Original Published on Sep 14, 2022 at 22:17
By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
PRINCIPALS across the province were breaking the law daily when they stopped playing God Save the Queen in Manitoba schools, according to a dusty regulation requiring the Canadian royal anthem be sung during Elizabeth’s reign.
Manitoba is the only province that legislated the song as part of the everyday routine in K-12 buildings.
The Schools Patriotic Observances Regulation states the start of every regular instructional day must begin with pupils singing O Canada, while opening exercises or the end of the day must include singing the first verse of God Save the Queen, renamed God Save the King after Elizabeth’s death.
Social studies teacher Kevin Lopuck said he was “totally surprised” to learn the regulation, which is not enforced, remains intact. It has been decades since he stood for the royal anthem in a local classroom.
A spokesperson for Manitoba Education confirmed the regulation is still in place, but indicated the department stopped enforcing it in the late 1990s.
Lopuck said his Grade 11 students are often fascinated to find out Canada has a constitutional monarchy during his history course. “Their interest, from the kids’ side of things, is the pageantry, the pomp and circumstance. They always get a kick out of the line of royal succession,” he said.
The Legislative Library’s archives indicate the singing of the royal anthem was explicitly enshrined in law in 1964, five years after the Queen made her first appearance in Manitoba during a national tour.
At the time, Progressive Conservative Duff Roblin was Manitoba’s leader and PC MLA George Johnson, who would become the province’s 20th lieutenant-governor, oversaw the education file. Roblin, a proponent of classical conservatism, welcomed and met the queen on Manitoba soil in July 1959.
The daily routine faded in the following decades, a decline that prompted the PC government to issue a reminder to public and funded private schools in March 1998.
“It has recently come to my attention that some schools may not be respecting the requirements for daily patriotic exercises,” education minister Linda McIntosh wrote in the notice.
McIntosh’s ministerial directive indicated pupils were expected to “stand erect in an attitude of attentiveness” during God Save the Queen. Students who no longer knew the words or music were expected to learn them immediately as part of their civic responsibility.
“It turned out to be really controversial,” said Reg Klassen, who was principal of Westgate Mennonite Collegiate in 1998.
Klassen, now superintendent of Frontier School Division, said he recalled initiating plans to comply with the order at his school, but cannot remember if it ever happened due to intercom challenges. “If we did comply, it didn’t last long,” he said, noting the strict ministerial directive was short-lived.
The career educator and his administrative colleagues always worked hard to shorten announcements whenever possible because lengthy bulletins ate into the school day, Klassen added.
Throughout the 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years, debate over whether or OVERSET FOLLOWS:not Manitoba schools should have to play God Save the Queen made headlines in the Free Press.
Proponents argued the anthem should be sung daily to acknowledge Canada’s constitutional monarchy and pay tribute to the queen and her representatives in Rideau Hall and Government House.
But critics called the practice outdated. Ian MacIntyre of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society was quoted saying, “Everyone should know the words to O Canada… (but this requirement) isn’t going to turn anyone into a model citizen.”
When NDP MLA Drew Caldwell became the education minister in 1999, he scrapped the directive. Caldwell said the move was a minor agenda item that reflected the fallout of an international shift from the end of the British empire to the Commonwealth.
“It was just another step towards assertion of independence and sovereignty,” he said, adding the introduction of the lasting regulation likely stems from the fondness Manitoba had for the queen, and vice versa.
Brant-Argyle School may have been the last elementary school to play the royal anthem daily before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools and public health orders banned traditional assemblies.
“It had been tradition for so long and our school is pretty deeply rooted in tradition,” said an employee at the K-8 building, located in the hamlet of Argyle.
The site was granted heritage designation because it is steeped in Manitoba history. It’s the last functioning school of a standard design of rural schools built in the early days of the 20th century.
The school has resumed assemblies solely on Mondays, following the height of the pandemic. It has not, however, resumed the royal anthem tradition.
Modern-day announcements in Manitoba are far more likely to include a land acknowledgement than the royal anthem.
The president of the Manitoba Social Science Teachers’ Association said the queen’s death is a teachable moment to discuss government structures, as well as the monarchy’s role in colonization and reconciliation.
Lopuck said he screens a video that captured the events of Canada Day 2021 at the Manitoba legislature, during which citizens toppled statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, in his classes. “The point that I want to emphasize is that it is a really complex conversation,” he said.
Ending the monarchy would not only require updating the constitution and getting all provinces on board, along with a slew of other changes, but also addressing treaty relationships with the Crown, the educator noted.