February 15th is Canada’s Flag Day!Feb 15, 2021 - By Sabrine Barakat
Quick! When you think of a day to commemorate our beloved Maple Leaf, what day comes to mind?
If you said “July 1st – Canada Day,” you’d be half-right. Because, dear readers, our beloved flag actually has its very own birthday, or inauguration day: February 15th.
Canada may be pushing 154 years old, but our flag is a spritely 56. From Confederation until February 14th 1965, the flag of the United Kingdom, the Royal Union Flag (a.k.a. the Union Jack) flew above Canada’s Parliament, though the Red Ensign, a combination of the Union Jack and the shield of Canada, had also been used since the 1870s, including on ships and government locations.
In 1960, then-leader of the opposition Lester B. Pearson said Canada needed its own flag separate from the United Kingdom’s to show we were an independent country. Upon his election in 1963, he made it a priority to resolve “the flag problem” in time for Canada’s 100th birthday celebrations in 1967.
“The Great Flag Debate” pitted those who wanted to retain something borrowed from our colonial history against those who wanted something new, and in case you’re curious, there was also something blue: one of the two unsuccessful designs, known as“the Pearson Pennant,” featured two blue stripes on either side of a white box and a sprig of three maple leaves in the centre. Sound familiar?
In the end, the winner was selected in a most Canadian fashion: by a 15-member committee, who narrowed down the thousands of submissions from Canadians to three finalists before landing upon a design proposed by George Stanley, Dean of Arts at Canada’s Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, Ontario.
Stanley’s design featured red stripes, which were modelled after those on RMC’s own flag, which itself was modelled after the Canada General Service Medal (1866-1870), predominantly awarded to those who fought against the Fenians.
The signature maple leaf sealed the deal, and the committee approved the design on October 22nd 1964. Approvals in the House of Commons and Senate followed, and finally Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II made it official on January 28th 1965.
A few weeks later, on February 15th, a public ceremony was held on Parliament Hill to raise the new flag at noon, and it’s flown there ever since.
Pearson’s words at the time were fitting: “May the land over which this new flag flies remain united in freedom and justice…sensitive, tolerant, and compassionate towards all.”
We should mention that the design of the Canadian flag we know and love is the product of many people, including Ontario M.P. John Matheson, who was a driving force behind the committee achieving consensus, heraldic artist Alan Beddoe, graphic designers Jacques St-Cyr and George Bist, Patrick Reid, whose team was responsible for designing the flag’s parameters, and Dr Günter Wyszecki, who determined the precise – and only – shade of red authorized to be used.
While Flag Day is not a statutory holiday, this year it falls on Family Day, so on Monday, let’s take a moment to celebrate the unifying symbol of our Canadian family, the Canadian flag.