The Canadian Flag: A Brief History

February 08, 2013

The maple leaf is but the latest in a series of flags that have flown over what has become Canada.  Starting in 1497, John Cabot raised the Cross of St. George over Newfoundland for the King of England.  Thirty-seven years later Jacques Cartier planted the royal fleur-de-lis for the King of France. In 1759 came the arrival of the Royal Union Flag for England and in 1801, the Union Jack.

The search for a uniquely Canadian flag began in 1925, when more than 2,600 designs were received by Parliament, but never voted on.

In 1964 Prime Minister Pearson’s government held 46 sittings, hearing from historians and citizens.

By October 1964, the number of designs had been narrowed to three:

· a Red Ensign with the fleur-de-lis and the Union Jack;

· a sprig of three maple leaves between blue bars;

· a stylized maple leaf on a white square flanked by red bars.

The single maple leaf design was endorsed. The House of Commons approved it on Dec. 15, 1964, followed by the Senate.  Canada’s national flag was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II on Jan. 28, 1965 and inaugurated on Feb. 15, 1965.

The combination of red, white and red in three bold, vertical stripes was first formally recognized in Canada’s very first War Veterans Medal in its identifying ribbon issued by Queen Victoria to Canadian war veterans who fought to protect Canada against the Red River Rebellion of 1870 and the Fenian Raids. The medal itself had “Canada” very prominently embossed and garlanded by maple leaves.

In 1921, King George V proclaimed that red and white were Canada’s official colours.

The flag of Canada, wherever it flies, represents the English and French linguistic reality in a great land of Aboriginal beginnings that have been enjoined by a global culture within a shared union called Canada.