8 junio, 2024

Canadian flag: what it is, history, meaning

What is the Canadian flag?

The Canada’s flag It is the most important national symbol of that North American country. It is made up of three vertical stripes in a 1:2:1 ratio. The two extreme stripes are red, while the central one is white, where the distinctive symbol of the country is found: a red maple leaf.

The current flag came into effect in 1965, after a long debate. Although the Confederation of Canada was formed in 1867, until then the Canadian red flag was used, which had the Union Jack in the canton and the coat of arms of Canada on the red part.

The debate for the change of flag took place in Parliament, with supporters and opponents among the different political parties.

The proposals agreed on the maple leaf as a symbol of unity, so projects with the Union Jack and the Quebec fleur de lis, of French origin, were rejected.

There is no specific meaning of the colors, although they are of monarchical origin. However, red is associated with Canadian sacrifice in World War I and the maple leaf has been a national symbol since independence.

History of the flag

The history of the Canadian flag has not unfolded at the same pace as the history of the country. Although during British rule the British flag always prevailed, different adaptations made Canada possessor of its own symbols. However, these kept the British seal until after the first half of the 20th century.

first flags

The first flags to fly in Canada were those of the colonial powers that were in the territory.

Within the framework of the French colonization of the entire eastern part of the territory, the main symbol of New France was imposed: the fleur de lis. This was present in the shields and flags of the colony, through the arms of King Louis XVI.

After the end of New France, the British took full control of present-day Canadian territory. From the earliest settlements in Nova Scotia, in the far east, the Union Jack was used.

This was maintained until the independence of the Canadian Confederation in 1861. It currently enjoys the status of the royal flag of Canada.

Independence from the Canadian Confederation

The different British colonies in North America began to come together until Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick formed the Canadian Confederation in 1867.

However, the new country saw no need to establish a new flag. For this reason, it can be considered that the first Canadian flag was that of the Governor General, representative of the British monarch.

This banner was officially established in 1869. It was made up of the Union Jack and the new shield that incorporated those of the four founding colonies.

Beginnings of the red pavilion

Although Canada did not adopt specific new symbols after its independence, the country did differentiate itself from the United Kingdom.

The first symbol that began to gain popularity was the one known as the red flag (Red Ensign, in English). This mainly consisted of the Union Jack in the canton, while the rest of the flag was red, with the shield.

As new provinces were incorporated into the Confederation, their symbols were added to the country’s coat of arms. The use of the red flag was increasing, until it was declared official to identify Canadian vessels.

Incorporation of the coat of arms of Canada

In 1921, the Canadian flag underwent its first change. Although it was still not adopted as a national flag, since that year it has incorporated the coat of arms of Canada.

This new symbol was approved that year and replaced the one that represented all the provinces of the country. As of 1924, the use of the flag was decreed in the diplomatic representations of Canada abroad.

However, the problem of the Canadian flag came to be raised at the government level. That is why by order of the Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, a committee was created to create a flag.

Although the committee dissolved before delivering a result, proposals began to emerge, always with the maple leaf present. These projects also tried to combine the presence of the Union Jack with the French-speaking fleur-de-lis.

Proposed change of flag after World War II

Although the flag had not been officially established, it was used by Canadian troops in World War II. After the end of the war in 1945, a mixed parliamentary commission was again organized to propose a national flag. By May 1946, there were 2,695 proposed designs.

The commission ruled that the flag should remain the red ensign with a gold maple leaf on a white background. In the face of Quebec’s opposition to keeping the Union Jack, any project was rejected and the current flag was kept.

Later, in 1957, the flag again had a slight change in the shield. The three maple leaves it included became red.

Great debate over the Canadian flag

The 1960s were the irreversible stage in the change of the Canadian flag. The new liberal government of Lester Pearson mobilized the project stopped by the previous government of Mackenzie King, also liberal.

First of all, Pearson made the decision to change the flag of the country. For this, he used his personal experience. Before coming to lead the government, Pearson was a UN negotiator in the Suez Canal crisis in 1956.

At the time, he argued that many confused Canada, which was not involved in the conflict, with the United Kingdom because of the presence of the Union Jack.

This act meant that the Canadian blue berets were not allowed to enter. Pearson was a strong supporter of removing the Union Jack from the national flag, and for that, he was opposed by conservatives.

Pearson expedited the process and proposed to Parliament a draft flag, with two blue stripes at the ends and three red maple leaves.

This flag was nicknamed, disparagingly, pearson pennant. The proposal did not see the light of day, but the prime minister created a 15-member parliamentary committee to create the new flag.

parliamentary commission

The parliamentary committee was formed in September 1964 with the presence of all parties. The Liberals won seven members, the Conservatives five, the PND one, Social Crediter one and Créditiste one.

The parliamentarians received more than 2,000 suggestions from the public, added to all those previously made by the parliamentary commission.

The single maple leaf trumped the three-leafed prime ministerial design. Ultimately, Liberals and Conservatives unanimously voted for the design put forward by historian George Stanley. The flag was inspired by that of the Royal Military College of Canada.

Stanley, then Dean of Arts at the Royal Military College, thought that the two red stripes should be the base of the flag. In addition, when he presented his project, he ruled out the use of symbols that could divide society, such as the Union Jack or the fleur de lis. In addition, he maintained that it was only bicolor: red and white.

flag approval

On December 15, 1964, the House of Commons approved the flag project with 163 votes in favor and 78 against. The Senate also did the same on December 17. In this way, the Queen of Canada, Elizabeth II, proclaimed the new flag of the country on January 28, 1965.

The first time this pavilion was used was on February 15 of that year, in parliamentary headquarters. The event was attended by all the high authorities of Canada, such as the Governor General, the Prime Minister, Senators and Representatives.

The flag has not undergone any modification since then.

Meaning of the flag

After Canada’s independence, the country adopted the red ensign as its insignia. This meant that, over time, red was identified as the color of the country.

This was also decreed by King George V in 1921, inspired by the cross of Saint George. Over time, red was also identified as a symbol of Canadian sacrifice in World War I.

White, on the other hand, is related to the country since the French colonization. This is because from that moment it was in the national symbols, with the emblem of King Carlos VII. This color does not have a specific meaning.

Maple Leaf

The maple leaf, on the other hand, has identified Canada since at least the moment of its independence. The number of points does not have a specific meaning, since it was chosen based on the best visual that the flag had with the wind.

The meaning of this symbol began to acquire after it was adopted. It has been used since the 18th century, and was present on the coats of arms of Ontario and Quebec.

It was later added to coins. Especially, the symbol gained meaning of bravery when the Canadian military used it as a badge, both in World War I and World War II.

In addition, because it is precisely a maple leaf, this symbol is an ambassador of Canadian nature. This tree is extremely common in the country and its wood has been highly appreciated by its inhabitants.

In fact, maple syrup is one of Canada’s flagship products, contributing heavily to the country’s economy.

other flags

The second most important flag of Canada is still the Union Jack. The British flag enjoys the status of royal flag in the North American country. For this reason, it is raised on days and events related to the English monarchy.

Some of these days are that of the Commonwealth of Nations, which is celebrated on the second Monday of March; the queen’s feast day and December 11, which commemorates the signing of the Westminster Charter.

In all these cases, the Union Jack must be accompanied by the Canadian national flag. The latter always occupies the position of honor.

Another official flag in Canada is the one that identifies its Armed Forces. This flag shows the flag of Canada in the upper left corner, leaving the rest of the insignia blank.

On that part is the shield of the Armed Forces, which stands out against the white.

Canadian duality flag

Similarly, there are also unofficial Canadian flags but they have represented the plurality and diversity of the country. One of the most prominent is the flag of Canadian duality.

This pavilion arose in the referendum campaign for the independence of Quebec in 1996, to show that Canada could indeed accept this community.

The composition of this pavilion adds two blue stripes after the white stripes. This would be on behalf of the French-speaking community, and more specifically, the province of Quebec. Blue is the predominant color in the Quebec flag.


Fraser, A.B. (1991). A Canadian flag for Canada. Journal of Canadian Studies, 25(4), 64-80. Retrieved from utpjournals.press.
Government of Canada (nd). History of the National Flag of Canada. Government of Canada/Government du…

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