Quick - do you know the words to the official provincial song of Alberta? I expect you don’t with most readers unaware that there even is an official song. Well there is and it’s called, not surprisingly, “Alberta”. It was made the official song by the legislature in 2001 in honour of the 2005 Alberta centennial. It was picked by a 13 person committee and it shows – there was no danger of it becoming a smash hit. But it is a pleasant tune filled with clichés and bromides about the glories of Alberta. Three other provinces have official anthem/songs: Newfoundland, PEI, and Ontario. Quebec has a sort of unofficial national song called “Gens du Pays” but it was never officially adopted, perhaps because it didn’t extoll the glories of Quebec. It does have a catchy melody and seems to bring tears to the eyes of Quebec separatists.
One thing the official provincial songs share is that they are all forgettable tunes. They don’t seem to cause an emotional tear, or send chills down your spine and none have that memorable reflective chorus line that unofficial songs all possess. For instance, few know that the provincial song of Newfoundland is “Ode to Newfoundland”. But if you were told that the unofficial song is “I’s the B’y” you would remember it, particularly if you heard it again. It is the same for Nova Scotia which has no official song, but everyone associates that province with the legendary song “Farewell to Nova Scotia”. BC has an unofficial song called “Summer Wages” by Ian Tyson. PEI has a provincial song written by Lucy Maud Montgomery of Green Gables fame. A noble tune but I expect more people would associate PEI with that famous Stompin’ Tom Connors song “Bud the Spud”. The same goes for Ontario - their official song is a cheesy ditty called “A Place to Stand”. Stompin’ Tom knocks that tune out of the park with his legendary smash hit “Sudbury Saturday Night”. Now that’s a song about the real Ontario!
It’s the same at the national level - you would be forgiven if you didn’t know that “Advance Australia Fair’ was the national anthem of Australia; that’s probably because most think the iconic “Waltzing Matilda” is the national anthem, but it’s not – it’s the much more famous unofficial song. In England the official anthem is “God Save the Queen”. It’s an ok tune, but what really chokes up Brits and swells their pride is a rousing rendition of “Rule Britannia, Britannia Rules the Waves”. But I digress.
So what might be a more memorable song for Alberta that we will instantly recognize and make us feel proud to be Albertans? Well there are two songs that come to mind and you will probably recognize one if not both. The most familiar is “Four Strong Winds” by Ian Tyson; a close second is “Alberta Bound” by Gordon Lightfoot. You may recall either of those long before you remember the official Alberta provincial song. I should mention a couple of runner-ups for a new Alberta national anthem – “Alberta Alberta” by Eric Clapton a variation of a memorable old bluesy tune and another runner-up also called “Alberta Bound” by Paul Brandt.
So why don’t governments adopt the more popular unofficial songs of provinces and countries? Well, much of it has to do with the lyrics and themes of those well-known songs. It would seem most governments prefer their official anthems to extoll and wax on reflections that evoke images of the natural and human wonders and virtues of their regions and countries. That’s like listening to someone sing from a tourist brochure. The unofficial songs don’t pretend to be cheesy booster songs – they tug at your heartstrings and emotions as a national anthem should. Most relate to heartache, personal misery, adventure and the human condition – all of which people relate to. Few know that Waltzing Matilda is a song about an itinerant sheep shearer who hangs himself after being caught shooting a sheep – now there’s a real image of Australia. But who cares, it’s a great song about that country. Summer Wages is all about losing your hard earned pay whilst gambling in BC – that sort of reminds me of what happens to Alberta tourists going to BC. But I digress.
I suggest Alberta take the bold step and proclaim “Four Strong Winds” our new Alberta national anthem. After all in your heart, you know it’s our song. I rest my case.