Calgary likes its image as a modern cosmopolitan city that still treasures its Cowtown heritage, but a less pleasant aspect of the redneck stereotype has tagged the centennial edition of the Calgary Stampede with controversy this week.
When Stampede fans complained that they weren't able to sing along with a version of O Canada that featured French verses on opening night last Friday, Stampede officials went with an English-only version for the next few nights. Now because of a media backlash, they're flipping back to a bilingual version.
Stampede officials told the Calgary Herald they went with the English-only version after people in the stands were reluctant to join in the singing of a version of the anthem with French verses.
"Our community said they wanted to be able to show their patriotism during the anthem and that's why we made the decision to go back to the English version," Doug Fraser, a spokesman for the Stampede told the Herald on Monday.
"We obviously want a lot of audience participation when the anthem is sung, and we weren't getting that participation Friday night."
Stampede official Kurt Kadatz told the National Post a bilingual recorded version of the anthem was played in past years but a new arrangement, also bilingual, was recorded for the event's centennial this year.
"We didn't mean to offend anyone and we are sorry if we did," Kadatz said. "We are certainly pleased to bring back the traditional bilingual version that we have had."
The initial move to cut the French-language lines puzzled Stampede-goer Dave King of Cochrane, Alta. He conceded many Canadians don't know the French words to the anthem but many Canadians are bilingual, including thousands of francophone tourists.
"When the Calgary Stampede extended their invitation for everyone to come together, did they intend to exclude the francophones or Quebec?" he told the Herald.
The decision came as a delegation of about 50 Quebecers were visiting Calgary and attending the Stampede last weekend. The Herald also noted Calgary and Quebec City have been twinned since 1956.
The president of the French Canadian Association of Calgary, Michel Berdinoff, told CBC News he was taken aback by the decision, considering there are 90,000 French speakers in the city, not to mention many francophone tourists visiting the Stampede.
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The initial move and subsequent flip-flop got a workout on Twitter.
William Hamilton tweeted that maybe they should play an instrumental version of the anthem next year.
"God help us if the country is going to fall apart if the Stampede anthem is sung in English," tweeted J.R. Marlow.
"Good grief," tweeted Derrick Jacobson. "Do we really need a bilingual verson? What's next ... French announcing at (the Stampede)?"
"Vraiment poche, mais pas surprenant," Toula Drimonis said on Twitter. "Supposed to be bilingual Canada never translated to a fully bilingual country."
Montreal Gazette columnist Peggy Curran tweeted the decision to drop the French lines was giving in to the "redneck fringe."
This isn't the first time the singing of a unilingual O Canada in Calgary has aroused complaints.
When Calgary hosted the National Hockey League's Heritage Classic outdoor game between the Flames and Montreal Canadiens at McMahon Stadium last year, the visiting Habs filed a complaint with the league after country singer Paul Brandt sang the anthem in English only.
The NHL acknowledged it as an oversight, Global News reported at the time.
In a Facebook exchange, my old colleague Les Perreaux of the Globe and Mail's Montreal bureau, noted the anthem is sung in both languages at Canadiens home games.