The National Flag of Canada

There was no official flag until 1965

National Flag of Canada
National Flag of Canada. Paul Giamou / Aurora / Getty Images

The Canadian red and white maple leaf flag is officially called the National Flag of Canada. The flag bears a stylized red maple leaf with 11 points on a white background, with red borders down each side. The Canadian flag is twice as long as it is wide. The white square containing the red maple leaf is the same length on each side as the width of the flag.

The red and white used in the National Flag of Canada were proclaimed the official colors of Canada in 1921 by King George V. Although the maple leaf did not have official status as an emblem of Canada until 1965, it had historically been used as a Canadian symbol and was employed in 1860 in decorations for the visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada. The 11 points on the maple leaf have no special significance.

A Flag for Canada

It wasn't until the 1965 inauguration of the maple leaf flag that Canada had its own national banner. In the early days of the Canadian Confederation, the Royal Union flag, or Union Jack, was still flown in British North America.

The Red Ensign, with a Union Jack in the upper left corner and a shield containing the coats of arms of the Canadian provinces, was used as the unofficial flag of Canada from about 1870 to 1924. The composite shield was then replaced with the Royal Arms of Canada and was approved for use overseas. In 1945 it was authorized for general use.

In 1925 and again in 1946, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King tried to get a national flag of Canada adopted but he failed, although more than 2,600 designs were proposed for the second try. In 1964, Prime Minister Lester Pearson appointed a 15-member, all-party committee to come up with the design of a new flag for Canada. The committee was given six weeks to complete its task.

Three Finalists

The process resulted in three final designs:

  • A red ensign with a fleur-de-lis, recognizing Canada's French history, and the Union Jack.
  • Three joined maple leaves between blue borders.
  • A single red maple leaf design between red borders.

The suggestion for a red and white, single maple leaf design that was selected for the Canadian flag came from George Stanley, a professor at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario.

In his speech at the national flag inauguration ceremony, Pearson said:

"Under this Flag may our youth find new inspiration for loyalty to Canada; for a patriotism based not on any mean or narrow nationalism, but on the deep and equal pride that all Canadians will feel for every part of this good land."

Dignity of the Canadian Flag

The Department of Canadian Heritage provides the rules of Canadian flag etiquette, which govern how the flag should be flown and displayed in different situations: affixed to a car, carried in a procession, or flown on ships or boats, for example.

Fundamental to these rules is the principle that the National Flag of Canada should always be treated with dignity and that it takes precedence over all other national flags and ensigns when it is flown in Canada.

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