The Maple Leaf Flag: Worth Celebrating?

Canada’s Maple Leaf flag will be turning 50 on February 15th. To celebrate the federal government has allocated $50,000 to encourage schools to partake in related educational activities and the Canadian Heritage department will be presenting a photo exhibit in this year’s Winterlude festival in Ottawa. Additionally, the department states that $200,000 has been provided to various organizations for their Flag Day projects.

Too much? Too little? If you hold the latter view, you are not alone. A number of people are wondering why the Canadian government doesn’t seem interested in truly marking the occasion. Which raises the question, does a flag warrant a celebration?

From Confederation to the early 1920s, the Union Jack was Canada’s flag of choice.

That gave way to the Red Ensign, which was never our official flag, but it was raised at the Parliament Buildings until 1964.

Despite two previous attempts in 1925 and 1946, it was not until Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson set about to fulfill a campaign promise, to produce a flag within two years of being elected, that the project to adopt a distinctive national flag got underway. His goal was to unite Canadians and separate us from colonial symbols. What ensued became known as the Great Flag Debate of 1964. Families and friends were bitterly divided. Politicians broke out into fist fights. I guess nothing brings out patriotic fervor like national symbols!

The Flag Committee.
Source:  Queen’s University Archives, John Matheson Fonds, Locator #2131.

A call for flag proposals was put out by a joint Senate and House of Commons committee. Thousands of submissions were received, but ultimately three front-runners emerged.

Fun Fact: Pearson favored the three leaves option. It was known as the Pearson Pennant.

Pearson shakes hands with Jim Soni, a University of Toronto student, in May of 1964 outside the Parliament buildings. Soni presented the prime minister with a petition in favor of the Pearson Pennant.

Pearson eventually came around though. Here he is presenting the winning design to the House of Commons in December 1964.

That design came from historian George Stanley. During the debate, he wrote to John Matheson, a Liberal MP, and spoke about the importance of avoiding divisive national and racial symbols. He argued that the “single leaf has the virtue of simplicity; it emphasizes the distinctive Canadian symbol; and suggests the idea of loyalty to a single country.” He included a rough sketch at the bottom of his memo. That sketch ended up being the winning design.

The House of Commons approved the single leaf design (a vote of 163 to 78) on December 15, 1964 and Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed that the new flag would come into effect on February 15, 1965.

Skip ahead to 2015 and the maple leaf has become one of Canada’s most well-known national symbols. As such, some are angry with the government for not doing more to celebrate our flag’s 50th birthday. It does seem odd, given that since 2014 the government was been touching milestone anniversaries in the lead up to Canada’s 150th Birthday in 2017. My favorite quote so far comes from the founder of Canada Flag Holiday Campaign, Roy Mayer: “We’re the best country in the world and we know that….Why don’t we do something with our flag, for God’s sake?”

Some have pointed to the fact that the Harper government also neglected to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Constitution in 2012. Given that the Constitution was the brainchild of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who used to be the Conservative government’s least favorite Trudeau, I don’t think many people were exactly surprised at the government’s neglect. Perhaps a lucklustre approach to the flag’s anniversary is another case of the government not wanting to celebrate a Liberal accomplishment?

What do you think? Should the government be doing more to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Canadian flag or is it not that big of a deal?


“Birth of the Canadian flag” Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada. Accessed from:

“Feds spend $50K on Canadian flag birthday celebration,” The Canadian Press, CTV News. January 15, 2015. Accessed from:

Foot, Richard. “The Stanley Flag,” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Accessed from:

Sibley, Robert, “A short history of the Maple Leaf flag.” Ottawa Citizen. November 5, 2014. Accessed from:


3 thoughts on “The Maple Leaf Flag: Worth Celebrating?

  1. franbrz says:

    This might sound bad, but I find it hard to get very excited about a flag, especially after Canada waited such a long time to pick one out for itself… But that’s just me. (I actually kind of like the three-leaved flag better, but I guess the one we have is punchier)


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