Canada’s national flag celebrates its 50th anniversary! Approved by Parliament on December 15, 1964, the flag was proclaimed by Queen Elizabeth II to take effect on February 15, 1965.
The issue of selecting a representative and unique Canadian flag went through waves of debate following the First and Second World Wars, and in 1964 it became a hotly contested government priority for Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal minority government. Announced in May 1964, Pearson’s push to select a Canadian flag by December 1964 was criticized by the Progressive Conservative opposition, headed by John G. Diefenbaker, who wanted to take such a decision to a public plebiscite.
In September 1964, Tommy Douglas, leader of the New Democratic Party, suggested an all-party committee to select this nationally significant symbol through parliamentary consensus. The idea was endorsed by the government and the fifteen-member National Flag Committee was created, chaired by Member of Parliament John Matheson. After reviewing thousands of submissions, the solitary red maple leaf on a white square between two red borders was selected by the Committee as the unifying symbol for Canada. This submission was made by historian George F. Stanley who described the idea as simple, devoid of British and French national symbols, and easily recognizable as being Canadian.
The selection of the red maple leaf was then debated and voted on by Canada’s 26th Parliament. The passion surrounding the debate did not dissipate. By the time the final vote occurred in the House of Commons, the debate had lasted into the early hours of December 15th and it was two o’clock in the morning!
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) has digitized several of the public’s submissions to the National Flag Committee. Some of these proposals can be found on LAC’s Flickr website.
Do you want to know more about this moment in Canadian history? Check out the links below to investigate other parts of LAC’s flag holdings:
- Listen to the podcast: Canada’s flag – the maple leaf forever
- Lester B. Pearson fonds
- John Ross Matheson fonds
- Alan B. Beddoe fonds
- Records relating to the National Flag Committee sub-sub-series of the Department of the Secretary of State of Canada fonds
- Discover the Collection: National Identity
Here are some other links from the Internet relating to Canada’s flag debate: