Sunday, February 15, 2015

Happy 50th Birthday !

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:

Red Ensign

"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 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:

Hamilton Spectator
Without one Toronto MP's behind-the-scenes skulduggery a half-century ago, Canadians might not be celebrating the 50th anniversary of their red maple leaf flag. 
Reid Scott maintains that he "rigged" the final vote to ensure the 15-person parliamentary flag committee recommended the single-leaf banner that has flown across Canada since Feb. 15, 1965. It was up against a three-leaf pennant favoured by prime minister Lester Pearson and a version of the red-leaf flag that included the Union Jack and fleur-de-lis and was supported by the opposition Conservatives.
"I admit it, I rigged the vote. I'd be a fool to deny it," says Scott, the lone survivor from the committee that was struck in the fall of 1964 to end what had been a rancorous summer-long flag debate in the House of Commons.
"I don't call it trickery, I call it legal manoeuvring," says the 88-year-old who resides in a Pickering retirement community. "It's quite legitimate. I didn't commit any crime."
Scott's is a colourful tale of backroom politics difficult to prove or disprove, because all of the flag committee meetings were held in private and he is the last direct witness. But something clearly happened behind the closed doors of a Senate committee room, or in clandestine gatherings elsewhere, to hoodwink the Conservatives into voting for a flag they didn't support.
During the election of 1963, (Prime Minister) Pearson promised a distinctive flag that would unify Canada and replace the Red Ensign that was never given formal sanction by Parliament. Pearson was elected with a minority Liberal government and on June 15, 1964, asked the House of Commons to establish as Canada's flag an emblem of three red maple leaves on a single stem on a white background between two blue bars, a design commonly referred to as the Pearson Pennant.
That began what Scott recalls as "one of the longest, most bitter debates in the entire history of the Canadian Parliament. It was a loony bin. The longer it went, the crazier everybody got, especially during the night sittings when they'd had a few drinks. You wouldn't believe the cursing and swearing."
Conservative party leader John Diefenbaker dug in, determined to defeat Pearson on the flag. The Tory filibuster went into September when, finally, Parliament struck a multi-party committee to develop a flag. Diefenbaker, however, said any recommendation it made had to be virtually unanimous to carry any weight in the Commons.
"They gave us six weeks to do what the country couldn't do in 97 years," says Scott, the member for Toronto Danforth and the lone NDPer in the group.
The committee was made up of seven Liberals, five Conservatives, and a member each from the Social Credit, Ralliement des Créditistes and New Democratic parties.
Scott, his stories sharp in both detail and wit, said he'd heard through the parliamentary grapevine that the Conservatives had been instructed by Diefenbaker to always vote against Pearson's flag. That's when Scott says he formulated his plan to ensure that the single-leaf design he favoured got the support needed to go back to Parliament.
The committee first had to cull through more than 5,000 flag suggestions either submitted by the public or held over from previous efforts to come up with a suitable banner. Scott said it was relatively easy to get down to three finalists: while some of the submissions were serious attempts at symbolizing Canada, others ranged from depictions of frothy beer mugs to portraits of the Beatles.
Scott says he believed the use of three leaves would create a "disunity flag" because it would always be interpreted as the English, the French and everyone else.
The committee voted to determine which of the three proposals would move on. The one with a Union Jack and fleur-de-lis — dubbed Diefenbaker's Abomination by some — was defeated while the single-leaf and three-leaf designs advanced.
"On the second vote, the Tories were trapped, which is what I had intended all along," says Scott. "They couldn't vote for the Pearson Pennant so they'd inevitably vote for the red and white (single-leaf) flag, I was sure of it. The problem was with the Liberals."
Before the voting, Scott had talked to Walter Gordon, a friend who was also finance minister, and says he delivered a message to Pearson.
He says he asked Gordon to tell Pearson: "Your flag will never fly."
"I said 'I have the votes to kill it and I will do so reluctantly because I like Mr. Pearson and respect him.' I said, 'it doesn't have to be that way, Walter. All he has to do is withdraw his support of his own flag and instruct (Liberal MP John) Matheson to tell (the Liberals) on the committee to vote for the single maple leaf.'
"He did it. So, on the final vote, all the Conservatives, all the Liberals and all the independents voted for the single maple leaf. We got a unanimous vote. That had been my intention from the very beginning."
Matheson was Pearson's point man in the development of a new flag and Scott says he also went to him to get him onside.
"I said, 'John, you're back in the 1800s with this stuff. You and I know the three maple leaves come from the coat of arms at the bottom. I bet you that 99.9 per cent of people don't even know we have a Coat of Arms and couldn't care less. Join the 20th century for God's sake, come with us.' So he finally agreed," recounted Scott.
The Conservatives, assuming the Liberals would side with Pearson, were stunned when the final ballots were counted and they were part of a 14-0 vote in favour of the single-leaf flag. (The chairman didn't vote.) They regrouped and a vote to determine whether that flag was acceptable as a national flag for Canada passed 10-4, though it would take several more weeks of debate in the House and require parliamentary closure to finally get it approved.
So were the Conservatives duped?
In a story that appeared almost immediately in the Ottawa Citizen, Liberal flag committee member Grant Deachman wrote under his byline: "For a brief moment, the choice of a national flag was unanimous. The Tories were thunderstruck. They were cross-eyed with bewilderment and terror. They then moved to break up the feeling of unanimity and achievement which was spreading all too quickly among the members.
"A reconfirming vote, which had previously been agreed upon, gave them an opportunity to beat a retreat. The vote was 10 to 4. They had lost one of their members to the new national flag." At 12:30 a.m., the glum-faced Tories "left in haste their hounds. We broke into broad grins that mounted into laughter."
In his book Canada's Flag, published in 1986, Matheson does write of a committee strategy session with Scott and Deachman during which Scott indicated to him that the three-leaf design was definitely out. But, while a voting strategy clearly was in effect, Matheson's story differs from Scott's. He says that before that meeting, he had already come to believe a one-leaf design was the way to go. He also credits Deachman, not Scott, with nursing the committee through the unanimous vote. Matheson, who died in 2013, states heoperated independently of Pearson.
Matheson, instead, writes of a meeting at which he directed Scott and Deachman to examine a refined single-leaf prototype that he had quietly mounted on the committee room wall.
"Almost instantly a consensus was reached and a bargain struck — that design was to become our choice," wrote Matheson. "We agreed then that secretly we would select that flag while the tactics of the voting operation and the political strategy were to be left with Grant Deachman."
Scott, who also says he's the one who put a single-leaf proposal on the wall, says he has no interest in starting another debate. He just wants to tell his version s before it is too late.
"The Liberals said it was their idea to save face for Pearson," he says. "I don't care. Everybody shares the credit. The flag we got said exactly what we wanted it to say: One Canada, where everybody is equal under the law."
So is Scott's version of events accurate? Flag historian Rick Archbold, who authored the book A Flag for Canada, says there's no way to prove history didn't unfold that way.
"It's possible that he sent a message to Pearson," said Archbold. "I found no evidence of that other than his story whereas there is pretty good evidence that Deachman and Matheson went to Pearson and said, 'Here's the situation.' But if he says he did it, who's to argue with him? You can't prove he didn't and it may well be that Pearson got two messages, one from Reid Scott and one from the Liberal members of the committee. (Scott) was there and was a key part of making it happen, no question. He's our living witness."
"Scott may well have been one of the people who helped create the situation where the Tories all voted for the single maple leaf by accident," continued Archbold. "Deachman supposedly orchestrated it. Reid Scott supposedly orchestrated it. And then there's Matheson, who also orchestrated it. You can drive yourself crazy with this."
Scott, who was also an Ontario MPP, Toronto councillor and a provincial court judge, says there is something he's never made public, something that happened when the Canadian flag was flown on Parliament Hill for the first time in 1965.
"Just as it got to the top, a wind came across the lawn and blew it out in its full glory," he recalled. "I was so proud being a part of that, I cried."
The Toronto Star


  1. I'm glad that our current flag emerged the winner!

  2. I love your flag; it is one of the smartest (as in handsome) in the world.

  3. I had no idea about the history of your flag, Sybil. I love the maple leaf flag - it makes me think of the abundance of natural beauty found in Canada.

    1. Thank you Barbara. I thought I had responded to your comment before, my apologies for not doing so.

      Perhaps we need to update the flag with a bit of black oil trickling down the leaf. How we like to see ourselves and how we actually ARE is a real contradiction.

  4. My goodness--who would have known? I just read this week that some of the native tribes think of the maple as the leader among trees. And how a leader has responsibilities as well as gifts. Like Barbara, I often feel awestruck with the beauty of your Canada. It was my near-neighbor while growing up downstate, and now it's just across the lake, just beyond the horizon.

    1. To be honest Kathy, I learned a lot writing this that I did not know before. Thanks for stopping by.


Thanks for stopping by. I really do love to read your comments.