A Time When Even the Flag Was Exciting

A Time When Even the Flag Was Exciting

A Journey into '67

It was an aspirational and celebratory time. A coming of age.

Canada was finding its voice and its identity.

The centennial and Expo were the focal points of the time, as they are in this Journeys into '67.

But there was more at play. Canada was no longer looking solely to its parent (British Commonwealth) or to its southerly sibling (U.S.), but rather to the world and into itself. that endeavor continues today.

It was a time of excitement and hope. This enthusiasm even extended to the Canadian flag.

In 1967, the red Maple Leaf was still very new.

The new flag was introduced in 1966. And it was a big deal .

Younger generations presume that the Maple Leaf was always the national flag. In fact, the read and white flag is a relatively recent addition to the national landscape.

The national flag of Canada was officially inaugurated on February 15, 1965.

Prior to that time The Royal Union Flag, which is also the flag of the United Kingdom, was used as the official flag of Canada. Various designs of the Canadian Red Ensign were used between 1868 and 1965 but Canada’s Parliament never officially adopted them.

The National Flag of Canada’s current design results from a significant period of discussion, debate and political maneuvering in the early 1960s.

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.

A Heritage Canada site explains what it was like back in 1964 as the notion of a new flag was being debated, both inside and outside the government:

<em><em>On a Friday afternoon in the late autumn of 1964, an urgent request came from Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to the desk of Ken Donovan. Mr. Donovan was then an assistant purchasing director with the Canadian Government Exhibition Commission, which later became a part of the Department of Supply and Services.

The Prime Minister wanted prototypes of the proposals for the new flag to take to his new residence at Harrington Lake the next morning. The three proposals on the table included the single maple leaf design.

The only design samples in existence were drawings on paper. So Mr. Donovan and his team of designers managed to do the impossible. The flag prototypes were assembled in just a few hours. Graphic artists and silk screeners Jean Desrosiers and John Williams were called in to work on the Friday evening. Since no seamstress could be found, the flags were stitched together by the young Joan O’Malley, daughter of Ken Donovan.

During a ceremony celebrating the 30th anniversary of the flag, Joan O’Malley recounted her experience:

“I really didn’t realize what I was getting into when I got that phone call from my father in 1964. I was just doing my father a favour; not participating in history. Let me tell you, I don’t think of myself as the Betsy Ross type.</em>

And sewing the flag was not easy. I was no professional – I had just sewed some of my clothes before this. My sewing machine wasn’t made for such heavy material. But eventually, the flag came together.

At the time, it wasn’t the best way I could think of to spend a Friday night. In fact, my father was more excited than I was about the whole thing – he was the one who got to deliver the prototypes to Mr. Pearson’s house.

Even though I may not have realized the importance of what I had been asked to do then, I felt good about sewing the prototypes for the flag. It was certainly not a request people got every day.”</em>

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 Bist, and the technical description of precise shade of red defined by Dr. Günter Wyszecki.

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.

Now decades later, with little debate, the flag is now the most recognizable symbol of Canada.

A Time When Even the Flag Was Exciting

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