On Feb. 15, 1965 the Canadian flag was raised on Parliament Hill for the first time. After a year of looking over designs of prospective flags, three finalists were in the running to be Canada’s national emblem. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was in favour of a design that had three red maple leaves and two blue borders, according to the federal government’s Canadian Heritage website. Imagine if Canada’s national colours were red, white and blue – sound familiar?
The red and white we are as familiar with as well as orange and black, green and red, and red and pink were “proclaimed Canada’s national colours by King George V in 1921,” according to the federal government’s Canadian Heritage website. Now the red maple leaf is a symbol of pioneers, diverse (cold) landscapes and endless stereotypes of riding polar bears, living in igloos and too many “sorrys.”
Clarence Schneider is the secretary and poppy chair at the Kamloops Legion. He was 15 years old when the flag was officially deemed our national flag. He doesn’t remember the exact events following the birth of the flag, but does remember what the flag meant to Pearson.
“I can certainly remember John Diefenbaker fought tooth and nail over that, and there were a lot of conservative elements within the country that tied to the old country,” Schneider said. “The liberals under Pearson looked at us being ahead of the game – we had to have our own flag, our own identity.”
A country’s national identity is recognition of sovereignty both within Canada and internationally. According to Schneider, Canada’s own identity has been growing since before its change in flag.
“Pearson was a little bit more progressive and looked at it [as] we had to have our own identity, and we’ve been slowly doing our own identity probably from Vimy Ridge where we made a name for ourself in the First World War and then the Statute of Westminster in 1931,” Schneider said.
The Canadian flag is recognized internationally as travellers choose to sew the flag onto their backpacks and are often treated a little nicer in return. Similarly, historical landmarks from the Second World War include the red and white flag in honouring fallen soldiers.
“In 1993, I went into the town of Dieppe in France; there were more Canadian flags in that town than French flags. Canadian flags all over the place,” Craig Thomson, president of the Kamloops Legion said.
Stepping over the border, one will see American flags hanging from storefronts, houses and stuck on car bumpers. The Canadian flag seems as though it’s not flaunted nearly the same as the American one, but Schneider, who flies a Canadian flag off of his house, doesn’t believe we are any less patriotic than our neighbours to the South, just maybe not as “gung ho.”
“If push comes to shove, [Canadians] will show up – certainly you see it on July 1,” Schneider said. “I think we’re just as patriotic as anybody.”
“We’re just subtle. We’ve always been more subtle…we’re just quieter about it,” Thomson added. “We just don’t show it in the same way as [Americans] do.”
Whether we fly it off our porch, tag it on our backpack or only bring it out on July 1, the strong and singular maple leaf with bold red borders can best be described by Maurice Bourget, speaker of the senate, as “The symbol of the nation’s unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.”