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The Maple Leaf Forever... patched

Canada's most famous tree has lost a limb. Back in 1867, a stately silver maple on Laing Street in Toronto was the inspiration for Alexander Muir's patriotic The Maple Leaf Forever. But in 1968, it's the victim of an ice storm. City crews are quick to patch up the landmark tree and nurse it back to health. But not before CBC funnyman Max Ferguson takes a swing at it.

In this monologue from CBC Radio's Saturday A.M., Ferguson lampoons then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. After being filled in on the mutilated maple, Pearson starts receiving calls about preserving other living links with Canada's history. First on the list: a bird's nest somewhere in British Columbia.
The Maple Leaf Forever, Canada's first (but unofficial) national anthem, was composed in 1867, the year of Confederation. It was written by school principal Alexander Muir as an entry to a patriotic poetry contest. The story goes that Muir and friend George Leslie were out for a walk when a maple leaf fell onto Muir's coat sleeve. Leslie suggested the maple leaf as a theme for Muir's poem, which Muir later set to music.

• The poem was published in 1868. According to some versions of the story, Muir paid $30 to have it printed, and took in less than half that amount in sales. The first copyrighted edition was printed in 1871, though Leslie later claimed that Muir did not receive one cent of royalties.

• Muir revised the text several times, and in 1894 he added a fifth stanza. The song was very pro-English ("from Britain's shore, Wolfe the dauntless hero came") though some later versions threw in a mention of a lily in the line about "the thistle, shamrock, rose entwined" as a nod to French Canadian heritage. There are no popular French translations of the song.

The Maple Leaf Forever was regarded as Canada's national song for decades after Confederation. O Canada was first performed 13 years later, in 1880. By the First World War it had edged out The Maple Leaf Forever in popularity. On July 1, 1980, O Canada was proclaimed Canada's first official national anthem.

• The silver maple tree that shed Muir's fabled leaf is believed to be the one located at 62 Laing Street in Toronto's Leslieville neighbourhood. In 1968, an ice storm broke off a large branch, causing serious damage to the 160-year-old tree. It was repaired and nursed back to health.

• In 1992, Toronto city councillors were embroiled in a debate over whether to allow the development of five-storey social housing project right behind the tree. Developers insisted the tree would not be affected, but protesters convinced the city to kill the project.

• The famous tree is still standing, with a plaque commemorating its significance. Behind 62 Laing St. there is now a small park named Maple Leaf Forever Park.

• The Max Ferguson parody featured in this clip lampoons another great Canadian song, Mart Kenney's 1938 recording of The West, A Nest and You. The song was based on a 1922 waltz by Bill Hill and Larry Yoell, and became the theme for Kenney's CRBC radio program Rocky Mountain Melody Time.

• Mart Kenney and His Western Gentlemen was Canada's pre-eminent dance band in the 1930s and 1940s. Their CRBC (and later CBC) radio program Sweet and Low was broadcast in Canada, the United States and Britain, and the band regularly toured army camps and war plants during the Second World War.

• Mart Kenney retired in 1969, and was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1980. In 2005, The West, A Nest and You was inducted into the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada's Masterworks program as a work of national cultural significance.

• Max Ferguson worked for the CBC until 1998, when he retired after 52 years in radio. Ferguson had an offbeat style, known mainly for pranks, skits and creating characters.

• The tree was felled by a storm on July 19, 2013.  The city of Toronto plans to use the wood for articles to be kept in the public realm.

Also on January 14:
1949: A plane makes the first non-stop trans-Canada flight from Vancouver to Halifax.
1982: Clifford Robert Olson is sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty in Vancouver to 11 counts of first-degree murder. The victims, three boys and eight girls, were aged between nine and 18 and died between November 1980 and August 1981.
1994: Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, announces plans to expand into Canada.

Medium: Radio
Program: Saturday A.M.
Broadcast Date: Jan. 27, 1968
Announcer: Bill Paul
Commentator: Max Ferguson
Duration: 3:05
Photo: CBC Still Photo collection

Last updated: February 28, 2014

Page consulted on February 28, 2014

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