In the spirit of my friend Hira reopening her blog this past week (and being that she is our “sister” blog) I thought we could take a look at her country’s flag, the flag of Canada.
The national flag of Canada is also called the maple leaf. It is a red flag with a white square in its centre, featuring a stylized 11-pointed red maple leaf. Its adoption in 1965 marked the first time a national flag had been officially adopted in Canada to replace the Union flag. The Canadian Red Ensign had been unofficially used since the 1890s and was approved by a 1945 Order in Council for use wherever place or occasion may make it desirable to fly a distinctive Canadian flag.
In 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson appointed a committee to resolve the issue, sparking a serious debate about a flag change. Out of three choices, the maple leaf design by George F.G. Stanley and John Matheson based on the flag of the Royal Military College of Canada was selected. The flag made its first appearance on February 15, 1965; the date is now celebrated annually as National Flag Day of Canada.
Many different flags have been created for use by Canadian officials, government bodies, and military forces. Most of these flags contain the maple leaf motif in some fashion, either by having the Canadian flag charged in the canton, or by including maple leaves in the design. The Union flag is also an official flag in Canada, used as a symbol of Canada's membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, and of its allegiance to the crown. The Union Flag remains a component of other Canadian flags, including the provincial flags of British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario.
The width of the Maple Leaf flag is twice the height. The white field is a Canadian pale (a square central band in a vertical triband flag, named after this flag), and each bordering red field is exactly half its size. In the centre of the white field is a red maple leaf. In heraldry, the flag has been blazoned as “Gules on a Canadian pale argent a maple leaf of the first.” The blazon was registered with the Canadian Heraldic Authority on March 15, 2005. The maple leaf has served as a symbol celebrating the nature and environment of what is now Canada since the 18th century. The number of points on the leaf has no significance. The number and arrangement of the points of the maple leaf 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. The image of the maple leaf used on the flag was designed by Jaques Saint-Cyr, however, Jack Cook claims that this stylized eleven-point maple leaf was lifted from a copyrighted design owned by a Canadian craft shop in Ottawa. In 1921, King George V proclaimed the official colors of Canada as red, from Saint George’s Cross, and white, from the French royal emblem since King Charles VII.
The first flag known to have flown in Canada was the St. George’s Cross carried by John Cabot when he reached Newfoundland in 1497. His ship flew a red flag with a white cross, the national flag of France at the time. New France continued to fly the evolving French military flags of that period. Shortly after Canadian Confederation in 1867, the need for distinctive Canadian flags emerged. The first Canadian flag was that then used as the Flag of the Governor General of Canada, a Royal Union Flag with a shield in the centre bearing the quartered arms of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves. In 1870 the Red Ensign, with the addition of the Canadian composite shield in the fly, began to be used unofficially on land and sea and was known as the Canadian Red Ensign. As new provinces joined the Confederation, their arms were added to the shield. In 1892, the British admiralty approved the use of the Red Ensign for Canadian use at sea. The composite shield was replaced with the coat of arms of Canada upon its grant in 1921 and, in 1924, an Order in Council approved its use for Canadian government buildings abroad. In 1925, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King established a committee to design a flag to be used at home, but it was dissolved before the final report could be delivered. Despite the failure of the committee to solve the issue, public sentiment in the 1920s was in favor of fixing the flag problem for Canada.
During the Second World War, the Red Ensign was the national flag Canadian troops carried into battle. A joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons was appointed on November 8, 1945, to recommend a national flag to officially adopt. By May 9 the following year, 2,695 designs were submitted and the committee reported back with a recommendation that the national flag of Canada should be the Canadian red ensign with a maple leaf in autumn golden colors in a bordered background of white. The Legislative Assembly of Quebec, however, had urged the committee to not include any of what it deemed as foreign symbols, including the Royal Union Flag, and Mackenzie King, then still prime minister, declined to act on the report, leaving the order to fly the Canadian Red Ensign in place.
By the 1960s, however, debate for an official Canadian flag intensified and became a subject of controversy, culminating in the Great Flag Debate of 1964. In 1963, the minority Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson gained power and decided to adopt an official Canadian flag through parliamentary debate. The principal political proponent of the change was Prime Minister Lester Pearson. He had been a significant broker during the Suez Crisis of 1956, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. During the crisis, Pearson was disturbed when the Egyptian government objected to Canadian peacekeeping forces on the grounds that the Canadian flag (the Red Ensign) contained the same symbol (the Royal Union Flag) also used as a flag by the United Kingdom, one of the belligerents. Pearson's goal was for the Canadian flag to be distinctive and unmistakably Canadian. The main opponent to changing the flag was the leader of the opposition and former prime minister, John Diefenbaker, who eventually made the subject a personal crusade. Diefenbaker demanded a referendum be held on the flag issue, but Pearson instead formed a 15-member multi-party parliamentary committee to select a new design. Through a period of study with political maneuvering, the committee chose the current design, which was created by George F.G. Stanley and inspired by the flag of the RMC of Canada in Kingston, Ontario. The design was approved unanimously by the committee on October 29, 1964, and later passed by a majority vote in the House of Commons on December 15, 1964. The Senate added its approval two days later.
Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, proclaimed the new flag on January 28, 1965. It was inaugurated on February 15 of the same year at an official ceremony held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in the presence of Governor general Major-General Georges P. Vanier, the Prime Minister, the members of the Cabinet, and Canadian parliamentarians. The Canadian Red Ensign was lowered at the stroke of noon, and the new Maple Leaf flag was raised. The crowd sang “O Canada” followed by “God Save The Queen”. Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate, said, “The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief, or opinion.” For the nation's centennial celebrations in 1967, the Canadian government used a flag bearing the Royal Arms of Canada (whose shield was used on the Red Ensign) on a red field.
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