Get PJ Media on your Apple

PJM Lifestyle

Father of the Canadian Flag Dies, Aged 96

Canada's "maple leaf" is one of the most readily recognized flags on earth. Meet the man who was given six weeks to come up with it, back in 1964.

by
Kathy Shaidle

Bio

December 30, 2013 - 2:35 pm
From pop artist Charles Pachter's series of Canadian flag paintings

From pop artist Charles Pachter’s series of Canadian flag paintings

Will the flag he championed fly at half-mast?

That was my first thought upon hearing that World War II veteran-turned Member of Parliament John Ross Matheson passed away last Friday.

Given his keen amateur interest in heraldry, Matheson was the perfect choice to lead Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s quest to create a new Canadian flag, one that would symbolically separate the former colony from Great Britain.

Canada’s unofficial flag had long been the “Red Ensign,” a combination of the British Union Jack and the Canadian coat of arms.

It’s true: almost a hundred years after Confederation, we still had no official national flag.

As the big centenary neared, the Liberal government figured we’d better finally get our act together.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about getting rid of the Red Ensign, of course.

As tends to happen up here, whatever the ostensible topic, the resulting parliamentary debate turned into a sometimes heated national conversation about “Canadian identity.”

A committee was struck and informed that they had six weeks to come up with a design. (Nope, not “months” or “years.”)

The committee asked Canadians to send in suggestions, with predictable results.

I like the one with one of The Beatles in each corner — it was 1964, after all.

And to this day, not everyone loves the final design. I doubt I’m the first person to opine that a dead leaf — basically tree dandruff — isn’t the noblest national symbol.

However, I can’t deny that purely from a design (and therefore, a marketing) perspective, Canada’s new flag has been a great success.

Just ask the countless Americans who supposedly sew them onto their knapsacks before their treks through Europe, hoping for warmer welcomes.

During his tenure, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has achieved what many would’ve called impossible: He’s made it “cool” for Canadians to show their patriotism through flag waving, long scorned as an “American” gesture.

Yet I doubt that before today, many younger Canadians could name “the father of the flag.”

This widely aired, corny old “Heritage Minute” commercial celebrates John Matheson’s efforts. I expect it will be getting quite a few hits this week.

YouTube Preview Image

(KATHY SHAIDLE is a blogging pioneer who runs FiveFeetOfFury, now in its 14th year. She's been called "one of the great virtuoso polemicists of our time," by MARK STEYN. Her NEW book is Confessions of A Failed Slut (Thought Catalog, 2014).

Comments are closed.

All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Visit Canada.
Outside of Toronto, it is full (well, actually physically empty) of nice people with actual friendliness. As an American, I was on guard, but on multiple trips realized they weren't all trying to screw me.
Let us stand on guard for thee, O Canada!
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
What gets me is how many lefties just love the Pearson Pennant (as it was and still is derogatively known) all the while disdaining any memory of the Red Ensign, and yet virtually none of them know (as lemon's link below makes clear) that the Maple Leaf flag was based on the College Colour of the Royal Military College (my alma mater). How many of their heads would explode at learning that little bit of history?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
For the sake of the American readers who may be confused by our dyspeptic friend "Lord":
- Most Canadians ("lefty" and "righty") are quite happy with our current flag. For some reason, it seems to remain an issue only among extreme conservatives, mostly older, mostly in the blogs, among the sort of people who like to fizz and mutter about "the French", the loss of our two dollar bill, and the metric system.
- If you're going to preach history, Lord, then learn it. The "Pearson Pennant" was the nickname for Pearson's preferred design of three maple leafs and a blue-bordered flag, not the current version.
- "How many of their heads would explode at learning that little bit of history?" Uhh... none?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Didja know that the Ontario flag was adopted in protest to the end of the red Ensign?

I like the Ontario flag.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Shoulda been three snowshoes stuck into a keg on a field of white with a BIG Moose in the background...
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
It is, indeed, a superb flag, and a favorite of vexilologists worldwide. Technically, it's a great design - graphically simple, reducible to the size of a stamp and still instantly recognizable, just as distinctive in monochrome, and a standout in any setting.

Interestingly, it has been repudiated by many on the Canadian right, who claim to pine to this day for the Red Ensign (originally an uninspired and graphically busy variant of a British flag for merchant vessels) under the mistaken impression that it was adopted as a sop to Quebec.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
This Canadian has always thought the flag looked like hippies made it. We should have kept something British in it.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wrong kind of leaf. :)

As for the British content - the red is the identical heraldic red from St. George's Cross.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Wrong kind of leaf." Heh. When the legalize-marijuana crowd changed the maple leaf to the weed on some Canadian flag parodies, I didn't think it looked that much different.
Lots of countries have red in their flag. That's nothing special. I wish we had kept something of the Union Jack, which stirs my heart in ways the Maple Leaf never did. New Zealand and Australia managed to keep it in their flags quite nicely. Even the U.S. kept the red/white/blue and the stripes in their flag.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment

This :

" I wish we had kept something of the Union Jack, which stirs my heart in ways the Maple Leaf never did."

Is a good part of the reason for this :


"As tends to happen up here, whatever the ostensible topic, the resulting parliamentary debate turned into a sometimes heated national conversation about “Canadian identity.” "


We have no such problem in the United States. When we cut the apron strings, we meant it.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
It seems to me that America ran away from home at 14 and ran into some serious trouble growing up, and Canada stayed home and went to college.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Heh. And...that's working out well for you, is it?
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Shrug. You asked for something British. That specific colour of red (and white) are Canada's national colours, as proclaimed by his Britannic Majesty King George V. That's pretty darned British.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Shrug back. Lots of flags have the colour red. Including the ol' USSR. Wish we'd kept the Union Jack, or an heraldic lion or two.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
De gustibus, etc...
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Concordia discors.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think there's a lot more Canadian nationalism then you like to let on.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Sure there is. However, there's also a lot of understanding of where our jobs and prosperity come from. And it's not the Council of Canadians.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
I know many Canadian conservatives, including the great Mark Steyn, still don't like it but, I for one, think it's one of the few things the Liberals ever got right. Even if they did it in the colours of their party. Whoever is responsible for it, good work.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hi Lemon, as you can imagine, there is some dispute over who should get credit. The Canadian Design Resource Centre has a bunch of names, including Don Watt.

http://www.canadiandesignresource.ca/symbols/national-flag-of-canada/
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great guy - deserves respect... But he wasn't the designer or father. That was his close and old friend George Stanley.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Stanley
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well Cathy you may think the maple leaf flag is ho hum, but I'm an immigrant and that same flag makes my heart sing.
29 weeks ago
29 weeks ago Link To Comment
View All