How Did The National Flag Of Canada Evolve?

A red field with a white square at the centre with a stylized, red, 11-pointed maple leaf charged in the centre represents the national flag of Canada.

The Canadian Flag

The flag of Canada consists of two red blocks on either side of a white square. At the center of the white square is a red maple leaf with 11 points. The Canadian flag was the first national flag to be included in the law for use as a country’s official national flag.

The Origins of the Canadian Flag

The Canadian flag has a design that is symmetrical. The width of the flag is twice its height while the square white field on the flag is known as the Canadian pale and borders the red fields on both. The red fields are exactly half the size of the white field. The maple leaf has been the Canadian emblem since the 18th century and was used as a national symbol in a drawing on the coat of arms for the provinces of both Quebec and Ontario.

The maple leaf was included in the Canadian coat of arms in 1921 and appeared on the country’s coins between 1876 and 1901. The maple leaf was used as a regimental symbol by the Royal Canadian Regiment from as early as 1860. The badges of the Canadian forces during the World War I and II were based on the maple leaf design. Red and white were made Canadian official colors in 1921 through the proclamation of the Royal Arms of Canada by King George V.

The use of a maple leaf as representation for Canada dates back to at least 1919, when the Major General Sir Eugene Fiset had recommended the maple leaf on a white field be used as a symbol of Canada. A member of parliament from Ontario by the name of John Matheson was responsible for the task of overseeing and coordinating the research behind the flag search. Matheson, who was also the Prime Minister's parliamentary secretary, was responsible for presenting the design of the single leaf.

Jacques St-Cyr was responsible for the final design of the maple leaf, and George Bist was responsible for providing the exact dimensions of color to be used in the flag. The precise shade of red was controlled by Dr. Günter Wyszecki. The flag of Canada as we know it today was first raised on Parliament Hill on the 15th of February, in 1965.

The Great Canadian Flag Debate

The discussions on the Canadian national flag gained momentum in the 1960s with the subject generating controversies around the country. A national debate called the Great Flag Debate was initiated by the minority Liberal government in 1963 as a means of adopting an official Canadian flag. In June 1964 the debate officially kicked off, with Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson outlining the need for the flag to the House of Commons. The debate dragged for six months leading to serious divisions. The debate ended in December 1964, resulting in the selection of the Maple Leaf flag as the country’s national flag. The flag was subsequently inaugurated on February 15, 1965. After the new flag was proposed and passed by the two houses of parliament, the proclamation was official with the approval of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Lester Pearson, and Guy Favreau who was the attorney general of Canada at the time.

Promoting the Canadian National Flag

Programs have been sponsored by the Government of Canada to promote the national flag since its adoption in 1965. The Canadian Parliamentary Flag Program aims to increase the exposure of the flag as a symbol of national identity. The members of the House of Commons are allowed to distribute flags to their constituents. The flags are also flown on certain buildings such as the Peace Tower.

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