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Mike Filey's The Way We Were

A flag of Canada's own for 50 years

Mike Filey

By Mike Filey

TORONTO - 

Feb. 15, 1965.

The weather that historic winter Monday was described as sunny and mild, the latter term because the temperature was expected to reach 38F. Looking back, it was perfect weather for hoisting a new flag.

To be sure, the attempt to gain a new flag for a country that was just two years away from the century mark had been going on for as long as many of its citizens could remember.

In fact, even describing what was to be hoisted on flag poles across the country that day exactly a half-century ago wasn’t really a new flag at all.

Up until then Canada really never had an official flag. The country’s earliest settlers, the majority arriving from England, Scotland and Ireland, simply chose to use the flag they were familiar with back home and that was the Union Flag, more commonly referred to as the Union Jack.

As the decades passed occasional attempts were made to interest various federal governments in selecting a proper flag for a country that was gaining in world-wide recognition. Participation in the Great War was to see various Canadian military units engage the enemy under what was known as the Red Ensign, in reality a standard consisting of the familiar Union Jack in the canton and the nation’s coat-of-arms on the fly.

The features on the coat-of-arms originally celebrated the four provinces that made up the Dominion of Canada that resulted from their confederation in 1867. After additional provinces and territories came into the fold the coat-of-arms was updated. However, though widely used, the Red Ensign continued to be flown but only as the nation’s unofficial flag.

In 1925 the federal government convened a flag committee made up of civil servants. They studied nearly 100 designs, but came up empty handed. In 1939 another war erupted and again members of our military defended democracy under the Canadian Ensign. However, this time the flag’s background colour was modified for each branch of the service.

After the war, more flag committees were set up and over the years they studied more than 2,000 designs. Again no decision as to a final design was forthcoming.

When Lester Pearson and his Liberal Party were elected in April 1963 they took control of Canada’s 26th Parliament. Before long the new prime minister let the country in on a not very secret secret. He vowed that his government would give the nation its very own and truly distinctive flag.

In June 1964 Pearson put forward his own preference for how the new flag would look — three red maple leaves on a white background with blue vertical borders. While it was obvious that the blue represented the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans the selection of maple leaves would emphasize a fact that had been known for years, in fact since 1860.

In that year and to prepare for the visit to Toronto by Queen Victoria’s son, the Prince of Wales (during which time he dedicated today’s Queen’s Park) it was suggested by the Rev. James Richardson (who a few years later would become president of the still very active York Pioneer and Historical Society, see yorkpioneers.org) that each and every native-born citizen participating in the procession to the waterfront to welcome the Prince wear a maple leaf as an emblem of the land of their birth.

While the “Pearson Pennant”, as the prime minister’s proposal quickly became known, was not accepted outright it did prompt more discussion and another committee. Days of debating followed and finally after more than four weeks, the government invoked closure. When a vote was called the Conservatives flatly rejected Pearson’s three leaf flag agreeing instead to vote for a design that had literally come at the government out of the blue. It featured one red maple leaf (with 13 points later changed to 11) on a white background with red vertical borders and was the creation of George Stanley, a teacher at the Royal Military College in Kingston. With the Conservative vote assured the Liberals pulled and end run and also voted for George Stanley’s flag. At precisely 2:15 a.m. on Dec. 15, 1964 Canada finally had her very own flag. It was officially unveiled 50 years ago today with the first Toronto area ceremony taking place shortly after 9 a.m. in front of the Leaside Town Hall on McRae Dr.

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Next Sunday the Toronto Postcard Club will present its annual Show & Sell from 10 a.m. -5 p.m. at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre, 6 Garamond Court (near Don Mills Rd. and Wynford Dr.). Admission $7, parking free.

 

“Mike Filey’s Toronto” is now heard on radio AM740 every Saturday at 12:30 p.m. The show is repeated Sunday, same time, same station.

 

mike.filey@sunmedia.ca 


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