Canada may be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017 but its flag has a bit of catching up to do: Today, February 15, 2017, marks the 52nd anniversary of the adoption of what’s officially known as the National Flag of Canada. Twenty-one years ago, our government got around to proclaiming this date National Flag Day.
The Canadian Encyclopedia gives an excellent and detailed account of not only the current flag, but of the history of flags in Canada from its colonial days forward, for those of you with an insatiable desire to know all the details. My favourite is the flag proposal from the early 1960s that shows a beaver silhouette in centre, wreathed by 10 green maple leaves. Alas, the beaver had to be content to remain the symbol on Canada’s five-cent coin.
The eventual winner is a simple design that has, I think, stood up well. Amid world flags, its cousin is Japan’s “sun flag”, with a red circle representing the sun on a rectangle of white. Our maple leaf flag continues to look modern, reproduces well small or large (or even in plants, below). It’s instantly recognizable, so much so that generations of young Canadian travellers – and Americans wanting to travel incognito – routinely sew the talisman of a small Canadian flag to their backpacks before heading out on adventures overseas.
The 11-pointed maple leaf at the heart of the flag is not specifically one of the 10 maples native to Canada, but drawn in an abstracted way to represent them all. Which, when you think about it, can be seen as a good metaphor for how modern Canada works these days: we all can recognize, at a flash, the idea of Canada while that ideal represents a whole lot of varieties of us, out here.
Top photo: Eugene Meese