Born In The Water references


"...Downtown there's a parade
But I don't think I wanna go
Smart as trees 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 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 Progressive 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. Indigenous peoples long traded and travelled through its waters. The town was later 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."

"...thoroughbreds with their great big heads
Think a mile might be too far."

Thoroughbred horses are a specific breed of horse known for being "hot-blooded" and having great quickness, agility and spirit. Their heads are typically "well chiseled," but aren't necessarily larger than other horse breeds. Thoroughbreds are used most often as race horses. Thoroughbred horses race a variety of distances in Canada, anywhere between 1km and 2.4km. A mile is somewhere in the middle there...