Canada’s national flag officially turned 50 last week, yet judging from the lack of celebration displayed across our giant country it appears few really care.
Ironically, there was a lot more noise made by Canadians regarding our flag during various time periods in our history than there was on its recent birthday.
The ‘Maple Leaf,’ which consists of an 11-pointed red maple leaf within a white field at its centre and two red borders, was officially adopted in 1965 to replace our former flag.
Before the Maple Leaf, the Canadian Red Ensign had been unofficially used since the 1890s.
The ensign became our officially recognized banner when it was approved by an Order in Council in 1945 for use “wherever place or occasion may make it desirable to fly a distinctive Canadian flag.”
Despite that official proclamation, few Canadians truly embraced the decision, feeling like the flag was really nothing distinct or unique to their young nation. Many felt the new country deserved its own unique pennant.
After decades of controversy it was finally then-prime minister Lester Pearson who formed a committee in 1964 to resolve the issue, one which ultimately sparked serious debate from sea to shining sea.
After months of speculation and argument, three final choices were seriously considered, with the maple leaf design crafted by George Stanley eventually gaining the final nod.
Stanley had based his flag on the colour scheme and look of the banner used by the Royal Military College of Canada.
It seems appropriate that the maple leaf holds its place of honour in our country since it has been used as a Canadian emblem since the 1700s.
In 1868, the maple leaf firmly moved into the Canadian psyche when it appeared on the coat of arms of both Quebec and Ontario. The year before song composer Alexander Muir wrote his iconic tune, The Maple Leaf Forever.
From 1876 until 1901, that leaf appeared on all Canadian coins and remained on the one cent piece until its recent demise as a coin.
By 1921, the maple leaf had found its way onto the nation’s coat of Arms proclaimed by King George V.
Our first Canadian flag was the one used by the Governor General which was basically similar to the Union Jack and bearing the quartered arms of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves.
In 1870, the Union Jack, with the addition of the Canadian composite shield in the fly, began to be used unofficially and was referred to by most as the Canadian Red Ensign. But even then no one was pleased and so back in 1925, then-prime minister Mackenzie King formed a committee to design a new national flag. For unknown reasons, however, the committee was disbanded before any decision was made,
New flag designs were proposed repeatedly between 1927 and 1939.
Again in November 1945, a joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons was appointed to recommend a national flag and received more than 2,400 designs from the public.
Eventually the committee reported back with a Canadian red ensign with a “maple leaf in autumn golden colours in a bordered background of white.” Despite the recommendation, King declined to act on it.
In 1958, an extensive poll was taken of adult Canadians regarding the flag with more than 80 per cent wanting a national flag entirely different from that of any other country. Some 60 per cent wanted the flag to include a maple leaf.
The ‘Great Canadian Flag debate’ started in 1963 and a three-leaf design was leaked to the press in February 1964.
The leaves were red and the two edge borders blue. Though popular with some, it stirred further debate.
Finally, on June 15, 1964, Pearson announced an official discussion on the issue would begin.
The arguing lasted more than six months, bitterly dividing Canadians across the land. The debate finally ended by ‘closure’ Dec. 15, 1964, resulting in our current flag, inaugurated on Feb. 15, 1965.
Ironically, it was military use that both inspired and yet nearly eliminated the maple leaf as the focal point of our new flag.
Famous Canadian military outfits such as the Royal Canadian Regiment had used as its symbol as far back as 1860.
Maple leaf shaped badges adorned hats and uniforms throughout the First and Second World Wars and eventually became the symbol used on the tombstones of fallen Canadian soldiers.
Despite the popularity of the maple leaf on badges and headstones, many veterans and those of British background argued years later that Canada should keep the Red Ensign forever since so many soldiers had fought and died under its colours.
More research shows that the number of points on the leaf has no significance except that the number and arrangement of the points were chosen “after wind tunnel tests showed the current design to be the least blurry of the various designs when tested under high wind conditions.”
So there you have it, everything you needed to know about the Canadian flag, even though few of us really seem all that interested.