While Canada’s flag is now easily recognized throughout the world, it did not emerge until the mid-1900s. The flag in fact is only a few decades old, while the country itself is over 100 years old. Leading up to the creation of the recognizable red maple leaf flag, there was much debate regarding tying the flag to England or creating a flag more representative of the country’s independence. Eventually, the red maple leaf surrounded by white and red columns was brought into circulation only just over 50 years ago!
The Early Flags Representing Canada
Before Canada had the famous red and white maple leaf flag, there were a number of different flags placed onto Canadian soil. At the onset of colonization, these included the flags of the countries that had recently arrived in Canada, such as England and France. Following these flags came two unique flags designed for Canada and prior to the red and white maple leaf flag we have today.
The Royal Union Flag (Union Jack)
The first of these flags was the Union Jack. This is the symbol representative of England’s flag and its use in Canada is representative of Canada’s ties to the British Empire. This particular flag remained in use both during and after Confederation and continued to be in use up until 1965!
Canadian Red Ensign
Beyond the Union Jack flag, there was also the Canadian Red Ensign. This flag was a combination of both the Union Jack and the shield of Canada; it was used originally by the Canadian navy but was also found to be used on land up until the 1870s. This flag throughout its use went through a number of different changes. Additional elements were sometimes incorporated including wreaths of maple leaves, crowns and beavers. Eventually, the shield portion of the Red Ensign was also modified to include the arms of all the provinces as they joined the Confederation.
Introducing the Famous Maple Leaf Flag
A new flag didn’t emerge until after World War II. A flag that well-presented Canadian was long overdue; new Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson made creating a new national flag a government priority. From here, the Great Flag Debate ensued. Many wanted to see a flag tied to Canada’s colonial history and ties with England, while others wanted something brand new that represented Canada as an independent country out on its own.
After much debate, one design reigned supreme. It was George Stanley’s (Dean of Arts at the Royal Military College) own design. This design featured a single stylized red maple leaf, surrounded by a white background and red opaque columns on both sides of the flag. On January 28th, 1965 the new maple leaf flag was deemed official via a proclamation from Queen Elizabeth II. At 12pm that day, the new flag was hoisted and thousands of Canadians rejoiced in Ottawa, excited to see a flag they thought actually represented them.
Canada’s flag is much younger than the country itself. The flag is just over 50 years old, while the country is over 100 years old. Finding a flag that well-represented Canadians was a challenge; there was much debate about ensuring ties to England or distancing themselves and becoming a more independent country. Eventually, the famous red and white flag was chosen, and it has become a recognizable symbol of Canada for people worldwide.
For more information: Government of Canada