Flag Day: the Maple Leaf turns 52

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February 15, 2017 9:15amET

National Flag of Canada Day was introduced in 1996 to celebrate the red, the white, and the maple leaf every February 15th.

Red and white had long been Canada’s official colours, and Canadian troops proudly wore the maple leaf on their uniform during the First World War. But the Red Ensign remained Canada’s de facto flag, and the Union Jack was our official banner.

Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal government decided to press forward with a distinctly Canadian flag. An emotional, contentious debate in 1964 led to an all-party committee in Parliament that produced the final choice.

The new flag was officially raised on Feb. 15, 1965.

WATCH: On the Bright Side looks at the Canadian flag


  • The Privy Council searched for a new flag during the 1920s, but the project was abandoned. Another attempt in 1946 failed, despite more than 2,600 submissions.
  • Pearson promised a new flag as part of his 1963 campaign platform. The Liberals won a minority government, and an emotional debate followed. Many English Canadians and veterans’ groups were loyal to the Red Ensign, led by former prime minister John Diefenbaker.
  • A flag committee was established to sort out the new design, with seven Liberals, five Progressive Conservatives, and one each from the NDP, Social Credit, and Ralliement Créditiste. They met on Parliament Hill for six weeks and sorted through thousands of designs. Sample flags covered the walls and hung from the ceiling.
  • After several ballots of voting in October, one design reigned supreme: a red maple leaf with two red bars.
  • A full vote in the House of Commons was held on Dec. 15, 1964 after the government invoked closure. The tally was 163-78.

-Andrew Thomson

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