Father of the Canadian Flag Dies, Aged 96

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 veteranturned 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.