Nfld. & Labrador

MUN drops Ode to Newfoundland from convocation ceremony

The school said the move is part of its commitment to inclusivity and equity.

School said the move is part of a push for more inclusivity, equity

A group of academics in their regalia sit on chairs on a stage, while one speaks into microphone on a dais, and graduating students watch in the audience.
The Memorial University convocation ceremony on Thursday ended without the traditional singing of the Ode to Newfoundland. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

There won't be sunrays crowning the gown-clad grads at Memorial University anymore — at least not in song.

As of Thursday's convocation ceremony, the university has stopped singing the Ode to Newfoundland at the end of the event — a tradition dating back to the beginning of the graduation ceremony in the 1950s.

The move was made after a unanimous decision by the school's presidential advisory team — made up of president Vianne Timmons and seven vice-presidents, including Lisa Browne.

Browne, in charge of advancement and external relations, said the main reason for dropping the song — the province's official anthem — is because it excludes Labrador.

"If you're from Labrador and you're in the audience and you're listening to an Ode to Newfoundland, you may not feel that same source of pride and inclusion," she said.

With lyrics like "God guard thee" and "as loved our fathers, so we love," Browne said there are other considerations as well. 

A woman in a blue suit jacket looks to the left.
Memorial University vice-president Lisa Browne says the school is dropping the Ode to Newfoundland at its convocation ceremonies in favour of more inclusive programming. (Danny Arsenault/CBC)

"It's focused on faith, for example," she said. "It's focused on one part of the province, and so why upset people within the audience when you want something to be fun and joyous for people?"

The move comes as part of the school's push to be more inclusive and equitable, a priority for MUN.

In May 2021 the university approved the addition of "and Labrador" to its name, though the province still needs to amend the Memorial University Act to make the change official.

In July 2021, MUN appointed Catharyn Andersen as its first vice-president Indigenous — another step toward the school's priority of Indigenization, which calls for more Indigenous leadership at the institution. 

Browne said getting rid of the Ode is another one of those steps.

"We're trying to marry the pomp and circumstances with the change that you see in the world," she said, adding there are other changes at convocation as well, including clapping between names and a stage redesign to make it more accessible. 

The Ode is a long-standing cultural tradition in this province. And, you know, quite frankly I'm disappointed that MUN would drop the Ode.- Steve Crocker

Education Minister John Haggie said Thursday he was surprised to not hear the Ode during the convocation but MUN has the right to make its own decision.

Arts and Culture Minister Steve Crocker said he was disappointed not to hear the provincial anthem.

"The Ode is a long-standing cultural tradition in this province. And, you know, quite frankly I'm disappointed that MUN would drop the Ode," Crocker told reporters at the House of Assembly on Thursday.

Opposition House leader Barry Petten said he hopes MUN reconsiders removing the song from the ceremony, and noted there are ways the song could be made more inclusive.

"We sing Ode to Newfoundland when the legislature closes. Why not add Labrador?" Petten asked. "I'm OK with that. But I don't think you should not sing it."

Interim NDP Leader Jim Dinn expressed a similar sentiment.

"I have two members in the House of Assembly with me, my two colleagues from Labrador West and Torngat Mountains who I think want something that's more inclusive," Dinn added, referring to MHA's Jordan Brown and Lela Evans respectively.

"Maybe that's an approach, and maybe that's something we'll see in the future."

A chest-up shot of a person wearing a leather jacket and hat standing in a stadium.
Shanneygannock's Chris Andrews has sung the Ode to Newfoundland in more venues than he can remember. (Henrike Wilhelm/CBC)

Shanneygannock frontman Chris Andrews, who has sung the Ode more times than he can estimate, says he understands both sides of MUN's decision.

"It's an old song, and maybe it's time … to change it up a little tiny bit, to make it more inclusive for everybody," he said. "But it would be really sad to see it go away."

"If we continue to keep losing lose these things that make us unique, we're just going to be the same as everybody else, and you know, that's — we're known for our uniqueness," he said.

Browne said they could talk about whether to have a more inclusive ode representing the province as a whole, but any change in lyrics would have to come from the provincial government. 

It's an idea Andrews understands.

"I do get it, it is a little outdated, it could use a tune-up, no doubt. And maybe that's something that can be done. It could be tuned up a bit and not be lost"

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

with files from Patrick Butler, Anthony Germain and Darrell Roberts