Prior to February 15, 1965 most Canadians would have told you that our National Flag was the Red Ensign.
Those same Canadians might be have been shocked to learn that the Ensign was never officially adopted by the Parliament of Canada as our National Flag. Our official Canadian Flag was the Royal Union Jack.
During WWII Canadian troops fought and died under the Canadian Ensign. After the war in 1945 a committee was struck to establish an official Canadian Flag. The committee called for suggestions, and 3,541 designs flowed in in the form of pencil sketches, crayon drawings, cut outs made of construction paper and water colour paintings. Of these entries, 2,136 contained Maple leaves, 408 Union Jacks, 389 Beavers and 359 Fleurs-de-lys.
The matter dragged on for twenty years coming to a head in September of 1964, when it was realized that coming to an agreement on the flag design had become a Nationally divisive issue.
"The designs for a new flag are most interesting and pretty, but our reasons for loving the old flag is the
remembrance of the men and women - both French and English speaking - who gave their lives for Canada, the land they loved."
"I urge you to find a speedy and honorable conclusion to the long dragged out flag debate. No symbol of a country is as important as the country itself, and Canada is waiting for urgently needed legislation."
"I personally...would most certainly accept any flag provided we could have a prosperous Canada in which poverty were unknown."
"Who, in their right mind, could be concerned with a petty issue like a flag at a time when there are so many urgent issues at stake. It doesn't seem to matter that the world is in ferment and badly needs leaders of integrity and courage and ACTION. Without them, we shall no doubt go up in nuclear smoke - and the flag along with us."
"Direct your efforts towards a better Canada instead of a bitter one."
Basically there were two camps: those who wanted images from the past, the Fleur-de-lis and the Union Jack to be part of the flag and those who didn't.
The contest came down to three designs:
"To me it is unbelievable that anyone could suggest replacing this symbol of pride in our past, our heritage, our vigorous belief in our future - with a dull childlike banner."
"It is easy to see you have little or no knowledge of the significance of a flag....You have treated the Queen in a most ungallant, unpatriotic and really disgraceful manner. My advice to you, Sir is, leave the present distinctly Canadian Red Ensign alone. Then apologise to Her Majesty for the disgraceful disturbance you have caused and get on with the affairs of Canada that you have recently been neglecting."
"The designs for a new flag are most interesting and pretty, but our reasons for loving the old flag is the remembrance of the men and women - both French and English speaking - who gave their lives for Canada, the land they loved."
"The design of the three Maple leaves is used by a bologna manufacturer in Montreal. Whether it is copyrighted or not I do not know."
"I don't like the three maple leaves on the white background...the single maple leaf looks better. As I am only 10 [I] will have to look at it longer than Mr. Pearson. (Mr. Pearson was the Prime Minister at the time)"
"The idea of a single maple leaf is excellent, especially since the only Canadian leaves that actually grow in threes...is the detested "poison ivy and poison oak." In the best interest of our country, this fact of the three grouped leaves should be well considered, to prevent a serious mistake."
After some contentious voting we ended up with what must be one of the most striking, innovative and recognizable flags on the planet.
P.S If you want to learn how the vote was "rigged" to get us our new flag here is the background story: