and down the CAN-AM highway -- and perhaps spur a comment or two. Lorraine's commentaries appear regularly in the Black Hills Pioneer, and she kindly allows us to share it here with on-line readers.
I was a young --well, youngish-- bride following my new husband to Canada where he was engaged in exploration for various minerals and we spent quite a bit of time in British Columbia, surrounded by spectacular scenery and few amenities. We stayed some of the time in a small, shabby motel in a tiny town some distance from anything I would have called civilization and one day someone came to our door and asked if it was true that I was an American school teacher. Well, I had briefly been a teacher in Deadwood High School, so I admitted I could be regarded as such.

This person was greatly relieved, because she needed a substitute teacher for a day at the one room elementary school house nearby and she really, really wanted me to come there. So a day or two later I walked through the woods and came to the school. As I recall, after all these years, we raised what was then the Canadian flag and sang God Save The Queen. Then I read a few verses from the King James Bible, and the class began. I have no memory whatever of what transpired in the school that day and I'm sure none of the students remembered it by time they got home.

But this was an interesting introduction to the country I came to admire and enjoy, although I haven't spent very much time there in the last 50 years. I've thought about this, watching the Olympics from Vancouver and seeing the Canadian Maple Leaf flag flying, listening to the Canadian national anthem being sung from time to time, and remembering that in those days, "O Canada!" was not the official anthem. In fact, if I ever got to a town big enough to have a movie theater, and got to go to a movie, after the film finished the lights went up and we all stood for "God Save The Queen."

We've heard a lot about Canada lately, not only because of the Olympics, but because of our interminable health care debate, with anecdotes flying fast and furious about how evil "socialized medicine" is as practiced in Canada, even though we also know that elderly Americans board buses to go to Canada to buy prescription drugs that cost a fraction of what they cost here.

I've been amused or bemused sometimes, listening to the debate about whether the U.S. government should force citizens to buy health insurance. In Canada, nobody is forced to buy health insurance from a for-profit insurance provider. They just pay taxes and everybody automatically has health insurance. So, what's wrong with that? "Single payer" doesn't mean "single provider" and everybody picks their own doctor and nobody has to hold bake sales to be able to afford an operation. But even President Obama says this simple plan won't work here, even though it works not only in Canada but in several European countries, because our society is so "complex." I think this means totally messed up.

There are many other things I like about Canada in addition to the scenery and the fact that Canadians have always been free to go anywhere they want to whereas we Americans are prohibited from going to, for instance, Cuba. We think of ourselves as being free, but in this instance we are not as free as Canadians.

I also like the fact that the Canadian national anthem, "O Canada!" can be sung in either English or French. A few years ago there was a big uproar in the United States because some people wanted to sing the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish. Somehow, this was regarded as a travesty, an abomination, the ruination of our country. But it seems to me that if someone wants to stand and hold their hand over their heart and try to sing the national anthem of the country they love, it's okay to sing their praise and gratitude for America in whatever language they want to.

We all came from somewhere else, so what are we afraid of?

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be contacted at

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