Feb. 16, 2000

Our National Emblem

Ian MacLeod's Flag Day Feb.15th. article in the Ottawa Citizen entitled "Flag of the party" mentions that our very first Maple Leaf flag flown on Feb. 15, 1965 has stayed in the hands of the Liberal Party of Canada. This should be of no surprise as they are the ones who adopted it. For the last 6 years I have been promoting a Unity flag which one day I hope will become our renewed national emblem. As a result I have been in touch with many people who have given me pieces of information regarding our flag. Let me recount some of the stories.

At the Bayshore Shopping Plaza, Ottawa, Nov. 1994, while promoting my Unity Flag, a Canadian flag with 2 blue bars inside the red borders, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion told me that many people, especially the Tories, would like to see some blue on our national emblem, because our red and white flag was a 'Liberal' flag, their party colours. I was a little surprised, this was my first introduction to the Liberal connection, but certainly not my last. In the following years this view was shared by many.

In June of 1997, just before the federal election, I showed my Unity flag to a Liberal Senator who said "We will never change the flag to add blue, 'red and white' are our party colours." I told the senator that some people called our flag, a 'Liberal' flag for that very reason.

In the summer of 1998, I spotted a Pearson Pennant flying at a camp park in Lancaster, Ontario. Curious, I went in to meet the owner and to ask if these flags were being reprinted and where they could be purchased. I met Mr. Raymond Rock who was a Liberal M.P. from Montreal in 1962 and who sat on the Flag Committee in 1964. He told me that the Pearson Pennant he was flying was an original from the early 1960's. I showed him my Unity flag and he became very interested, we traded flags.

Mr. Rock mentioned that many M.P.s on the committee wanted blue on the new flag since we traditionally had blue on our flags, but that at the last minute Pearson said "The new flag will have 'red and white Liberal colours only' (he did not say Canada's colours), and that if anyone argued with him or caused trouble, they will be dealt with." I asked Mr. Rock if he would back me up if I ever recounted this story to the media and he confirmed that he would.

In 1964 while in senior high like many young Canadians, we were all excited about the proposal for our new flag. Many designs appeared in the newspapers and within the last month of the decision, the general consensus from the public was in favour of the single red maple leaf with blue borders symbolizing Canada from sea to shining sea. In 1994 I met a merchant on Sparks St. in Ottawa who, in 1964, had 200 such flags sewn up ready for sale as soon as the decision was final, only to dump them when the Liberals changed the colours to red and white only, in the final week. Of all the submissions for flag designs in 1964 and among the most popular, very few were red and white only, most were multi-coloured.

Furthermore, there was no stipulation that the new flag had to be red and white only, yet in the end, we were sold the line that we didn't want the red, white and blue of the Americans, though those are also the colours of our colonizing motherlands, Great Britain and France. This is probably where the Americans got their colours from anyway, but regardless of the colours, the Americans are the Stars and Stripes and we are distinctively the Maple Leafs.

What I still find confusing is why Prime Minister Pearson eventually rejected the blue borders which he endorsed in his 'Pearson Pennant'. His Pennant had three red maple leafs symbolizing the English, the French and the Native People with the blue borders symbolizing Canada from sea to shining sea. Eventually the three maple leafs became one but still with blue borders. In a way, the Unity flag brings back some of that symbolism but the primary goal of adding the blue bars is to symbolize the French fact in Canada. Approximately 25% of the red borders have been recoloured blue to recognize the Francophones in Canada, symbolizing our linguistic duality. The big proud red Maple Leaf still stands for our vast country, its natural resources and our First Nations.

It could be that Lester B. Pearson did us a disservice when he insisted on "Liberal colours only", perhaps putting his party ahead of his country. However, we do have a beautiful flag, though there is nothing wrong with making it even more beautiful, without losing our own identity.

It seems the Liberals may have had more reason to hold on to the original flag other than the fact that it was Canada's first National Emblem which they adopted. Adding a touch of blue would be more symbolic of our linguistic duality, instilling more pride and creating a stronger identity and bond, while bringing back a popular notion from 1964, Canada from sea to shining sea.