Born In The Water references


"...Downtown there's a parade
But I don't think I wanna go
Smart as tree's in Sault Ste. Marie
I can speak my mother tongue
Passing laws, just because
And singing songs of the English unsung

How could you do it, how could you even try?"

Injustice has always made great fodder for songwriters who wish to expose embarrassing offences and The Tragically Hip are no different. "Born In the Water" deals with a language controversy that gripped a town whose name in French means "Saint Mary's Falls" (or rapids).

In January of 1990, the Ontario town of Sault (pronounced "Soo") Ste. Marie became briefly synonymous with intolerance due to the actions of its reactionary and ignorant mayor. In response to the Meech Lake constitutional accord (which sought among other things to establish Quebec as a "distinct society" within Canada) and a provincial law which brought civil services up to date (i.e. available in both official languages) with 1970 standards, the city's council passed an irrelevant and unnecessary declaration claiming that Sault Ste Marie was "English only."

The irony went beyond the usual unfounded arguments of a majority "protecting" itself against minority rights, since Sault Ste. Marie (as you might have already noticed) was founded and named by explorers and missionaries from New France. Politicians of every stripe, including Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Liberal leader Jean Chrétien and Ontario NDP Premier Bob Rae condemned the move as regressive and unwarranted.

In 1994 the declaration was struck down, and in 1999 the Sault Ste. Marie city council amended their official minutes to show that their initial decision was ruled unjust.

The water imagery, always a popular theme in Hip songs, stems from Sault Ste. Marie's reputation as a location of nautical importance. The town was a major focus of British and French tension during the colonial era given the role lakes and rivers played in transporting fur and lumber. The city remains an integral part of the Great Lakes transitways, and its city crest contains the words "Ojibway town beside large body of water" in Ojibwe.