Canadian Flag

Birth of the Canadian Flag.

The search for a new Canadian flag started in earnest in 1925 when a committee of the Privy Council began to research possible designs for a national flag. However, the work of the committee was never completed.

Later, in 1946, a select parliamentary committee was appointed with a similar mandate, called for submissions and received more than 2,600 designs. Still, the Parliament of Canada was never called upon to formally vote on a design.

Early in 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson informed the House of Commons that the government wished to adopt a distinctive national flag. The 1967 centennial celebration of Confederation was, after all, approaching. As a result, a Senate and House of Commons Committee was formed and submissions were called for once again.

In October 1964, after eliminating various proposals, the committee was left with three possible designs — a Red Ensign with the fleur-de-lis and the Union Jack, a design incorporating three red maple leaves, and a red flag with a single, stylized red maple leaf on a white square. (Pearson himself preferred a design with three red maple leaves between two blue borders.)

Two heraldry experts, who both favoured a three-leaf design, played a decisive role in the choice of our flag: Alan Beddoe, a retired naval captain and heraldic adviser to the Royal Canadian Navy, and Colonel Fortescue Duguid, a heraldist and historian.

The names of Mr. John Matheson and Dr. George Stanley are well known in the story of the evolution of a new Canadian flag. Mr. Matheson, a Member of Parliament from Ontario , was perhaps one of the strongest supporters of a new flag and played a key advisory role. 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.

Dr. Stanley’s design is based on a strong sense of Canadian history. The combination of red, white and red first appeared in the General Service Medal issued by Queen Victoria . Red and white were subsequently proclaimed Canada ‘s national colours by King George V in 1921. Three years earlier, Major General (later the Honourable) Sir Eugene Fiset had recommended that Canada ‘s emblem be the single red maple leaf on a white field – the device worn by all Canadian Olympic athletes since 1904.

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 .

In due course the final design of the stylized maple leaf was established by Mr. Jacques St-Cyr, the precise dimensions of red and white were suggested by Mr. George Best, and the technical description of precise shade of red defined by Dr. Gunter Wyszchi.

The national flag of Canada, then, came into being, credit to those eminent Canadians: the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, who wanted a distinctive national flag as a vehicle to promote national unity; John Matheson, who established the conceptual framework for a suitable flag, then sought out and combined the appropriate components to create it; and Dr. George Stanley, who provided the seminal concept – the central concepts of red-white-red stripes with a central maple leaf – in this process.

First “Canadian flags”

  • The St. George’s Cross — an English flag of the 15th century — was carried by John Cabot, a Venetian sailing under English colours, and flown over Canadian soil when he reached the east coast of Canada in 1497.
  • The fleur-de-lis was a symbol of French sovereignty in Canada from 1534, when Jacques Cartier landed and claimed the new world for France , until the early 1760s, when Canada was ceded to the United Kingdom . Although a number of French military flags were used in Canada during this period, including the white flag of la Marine royale after 1674, the fleur-de-lis held a position of some prominence.
  • In the early 1760s, the official British flag was the two-crossed jack or the Royal Union flag (known more commonly as the Union Jack). Although first flown in 1621, the Royal Union flag was used at all British establishments on the North American continent from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Mexico . This flag is often referred to as the flag of Canada ‘s United Empire Loyalists.
  • Following the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, the diagonal Cross of St. Patrick was incorporated with England ‘s St. George’s Cross and Scotland ‘s Cross of St. Andrew. This gave the Royal Union flag its present-day configuration. This flag was used across British North America and in Canada even after Confederation in 1867.
  • The Red Ensign, a red flag with the Union Jack in the upper corner, was created in 1707 as the flag of the British Merchant Marine. From approximately 1870 to 1904, it was used on land and sea as Canada ‘s flag, with the addition of a shield in the fly bearing the quartered arms of Ontario , Quebec , Nova Scotia and New Brunswick . Although its use on land had never been sanctioned except by public usage, in 1892 the British admiralty approved the use of the Red Ensign for Canadian use at sea. This gave rise to the name the Canadian Red Ensign.As new provinces entered Confederation, or when they received some mark of identification (sometimes taken from their seal), that mark was incorporated into the shield on the Canadian Red Ensign. By the turn of the century, the shield was made up of the coats of arms of the seven provinces then in Confederation.In 1924, this unofficial version of the Canadian Red Ensign was changed by an Order in Council and the composite shield was replaced with the shield from the royal arms of Canada, more commonly known as the Canadian Coat of Arms. At the same time, this new version was approved for use on Canadian government buildings abroad. A similar order in 1945 authorized its use on federal buildings within Canada until a new national flag was adopted.
  • The Canadian Red Ensign was replaced by the red and white maple leaf flag on February 15, 1965

Elements of the flag

Well before the coming of the first European settlers, Canada ‘s aboriginal peoples had discovered the food properties of maple sap, which they gathered every spring. According to many historians, the maple leaf began to serve as a Canadian symbol as early as 1700. Following are some examples of how the maple leaf grew in public consciousness as a symbol of our country until it finally became official on February 15, 1965 , as an integral component of the national flag of Canada . In 1834, Ludger Duvernay is reported to have proposed the maple leaf as an emblem of Canada when the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste was founded on June 24 of that year. In 1836, Le Canadien, a newspaper published in Lower Canada , referred to it as a suitable emblem for Canada . In August 1860, at a public meeting held in Toronto , the maple leaf was adopted as the national emblem of Canada for use in the decorations for the Prince of Wales’ visit. In 1867, Alexander Muir, a Toronto schoolmaster and poet, composed the song The Maple Leaf Forever. In 1914, many Canadian soldiers wore the maple leaf on their military badges, and it was the dominant symbol used by many Canadian regiments serving in the Great War (World War I). In 1939, at the beginning of World War II, numerous Canadian troops once again used the maple leaf as a distinctive emblem, displaying it on regimental badges and Canadian army and naval equipment.

Red and white: Canada ‘s national colours

History records that in the first crusade, Bohemund I, a Norman lord, had red crosses cut from his mantles and distributed to the 12,000 crusaders, who then wore them as a distinctive badge on their garments.

In subsequent crusades, each nation was distinguished by a cross of a different colour. France long had a red cross on its banners while England used a white cross. Time and again in history, red and white are found as the colours of France or of England .

Red and white were approved as Canada ‘s official colours in the proclamation of the royal arms of Canada in 1921 by King George V.

In 1957, the colour of the maple leaves on the shield of the Royal Arms of Canada was changed from green on a white ground to red on a white ground in recognition of Canada ‘s official colours.