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Our True Colours: The 50th Anniversary of the Canadian Flag

For the week of Monday, February 9, 2015

On February 15, 1965, Canada’s national flag was raised for the first time at Parliament Hill and across the country.

Top Left: Canadian Red Ensign, Top Right: Pearson Pennant, Bottom Left: A submitted design, Bottom Right: Royal Military College Flag.
© All images Library and Archives Canada

The idea of a distinct Canadian national flag gained popularity soon after the First World War. Yet the Red Ensign, a red flag with the Union Jack on the upper left corner and the Canadian coat of arms on the right side, remained the national emblem for the next four decades.

In 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson re-opened the flag debate. He hoped for an emblem that would represent Canada as an independent country in time for Canada’s centennial celebrations in 1967. An all-party committee selected the final design from proposals submitted by thousands of Canadians. Among them were Pearson’s own design, dubbed the Pennant, and civil servant and Canadian historian George F. Stanley’s design. His was inspired by the Royal Military College’s white flag with red side bars. Instead of the college crest, Stanley placed a single maple leaf in the centre.

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Canada Post commemorated the flag with a stamp.
© Canada Post Corporation / 1965

On December 15, 1964, the committee chose Stanley’s design, but made one slight modification. The leaf was re-drawn by graphic artist Jacques Saint-Cyr to make it more visible from a distance. Red and white are Canada’s official colours. The maple leaf is a long standing symbol of Canada, and is associated with Aboriginal, New France and British colonial history.

Many Canadians were ecstatic to have a distinctive national flag. The flag symbolizes past accomplishments and a promising future for a strong nation. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Canadian national flag! On February 15, 2015, Canadians are encouraged to celebrate and honour the flag by participating in public community events. Photos and stories can be shared on social media with #Flag50.

To discover more about Canada’s centennial year, see Exposing Canada to the World: Expo ’67 in the This Week in History archives. To see other submitted flags please visit The National Flag of Canada Day gallery. Also, don't forget to follow us on Twitter @ParksCanada!

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