Many people consider the Canadian flag to be one of the most easy to identify of all national flags used today. Its distinctive red and white colors, including the red maple leaf in its center, are the result of good design but it’s also the result of much heated debate.
A national flag is designed with a great deal of planning, as each part of it, including the colors, are meant to represent different aspects of the nation that flies it. Canada’s history was a strong influence on its flag’s design.
Canada is famous for its maple trees and the maple leaf has been used on flags flown over Canada for hundreds of years, although the flag we know today was not used officially until 1965. Nevertheless, the maple was important to the Native American tribes that lived there before European settlers began arriving and colonizing the nation.
France’s King Francis I declared Canada his new territory in 1534 but England’s Queen Elizabeth I claimed it as a British colony in 1583. The name, New France, was generally accepted but ownership was disputed for the next three hundred years. By the time the American Revolutionary War was over, England had legal claim to the French colonies in Canada.
In 1867, England’s Queen Victoria declared Canada a kingdom of its own right although it still relied on the British Empire for military protection and much of its legislature. During this time, the Union Jack, official flag of Great Britain, was flown to represent Canada.
In the 20th century, conflict arose over the official flag of Canada. Many flags, most of them with a maple leaf on them, were flown for various occasions but the official Canadian flag, used throughout the world, remained the British Union Jack.
Some countries around the world had established peaceful and productive relationships with Canada but were experiencing trouble with Great Britain. The British issues led some countries to deny Canada its right to fly its flag at official ceremonies in these countries, even when Great Britain was not participating, since the Canadian flag and the British flag were one and the same.
Canada’s prime minister, Lester B. Pearson, appointed a committee in 1964 to resolve the issue of an official Canadian flag. Many Canadians at that time felt intense loyalty to France but others were loyal to the British monarchy and still others felt the flag should represent a unique Canada and not its once-sovereign nations. Others felt its Native American heritage should be represented. Each group wanted its loyalties represented in the official flag of Canada.
The committee presented three choices and the current flag was chosen to represent Canada as its official flag. The first time the flag was flown to officially represent Canada was February 15, 1965. Since that day, February 15 is celebrated each year as National Flag of Canada Day.
The Canadian flag’s colors were based on a proclamation by British King George V in 1921, when he designated red, from Saint George’s Cross, and white, which represents France’s King Charles VII, to be Canada’s official colors. The design, two red fields bordering one larger white one with a red maple leaf in its center, is said to represent neither France nor Great Britain but is a symbol of national unity representing all Canadian citizens regardless of opinion, belief, race, or language.
Many people have said the points on the leaf tips of the maple leaf represent Canadian provinces but this particular design is more practical than symbolic. Various designs were tested in a wind tunnel, to determine how easy it would be to recognize the new Canadian flag in high winds, and the design we see today on the Canadian flag is the design that won that contest.