Col. the Hon. George F.G. Stanley
C.C., C.D., K.St.J., D.Phil., F.R.S.C., F.R.Hist.S., &c.

The Story of Canada's Flag

Chapter 10: THE FLAGS OF CANADA, 1945-1963

1945 saw the end of the second world war in which Canadian troops had participated within a generation. If it is to be said that Canadians fought under any flags during those two wars, then certainly the first was fought under the Union Jack, and the second under the "Battle Flag" and under the Canadian red ensign. Once more, as they had after 1918, the Canadian people felt a great sense of pride in their war contribution, and national pride led them to think more frequently and more deeply of their own identity as Canadians. Canada's independence was no longer a matter of doubt as it had been after 1918; Canada's position as a middle power in the world was recognized. But still there was no flag. Or if there was a flag, which one was it?

It was because he realized the strength of Canadian national feeling, of the sense of worthy achievement, of the desire to continue to play a part in world affairs, that Mackenzie King announced during the election of 1945 that, if elected, he would recommend to parliament the adoption of a distinctive national flag. He had, in fact, arrived at this conclusion in 1944, and during his visit to General Crerar he had talked over the flag question with the Canadian Army commander. Once returned to power King took the initial step in this direction in September, 1945, by removing the Union Flag from the tower of the Houses of Parliament and restoring the red ensign. This change was made by Order-in- Council dated September 5.

The Order did not, however, presume to establish the status of the Canadian red ensign as the official national flag. It merely stated that: "until such time as action is taken by parliament for the formal adoption of a national flag, it is desirable to authorize the flying of the Canadian red ensign on federal buildings within as well as without Canada, and to remove any doubt as to the propriety of flying the Canadian Red Ensign wherever place or occasion may make it desirable to fly a distinctive Canadian flag." The ensign raised above the Parliament buildings in September, 1945, was not the red ensign which had occupied the same position between 1867 and 1904. The ensign of the later period was the flag bearing the official Coat of Arms of 197.1 and not that carrying the provincial Coats of Arms of 1867.

The wording of the Privy Council order made it clear that it was the government's intention to look into the question of a truly distinctive national flag at some future date; and it was, therefore, no cause for surprise when, two months later, on November 8, the Hon. 1. L. Ilsley, then acting Prime Minister, introduced a motion that:

In the opinion of this House, it is expedient that Canada possess a distinctive national flag and that a joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons be appointed to consider and report upon a suitable design for such a flag.

Ilsley himself had little to say on this motion. The main speech from the government benches came from the Minister of Veterans' Affairs, the Hon. Ian Mackenzie of Vancouver. On this occasion he made one of the best speeches of his entire political career. He denied that the flag proposal was inspired in any way by a sense of "narrow nationalism"; all that the government was seeking to do was "to give to the spirit of Canada, to the enthusiasm of our people and to the sacrifice of our men in two terrible wars" the kind of symbolism that every nation in the world had devised for its people, "the symbolism of a national flag." Even Mackenzie's opponent, Major-General Pearkes, who held C. H. Dickie's old seat of Nanaimo, complimented the Minister on his eloquence and on the non-partisan nature of his remarks.

Meanwhile the old guard of Canada's imperialists mustered their strength to resist this new attack upon the British Jack. T. L. Church, J. R. MacNicol of Toronto, and T. A. Kidd, the Orangeman from Kingston, led the charge. To them a motion of this nature was an attack upon the Union Flag; it was a "sacrilege." That this appeal was frankly a racial appeal did not occur to them. None could question the sincerity of their arguments; but it was clear that although Canada had gone forward since 1921, they had not. At the other extreme were those like M. J. Coldwell and Franqois Pouliot, who were anxious to have a flag representative only of Canada. Midway were those, like the Hon. John Bracken, the Conservative leader, and John Diefenbaker of Lake Centre, who felt that the red ensign met all the requirements of a national flag while still preserving the Union Jack in the place of honour.

In the middle position was the Prime Minister himself who had told the Canadian Legion that, so far as he was concerned, the new Canadian flag should contain the Union Jack; it might, however, be preferable to use a single maple leaf in place of the Coat of Arms then used on the red ensign. When the debate ended on November 14, only two members voted against Ilsley's motion. When the members were polled, Tommy Church cried, "You won't pull down the Flag on my vote."

In spite of the approval accorded the motion, it was not until the following March that action was taken. On the 26th the Prime Minister introduced the motion a second time. The unanimous acceptance of this motion was followed by the appointment of the following committee: L. R. Beaudouin (Vaudreuil); J. A. Blanchette (Compton); G. H. Castleden (Yorkton); H. R. Emmerson (Westmorland); M. Gingues (Sherbrooke); R. W. Gladstone (Wellington South); J. T. Hackett (Stanstead); E. G. Hansell (Macleod); W. E. Harris (Grey-Bruce); H. W. Herridge (Kootenay West); W. LaCroix (Quebec-Montmorency); J. Lafontaine (MeganticFrontenac); J. M. Macdonnell (Muskoka); J. R. MacNicol (Davenport); P. Martin (Essex); J. E. Matthews (Brandon); H. B. McCulloch (Pictou); D. McIvor (Fort William); T. Reid (New Westminster); A. L. Smith (Calgary West); F. T. Stanfield (Colchester); G. Stirling (Yale); R. Thatcher (Moose jaw); R. M. Warren (Renfrew North); F. S. Zaplitny (Dauphin) representing the House of Commons. The Senate members including A. David (Quebec); W. R. Davies (Ontario); F. W. Gershaw (Alberta); L. M. Gouin (Quebec); J. P. Howden (Manitoba); J. F. Johnston (Saskatchewan); N. P. Lambert (Ontario); A. J. Leger (New Brunswick); A. D. McRae (British Columbia); F. P. Quinn (Nova Scotia); B. Robinson (Prince Edward Island); and G. V. White (Ontario).

The joint committee held a series of meetings during the next few months. Hundreds of designs were tabled. Meanwhile the press, generally speaking, was writing in terms favouring a Flag that would be distinctively Canadian. It was felt in many quarters that the time had come when a Canadian, in his own land, should possess what Bona Arsenault described in the House of Commons as "a distinctive sign by which he could easily, promptly and fully identify himself at first sight as being a Canadian." On October 27 the editor of the Toronto weekly, Saturday Night, wrote:

Surely the opponents of the official recognition of a Canadian flag must see, if they will look at the matter with their brains and not with their feelings, that it is fundamentally absurd for nation A, which is so distinct from nation B, that it can be at peace when nation B is at war, and at war when B is at peace*, to insist that its flag and the flag of B are and must ever remain identical.

*Great Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939; Canada declared war on September 10. Canada declared war on Japan on December 7; Great Britain declared war on December 8.

A national flag is a symbol of sovereignty. The sovereignty of Canada is vested in the Canadian people, as the sovereignty of the United Kingdom is vested in the people of that kingdom. They are not the same sovereignty. They do not need the same flag.

From time to time, while the committee was examining the many designs in the Railway Committee rooms, members of the House of Commons voiced their personal opinions on the flag question. On March 21, the Independent, Bona Arsenault and the Conservative, Georges 1-16on, urged that the design of the new flag should be truly Canadian, embodying the maple leaf as the emblem of Canada, and free from any British or French "colonial" symbolism. Arsenault, however, suggested the retention of the Union flag in addition to any new Canadian flag, as indicative of Canada's partnership in the British Commonwealth.

It was in midsummer that the flag committee concluded its sittings. 2,695 designs had been examined and discarded, 42,168 letters had been received and acknowledged. Certain general facts emerged. After studying 2,409 designs Mr. MacNicol found 1,611 or 67 per cent showed a maple leaf; 383 a Union Jack, or 12 per cent; 231 had stars; 184 fleurs-de-lis; 116 a beaver; 49 a crown; 22 a cross; and 14 a great bear. Out of this great

mass of suggestions, the Committee narrowed its choice to two, a design very similar to the red ensign and a design submitted by the Ligue du DFapeau National. This latter was a red and white flag divided diagonally and with a green maple leaf in the centre. However, during the sittings of the committee the suspicion had grown that the members were only going through the motions of selecting a flag for Canada; that, in actual fact, it was Mackenzie King's intention that the new Canadian flag would be the modified red ensign. There seemed to be some justification for this suspicion when the committee suspended its sittings during the Prime Minister's absence rather than commit itself to a recommendation of its own. Finally, on July 10, 1946, the red and white diagonal flag was eliminated and the committee by a majority vote, adopted a red ensign bearing a Union Jack on the canton and a golden maple leaf outlined in white on the fly instead of the Canadian Coat of Arms, "the whole design to be so proportioned that the size and position of the maple leaf in relation to the Union Jack on the canton will identify it as a symbol distinctive of Canada as a nation." Thus, after fourteen public sittings and several months spent considering the hundreds of interesting (and sometimes ridiculous) designs, the committee had come up with the flag that Mackenzie King had told the Canadian Legion the year before was his own personal choice. Probably, Pierre Vigeant was not far wrong when he wrote in Le Devoir in May, two months before the final selection was announced, that the whole thing had been "cooked" and that the government had already decided to make the red ensign the official Flag of Canada.

The committee's recommendation was, however, never formally adopted by Canada's representatives in parliament. When Ross Thatcher of Moose law asked why, the Prime Minister merely replied that "Pressure on our time" had necessitated a postponement of the Flag debate. In all probability the government felt that, in spite of the Prime Minister's predilections towards the new Flag, it would not be generally acceptable to either French or English Canadians. Perhaps a few years spent in doing nothing until public opinion became more pronounced would be the safest, and politically the best policy to follow. The modified red ensign thus remained only a proposal. It never became a reality. And the red marine ensign continued to float from the Peace Tower at Ottawa-a temporary expedient that seemed to bid fair to become permanent.

If the flag committee did not achieve anything positive in the way of obtaining a national Flag for Canadians, it did at least maintain public interest in the Flag question. Every year some member of the House of Commons, speaking on the debate from the throne, would express his hope that the government would adopt a national flag at an early date as a symbol of Canada's sovereignty; or, if he were a member of the opposition parties, would deplore the absence of a Flag which might arouse a true spirit of unity among the people of the country. In 1950, M. f. Coldwell, the leader of the C.C.F. remarked:

I agree with the Hon. members who suggested the other day that we should have a distinctive Flag. I think we should try to get our people to understand what symbolism is in a distinctive flag, and perhaps in a distinctive national song. The country may not be ripe for these things, but at least as our people understand our Canadianism and our institutions, they will become ripe for them ...

A year later, in May, 1951, 1.6on Balcer of Three Rivers said:

I regret that the present government, which likes to take all the credit with regard to Canada's status as a sovereign nation, has not yet seen fit to give our country a truly Canadian flag as a symbol of such sovereignty. Canadian soldiers are being asked once more to fight abroad and shed their blood under a flag which is not theirs.

The Korean war stimulated the demand for a national Flag for Canada. Once again proposals were put forward in the House of Commons that a committee should be appointed to review the whole question of a distinctive national flag. Frequently these proposals were advanced by French Canadians, like Bona Arsenault of Bonaventure and Wilfrid LaCroix of Quebec -Montmorency. This was a contrast with the pre-war days when the demand for a Canadian Flag had been voiced largely by Anglo-Canadian members of the House of Commons.

From 1950 to 1964 the Flag question was raised annually in the Canadian Parliament. During the speech from the throne Opposition members invariably referred to the failure of the government to produce a national Flag. When the Liberals were in power Conservatives were the critics; when the Conservatives attained office in 1957 Liberals voiced their complaints. From time to time private members attempted to introduce legislation to give effect to their desire for a truly Canadian Flag. Few speakers ever went as far as to suggest what the new flag should look like, although one at least, Maurice Boivin of Shefford, proposed a fourstriped Flag of red, white, yellow and blue. Several, however, expressed the hope that the national flag, when it should come, would contain neither

the Union Jack nor the fleur-de-lis or any other symbol of "colonialism."

Politicians were not the only people who talked about the flag. Organizations like the Native Sons and the Ligue du Drapeau National continued to agitate for a distinctive Canadian banner. Less aggressively propagandist in their advocacy of the flag were those like Norman Smith who wrote in the Ottawa journal:

By 1967 surely, we should have agreed on a Canadian flag: and to get this agreement not all of the stubborn people live in Quebec province. Is not a country one hundred years old expected to have a flag . . . ?

A year later the Institute of Public Opinion reported that, after taking a poll of some 1,110 adults of all ages and professions (that is four times the sampling of the ordinary Gallup poll), three people out of four favoured a distinctive national flag for Canada different from the flag of any other country. The junior Chamber of Commerce also revealed the fact that of its 2,400 members, 79 per cent wanted a Canadian flag containing no emblems of Britain or France. Figures such as these may well have led the Hon. Lester Pearson, the new Leader of the Opposition to believe he was taking no

political risks when he declared publicly that one of the things needed before Canada could claim complete nationhood was the adoption of "a distinctive Flag which could not be confused with any other national emblem and which would be immediately accepted by every Canadian."

The most significant development in Canadian opinion after the Second World War, as compared with that after the previous war, was the almost complete absence of support for the continuation of the Union Jack as the official Flag of Canada. When Canadians talked about a national Flag in the pre-war days they invariably thought in terms of an ensign bearing the Union Flag in the canton. During the 1930's La Presse of Montreal had suggested as a suitable Canadian flag a white ensign with the Union Jack and a green maple leaf. However, in the postwar period the contest was not between the ensign and the Union Jack but between the ensign and a flag omitting the Union Jack entirely. In practical terms the discussion between 1945 and 1964 resolved itself into a simple choice between the red ensign (or the modified red ensign advanced by the committee of 1946 with Mackenzie King's blessing) and the diagonal design of the Ligue du Drapeau National.

Early in 1961, the Conservative member of parliament for St. Boniface, Manitoba, Laurier Regnier, urged that the Flag question should be put squarely before the people of Canada. On January 23 he moved, in the House of Commons:

That, in the opinion of this house, the government should consider the advisability of introducing a measure to provide for a referendum concerning the adoption of a Canadian flag.

That the questions submitted in said referendum be as follows: Are you in favour of a flag consisting of (a) a green maple leaf on a red and white field; or (b) the red ensign?

There were some differences of opinion as to whether this was the proper course to follow, but, generally speaking, few of those who spoke on the motion failed to lend full support to the principle of a Canadian flag. J. H. Horner, one of the Alberta members, urged that any new design be kept as simple as possible:

We would not want anything bizarre or complicated which would detract from the flag and create confusion as to what it represents.

He also expressed a view that was being heard, more and more frequently in Canada, namely that the Union Flag should not form part of any new

Canadian Flag: "I think that any attempt to include the Union Jack or red ensign in the flag would merely degrade two well-known and honourable flags." Perhaps the most practical and down-toearth suggestion was that advanced by Arnold Peters of Temiskaming who concluded his brief contribution to the flag discussion:

Certainly we all have preferences in this field, but it does not appear that we are all united in wishing to have a Canadian flag ... it is up to the government of the day ... to take responsibility. When they have gumption enough to take action we will end up with a flag. It will not be one which will satisfy everyone in Canada, but that is undoubtedly too much to hope for. I hope this government will see fit to instigate proceedings which will result in a Canadian Flag rather than in a lot of talk about what we would like to have in such a flag.

However, the Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, shared Mackenzie King's partiality for the red ensign, and the Conservative government showed no real anxiety to deal seriously with the Flag question during its term of office between 1957 and 1963.

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