MP John Matheson, a member of the 1965 parliamentary committee to choose a national flag, surveys the many designs proposed for consideration.
The creation of a new flag stirred a national debate. Many Canadians were strongly attached to the Red Ensign, the British Union Jack and Canadian coat-of-arms on a red field. It had been used, officially and unofficially, for generations. For many veterans and their families, it was the banner under which Canada had gone to war.
But Prime Minister Lester Pearson believed that the time had come for a national flag "which could not be mistaken for the emblem of any other country and which...would be a strong unifying force" for Canada.
For a long time, it looked like the debate would divide Canadians, rather than unite them. Arguments for and against a new flag raged in Parliament and across the country.
From coast to coast, Canadians leaped into the debate by creating their own designs for a new flag. As one reporter said, "It seems that every Canadian with a pot of paint, a piece of paper and artistic pretensions sat down to draw a flag." The Parliamentary mail room was swamped with drawings.
One feature that most of the designs had in common was the maple leaf, which had been a Canadian emblem since as early as 1700. Both French and English Canadians had a fondness for the maple leaf. The St. Jean-Baptiste Society of Québec endorsed it as the symbol for Canada in 1834. A red maple leaf dominated the badges worn by soldiers and sailors in both World Wars.
It was up to a House of Commons committee to come up with a final design. After 41 meetings spent sifting through some 2,000 designs, listening to advice from experts, and arguing among themselves, they finally agreed on a flag with a single red maple leaf on a white background, flanked by two red bars. It was that flag that Parliament approved on December 15, 1964 and that Queen Elizabeth II proclaimed on January 28, 1965.
Today, thirty years later, the Maple Leaf flag has achieved what Lester Pearson hoped it might. Around the world and in the hearts of Canadians, it truly "stands for Canada."Heritage Minute Cast