Why Blue Jays fans booed the national anthem in 1978

An anthem singer was doing her part for national unity in 1978 by belting out some verses to O Canada in French. But the crowd at Exhibition Stadium wasn't having it.

Singer used French lyrics before the game, eliciting audible scorn from baseball crowd

Anthem singer Ruth Ann Wallace carried on singing O Canada's French words even when the crowd jeered loudly. (The National/CBC Archives)

Ruth Ann Wallace was just doing her part for national unity when she sang O Canada before a Toronto Blue Jays game in 1978.

According to the Globe and Mail, she had been "booed" and received "jeers" for singing a portion of the national anthem in French.

"I said to myself as I stood there, 'Press on! Keep going and sing it!'" Wallace told the newspaper after her performance.

At 41,000-plus, the crowd — which had turned out for a double-header against the New York Yankees — was the third-largest in Jays history to that point, added the Globe.

'Loud' and 'prolonged' booing

Baseball fans express their displeasure with hearing O Canada sung in French in 1978. 1:50

The CBC's Michael Vaughan went to the game the next day, on May 22, when Wallace was booed again.

After delivering the line about "true patriot love," she launched into the French words for the next part of the song, which wasn't even the official Canadian national anthem yet.

She got no farther than "car ton bras sait porter l'epee" when it started.

"The booing was loud, prolonged and from all parts of the stadium," said Vaughan in a voiceover.

Wallace was virtually drowned out by the eruption of scorn from baseball fans.

Applause, too

Fans applauded as the anthem singer wrapped up the song in English before taking their seats. (The National/CBC Archives)

"In Toronto, it doesn't seem to take much to trigger resentment against Canada's other official language," said Vaughan.

The hoots and catcalls subsided when she switched back to English for "O Canada, glorious and free," but started up again when Wallace sang more French words.

By the end, "the crowd rose to the occasion and sang," but only because Wallace finished her performance in English.

A round of warm applause also echoed through Exhibition Stadium and fans who were standing for the anthem took their seats.

Not fans of 'French stuff'

A fan said he thought the anthem should have "stuck to English." (The National/CBC Archives)

"Why do we have to come to a ball game and listen to that stuff?" said a man wearing a hat with the logo of an auto racing team. "French stuff."

Another fan said the singer "should have stuck to English." 

But a third was not in alignment with his fellow Jays followers.

"It's rather disgusting some people feel they have to boo," he said. "Doesn't do much for national unity."

Wallace, who was bilingual, had told the Globe she viewed the booers as "pranksters."

"They could be people sick and tired of the unity question — but they just herd together and do it for a lark," she said.

She had told the Blue Jays organization about her plans, "and they were behind me," she told the Globe.

"The Toronto Blue Jays are 100 per cent behind Canadian unity and it's our little contribution," said Peter Durso, director of promotion for the baseball club.

As Vaughan pointed out, the fans that day didn't reserve their disdain for the French language, booing first baseman John Mayberry at the plate.

"He hit two home runs for Toronto today," said Vaughan as Mayberry was seen swinging. "Yet when he struck out, late in the game, this is what he got from the fans."

John Mayberry's late-game strikeout earned a chorus of boos from the fickle fans despite his two earlier home runs. (The National/CBC Archives)