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Flag of Canada: Alternate Designs
A national flag is a simple, effective way of identifying a country and expressing its collective will and sovereignty. Its symbolism should be expansive, representing perspectives from across the country. But it should also be singular, offering a picture of unity. For almost a century, Canada did not fly a flag of its own. There were instead the Union Jack and the Canadian Red Ensign. They took turns flying above Parliament. But neither was distinctly Canadian, nor permanent. The issue of a new flag was raised in Parliament in 1925 and again in 1945. It was dropped both times due to a lack of consent. Some clung to tradition, and none could agree on a unifying symbol. When Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson re-opened the debate in 1964, he offered Canadians the chance to “say proudly to the world and to the future: ‘I stand for Canada.’” A joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons was assembled to decide on a suitable design. After months of vigorous debate, the final design was unfurled at Parliament Hill on 15 February 1965. The design process was open to the public. Thousands of suggestions were submitted. This article looks at 12 of those designs. It includes explanations for the symbols found in each. The designs express a vision for Canada, still young and still finding its mode of self-expression.
Editorial: The Canadian Flag, Distinctively Our Own
On 15 February 1965, at hundreds of ceremonies across the country and around the world, the red and white Maple Leaf Flag was raised for the first time. In Ottawa, 10,000 people gathered on a chilly, snow-covered Parliament Hill. At precisely noon, the guns on nearby Nepean Point sounded as the sun broke through the clouds. An RCMP constable, 26-year-old Joseph Secours, hoisted the National Flag of Canada to the top of a specially-erected white staff. A sudden breeze snapped it to attention.
Editorial: The Stanley Flag and the “Distinctive Canadian Symbol”
Prime Minister Lester Pearson and John Matheson, one of his Liberal Members of Parliament, are widely considered the fathers of the Canadian flag. Their names were front and centre in 2015 during the tributes and celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the flag’s creation. But the role played by George Stanley is often lost in the story of how this iconic symbol came to be.
Murdoch Mysteries is a TV series about William Murdoch, a fictional Victorian-era detective who is ahead of his time and uses forensic science and technology to solve Toronto’s most complex crimes. Often referred to as a Victorian-era CSI, the long-running police procedural features a mix of humour, intrigue, science fiction, history and period production values. Based on Maureen Jennings’s successful series of mystery novels, the show attracted a cult following after premiering on City TV in 2008. It garnered a much larger audience after being picked up by the CBC in 2013. It was Canada’s highest-rated scripted television series in 2016, 2017 and 2018, and won the Golden Screen Award in 2017, 2018 and 2020. It is seen by millions of viewers in more than 100 countries.
Indian Agents in Canada
Indian agents were the Canadian government’s representatives on First Nations reserves from the 1830s to the 1960s. Often working in isolated locations far from settler communities, Indian agents implemented government policy, enforced and administered the provisions of the Indian Act, and managed the day-to-day affairs of Status Indians. Today, the position of Indian agent no longer exists, as First Nations manage their own affairs through modern band councils or self-government.
Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada
Indigenous treaties in Canada are constitutionally recognized agreements between the Crown and Indigenous peoples. Most of these agreements describe exchanges where Indigenous nations agree to share some of their interests in their ancestral lands in return for various payments and promises. On a deeper level, treaties are sometimes understood, particularly by Indigenous people, as sacred covenants between nations that establish a relationship between those for whom Canada is an ancient homeland and those whose family roots lie in other countries. Treaties therefore form the constitutional and moral basis of alliance between Indigenous peoples and Canada.
(This is the full-length entry about Treaties with Indigenous Peoples In Canada. For a plain language summary, please see Treaties with Indigenous Peoples in Canada (Plain Language Summary).
National Flag of Canada
The National Flag of Canada, also known as the Canadian Flag or the Maple Leaf Flag (l’Unifolié in French), consists of a red field with a white square at its centre in which sits a stylized, 11-pointed red maple leaf. A joint committee of the Senate and House of Commons voted for the present flag in 1964 against formidable odds. After months of debate, the final design, adopted by Parliament and approved by royal proclamation, became Canada’s official national flag on 15 February 1965.
The Conquest of New France
The Conquest (La Conquête) is a term used to describe the acquisition of Canada by Great Britain during the Seven Years’ War. It also refers to the resulting conditions experienced by Canada’s 60,000 to 70,000 French-speaking inhabitants and numerous Indigenous groups. French forces at Quebec City surrendered to British forces on 18 September 1759, a few days after the crucial Battle of the Plains of Abraham. French resistance ended in 1760 with the capitulation of Montreal. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris surrendered New France to Britain. The Royal Proclamation of 1763 introduced assimilative policies that ultimately failed. They were replaced by the provisions of the Quebec Act of 1774. Although it helped spark the American Revolutionary War (1775–83), the Act also granted Canadians enviable conditions that resulted in generations of relative stability.
The Indian Act is the principal statute through which the federal government administers Indian status, local First Nations governments and the management of reserve land and communal monies. It was first introduced in 1876 as a consolidation of previous colonial ordinances that aimed to eradicate First Nations culture in favour of assimilation into Euro-Canadian society. The Act has been amended several times, most significantly in 1951 and 1985, with changes mainly focusing on the removal of particularly discriminatory sections. The Indian Act pertains only to First Nations peoples, not to the Métis or Inuit. It is an evolving, paradoxical document that has enabled trauma, human rights violations and social and cultural disruption for generations of First Nations peoples. The Act also outlines governmental obligations to First Nations peoples, and determines “status” — a legal recognition of a person’s First Nations heritage, which affords certain rights such as the right to live on reserve land.
This is the full-length entry about the Indian Act. For a plain language summary, please see Indian Act (Plain Language Summary).
Lac-Mégantic Rail Disaster
In the early morning of 6 July 2013, a runaway train hauling 72 tankers filled with crude oil derailed as it approached the centre of the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The tanker cars exploded and the oil caught fire, killing 47 people and destroying many buildings and other infrastructure in the town centre. The fourth deadliest railway disaster in Canadian history, the derailment led to changes in rail transport safety rules as well as legal action against the company and employees involved in the incident. Years after the derailment, re-building was still ongoing and many of the town’s residents continued to suffer from post-traumatic stress.
The 1922 Chanak Affair was Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King's first major foreign policy test.
The “Sixties Scoop” refers to the large-scale removal or “scooping” of Indigenous children from their homes, communities and families of birth through the 1960s, and their subsequent adoption into predominantly non-Indigenous, middle-class families across the United States and Canada. This experience left many adoptees with a lost sense of cultural identity. The physical and emotional separation from their birth families continues to affect adult adoptees and Indigenous communities to this day.
Treaty 7 is the last of the Numbered Treaties made between the Government of Canada and the Plains First Nations (see Indigenous Peoples: Plains). It was signed on 22 September 1877 by five First Nations: the Siksika (Blackfoot), Kainai (Blood), Piikani (Peigan), Stoney-Nakoda, and Tsuut’ina (Sarcee). Different understandings of the treaty’s purpose, combined with significant culture and language barriers and what some have argued were deliberate attempts to mislead the First Nations on the part of the government negotiators, have led to ongoing conflicts and claims.
Indigenous Political Organization and Activism in Canada
Political activism among Indigenous people in Canada since the late 19th century has largely reflected attempts to organize political associations beyond the band level to pursue common interests.
The Great Flag Debate
The long and often bitter debate over the new Canadian flag began in the House of Commons on 15 June 1964. It ended by closure on 15 December 1964. Feelings ran high among many English Canadians. Opposition leader John Diefenbaker demanded that the flag honour Canada’s “founding races” and feature the Union Jack. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson insisted on a design that conveyed allegiance to Canada while avoiding colonial association. A prolonged, heated debate ensued. Historian Rick Archbold described it as “among the ugliest in the House of Commons history.” The new flag, designed by George Stanley with final touches by graphic artist Jacques Saint-Cyr, was approved on 15 December 1964 by a vote of 163 to 78. The royal proclamation was signed by Queen Elizabeth II on 28 January 1965. The national flag was officially unfurled on 15 February 1965.
Comprehensive Land Claims: Modern Treaties
Comprehensive land claims are modern-day treaties made between Indigenous peoples and the federal government. They are based on the traditional use and occupancy of land by Indigenous peoples who did not sign treaties and were not displaced from their lands by war or other means. These claims, which are settled by negotiation, follow a process established by the federal government to enable First Nations, Inuit and Métis to obtain full recognition as the original inhabitants of what is now Canada. Settlement of these claims comprises a variety of terms including money, land, forms of local government, rights to wildlife, rights protecting language and culture, and joint management of lands and resources. Treaties are constitutionally protected, mutually binding agreements. Those signed by Indigenous peoples between 1701 and 1923 are commonly referred to as historic treaties, and modern treaties refer to those agreements negotiated since then.
Indian Act (Plain-Language Summary)
The Indian Act was created in 1876. The main goal of the Act was to force the First Nations peoples to lose their culture and become like Euro-Canadians. The Indian Act has been changed many times. It does not affect either the Métis or Inuit.