Happy Birthday, Maple Leaf Flag!

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the maple leaf flag becoming the official national flag of Canada.

 This flag beat out thousands of others to become our national flag.

I normally don’t blog on Sundays, but I couldn’t let this day go by without a tribute. The following post contains designs that our lovely Maple Leaf flag beat during the Great Flag Debate of 1964, the reason for why the single maple leaf design won, and pictures from February 15, 1964—the very first Flag Day.

At the heart of the Great Flag Debate of 1964 was the issue of identity; should Canada continue to look to the past and honour its colonial heritage or given that Canada is a distinctive nation, shouldn’t our flag be unique? The Conservatives, who were the official opposition party and led by former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, wanted to keep the Red Ensign, as thousands of veterans had fought under it during the Second World War. If a change had to be made, the new Canadian flag should contain symbols of our “founding races” as removing them would dishonour our veterans and our past.

The main problem with this argument is that such a flag would have only honoured those of an Anglo-Saxon background. What about our French heritage? Aboriginal heritage? How would immigrants fit into the picture? Prime Minister Peason knew that the status quo or a flag similar to the Red Ensign would have inflamed certain populations—namely Quebec, who was currently in the midst of their Quiet Revolution—and therefore something unique was necessary. George Stanley’s single maple leaf design was the answer. It was simplistic, unique, and still honoured Canada’s past as the maple flag had been a symbol used by our military since the 1800s.

The Proclamation of the Canadian Flag.

The Red Ensign, Canada’s de facto flag since the 1920s, comes down on Parliament Hill.

The new Canadian flag is raised for the first time.

On February 15, 1965, 10,000 had gathered at Parliament Hill to watch the red and white Canadian maple leaf flag be raised for the first time. Similar ceremonies took place across the country and around the world. Pearson called the event a “new stage in Canada’s forward march,” while Diefenbaker was reported to have “dramatically pushed away his tears” as this was a day he had not been looking forward to. At noon, RCMP Constable Joseph Secours had the honour of raising the flag while a gun salute commenced in the background.


Bolen, Michael, “Awesome Canadian Flag Designs That Got Cut,” The Huffington Post Canada. October 16, 2013. Accessed from: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/10/16/canadian-flag-designs-photos_n_4109726.html

Hillmer, Norman, “The Flag: Distinctively Our Own,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-flag-distinctively-our-own-feature/

Library and Archives Canada.

Matheson, John Ross. “The Flag Debate,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/flag-debate/


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