Friday, February 13, 2015

The Canadian Flag: a Brief History

By Katlin Davey,
UNB Arts 3000 
Public History Intern

The story of the birth of the Canadian flag is a unique one. As we approach the 50th anniversary, it is important to reflect upon the events of 1965, since a national flag contributes to the making of a national identity. For Canadians without a memory of the Red Ensign, it is hard to imagine a Canada that was not shaped by the Maple Leaf. Adopting a new Canadian flag, however, was no easy mission. Many Canadians supported moving forward with a new flag, while many did not. The process to develop a new national flag began in early 1964, and on February 15th 1965 a new Canada was born.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was a strong supporter of the development of a new national flag. While the Red Ensign had served the purpose of a national flag for many years, he believed that Canada had matured as a country and so needed to be redefined as well as reunited. Prime Minister Pearson understood that the creation of a new flag should be a bipartisan effort, so a bipartisan committee was created. As a result, a call for open submissions was issued, and people from all over Canada submitted their ideas about what the new national flag should look like. Over 3000 designs were submitted, and of these over 2000 contained a maple leaf. Eventually the committee narrowed down the selection to just three.

According to Heritage Canada: “Dr. Stanley was Dean of Arts at the Royal Military College in Kingston, and brought to the attention of the committee the fact that the Commandant's flag at the College -- an emblem, i.e. a mailed fist, on a red and white ground -- was impressive.” Below is a picture of this flag; the similarities between this and the final design of the Canadian flag are very evident.

Another interesting flag design was one favoured by Prime Minister Lester Pearson himself. The ‘Pearson Pennant’ (right) also shares similarities with the Canadian flag of today. According to Heritage Canada: “The committee eventually decided to recommend the single-leaf design, which was approved by resolution of the House of Commons on December 15, 1964, followed by the Senate on December 17, 1964, and proclaimed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, to take effect on February 15, 1965.”

On February 15th 2015, Canadians will celebrate the 50th anniversary of our national flag. In 1965, through much deliberation and consideration, the Canadian flag was born. Prime Minister Pearson saw a new flag as a way to unite Canadians; in hindsight that is exactly what happened. The Maple Leaf is a distinguished part of the Canadian identity both at home and internationally. As we approach both the 50th anniversary of the flag, and the 150th anniversary of Confederation, it is important to acknowledge all that unites us as Canadians. 

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