Happy National Flag Day! Eh?!
Today we are celebrating National Flag Day across our country, with the Canadian flag officially turning 57-years old! From the uniforms of our Olympic athletes, to flag poles across our country, the maple leaf has been a national symbol since February 15, 1965.
Typically referred to as the Canadian flag, or unofficially, as the “Maple Leaf”, Canada’s national flag was the first to have been adopted by both houses of Parliament and officially proclaimed by the Canadian monarch as the national flag. The symbol of a leaf from a maple tree is a source of pride for Canadians, and is beloved by many across the globe. Let us review some of the history around the leaf we so love and proudly display.
Here are 10 interesting facts about the Canadian flag:
- The Maple Leaf has been a symbol of Canada for over 300 years.
The Royal Canadian Regiment used the maple leaf as a regimental symbol back in 1860. It wasn’t until 1868 that it was first used as a national symbol, appearing in the coat of arms of both Ontario and Quebec.
- In 1945, the Canadian Red Ensign was declared the first official federal flag.
Shortly after the Canadian Confederation in 1867, many iterations for a distinct Canadian flag had emerged. Versions included Britain’s Red Ensign (also known as the Union Jack) as well as the Canadian composite shield bearing the quartered arms of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The composite shield evolved to include new arms as additional provinces joined the Confederation. By 1921 the composite shield was replaced with the coat of arms of Canada, but it wasn’t until 1945 that Prime Minister Mackenzie King declared the Canadian Red Ensign, below, the official federal flag of that time.
- The Great Flag Debate spurred the design of the Pearson Pennant in 1964.
By August of 1958, a national Gallup Poll revealed that 85.3 per cent of Canadians were in favour of “having a National Flag, entirely different from that of any other country.” It was in 1960, as the leader of the Opposition and again as prime minister in 1963, Lester B. Pearson raised the issue of a new flag.
Liberal MP John Matheson, Pearson’s parliamentary secretary, led the government’s efforts to adopt a new flag. Matheson sought a design that used elements of the coat of arms proclaimed by King George V in 1921, featuring red and white colours and three maple leaves on a conjoined stem. Alan B. Beddoe, a war veteran and designer, added two vertical blue bars to what became known as the “Pearson Pennant” and was introduced to Parliament in June of 1964. The blue bars were symbols representing the oceans to the east and west of Canada.
- In September of 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson forms a committee to decide on the official design of the Canadian flag.
A consequent controversy raged over the new flag’s design. A Gallup Poll from August 1964 found that 48 per cent supported the “Pearson Pennant”, with 41 per cent opposed. Pearson insisted on a new design that would convey an allegiance to Canada while achieving freedom from any colonial association. The aim in adopting a new flag was to remove symbols, such as the Union Jack, that inflamed Quebec nationalists and threatened Canadian unity. After a prolonged and bitter debate, the issue of designing a new national flag was referred to a 15-member all-party committee on September 15, 1964.
- In October 1964, George Stanley’s design of the red and white maple-leaf flag claims victory with the committee.
Approximately six weeks after the committee was established, Matheson presented the team with a design submitted by George Stanley, a historian and professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. Stanley’s design was one of over 5,000 submitted. It featured a crude sketch of one red maple leaf in a white space flanked by vertical red bars. The design was inspired by the Royal Military College flag.
- The Great Debate finally ended with the House of Commons approval in December 1964.
The committee presented the Stanley flag to the House of Commons for approval, but controversy ensued in the house for another six weeks. The proceeding became so antagonistic that the Toronto Star’s Peter C. Newman called it “The Great Flag Farce.” The prominent Quebec Conservative MP Léon Balcer finally broke ranks and invited the Liberal to invoke closure. After about 250 speeches, a vote was taken on December 15, 1964 at 2:15 a.m. resulting in the acceptance of the Stanley flag by 163 to 78 votes.
- By February 1965, the Stanley Flag was proclaimed the official Canadian Flag.
The Senate gave its approval on December 17, 1964, by a vote of 38-23. The royal proclamation was signed by Queen Elizabeth II on the 28th of January 1965, and the new flag was inaugurated on February 15 of the same year at an official ceremony held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. The Red Ensign was lowered on the stroke of noon and the new Canadian Flag (the Maple Leaf) was raised.
- The Canadian flag is twice as long as it is wide. The same dimension used by 54 of 195 sovereign states.
- The largest Canadian flag ever made is 9,900 Sq.m.
On Canada’s 150th birthday, the largest Canadian flag was unveiled at the Brockton Oval in Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. The flag is over 140 metres in length and 70 metres in height, with a whopping total area of 9,900 square metres. This reflects the total area of Canada at a scale of 1 to 1,000,000. The flag was created by Mr Zhen Zhong Li, “to commensurate our huge Canadian spirit.”
- Flags flown on Parliament Hill are given away for free, but the waiting list exceeds 100 years.
Since the flag was unveiled in 1965, the Canadian government has sponsored programs to promote it. The flag program run by the Department of Public Works packages and offers full-size flags that have been flown on Peace Tower and four other locations on Parliament Hill to the public free of charge. Since March of 2019, the program has a waiting list of over 100 years.