Historian designed Canada's flag
Simple red-and-white design was chosen from thousands submitted in 1965 under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson


The Globe and Mail, Toronto
Wednesday, October 2, 2002  Print Edition, Page R11

The man whose design made the Canadian flag into one of the world's instantly recognizable national ensigns has died in Sackville, N.B. Historian, educator, author and former provincial lieutenant-governor, George Stanley was 95.

Born in Calgary in 1907, Dr. Stanley was the only child of John and Della (Lillywhite) Stanley. After receiving his early education in Calgary, he completed a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Alberta. In 1929, he attended Oxford University as the Alberta Rhodes Scholar. While he was there, he indulged his love of hockey by playing for the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club, which won the Spengler Cup in 1931.

Dr. Stanley returned to Canada in 1936 to head the history department at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. Not long after, however, he joined the army, first as a lieutenant with the New Brunswick Rangers and then as an infantry training officer in Fredericton before going overseas to be a historian at the Canadian army headquarters in London. He became deputy director of the historical section and was discharged as a lieutenant-colonel in 1947 in Vancouver. He came out of military retirement the following year to help fight floods in the Fraser Valley and was on the Reserve of Officers until 1967.

From 1947 to 1949, Dr. Stanley held the first chair in Canadian history at the University of British Columbia. Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, he went to Ottawa in 1949 to research the history of Canadian government policy dealing with native people.

"His father was a purser on a silk ship that sailed from Vancouver to Shanghai, so he grew up appreciating other cultures," said his daughter Della Stanley, who is the co-ordinator of the Canadian Studies Program at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. "He became fluently bilingual in French while he was at Oxford. He taught my sisters and me about local history but he always gave us a broader picture, too."

In 1949, Dr. Stanley became the head of the history department at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont., a post he held for 20 years. From 1962 to 1969, he was RMC's first Dean of Arts. While there, he taught the first undergraduate course in military history ever given in Canada. Over the years, many of his students went on to become senior officers in Canada's defence forces, including several chiefs of staff.

One of Dr. Stanley's RMC students was Desmond Morton, who attended the college in the 1950s and is now a Canadian military historian and author and the founding director of Montreal's McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

"George's books and their non-conventional wisdom are a great contribution to this country," Prof. Morton said. "When you do the unexpected, you make a difference, and George always argued differently -- especially for the rights of French Canada, which wasn't a popular thing to do at the time."

One of Dr. Stanley's most memorable and lasting achievements was his involvement in the design of the Canadian flag. In 1964, John Matheson, the parliamentary secretary for Prime Minister Lester Pearson, was in charge of the flag committee. Mr. Matheson sought out Dr. Stanley's opinion on a unique design for the flag, which the prime minister had promised Canadians by the end of 1965.

"Dad wanted it to be something simple that a schoolchild could remember and draw easily," said Ms. Stanley. "He also thought it should have a national symbol and incorporate Canada's official colours."

At the bottom of a memo that he sent to Mr. Matheson, he drew a rough sketch of the design he had in mind, which he based on the RMC flag. After receiving thousands of design submissions from the Canadian public, Mr. Matheson presented Dr. Stanley's sketch to the committee, which unanimously approved it. On Feb. 15, 1965, the first official Canadian flag was raised in Ottawa.

"What many people don't realize is that there was a lot of political tension tied up with cultural differences in Canada," Ms. Stanley said. "[He] received death threats because some people were angry that his design had political meaning."

For his part, Dr. Stanley believed the flag symbolized both French and English Canada, she said. "He had a very strong sense of duty to his country."

After his tenure at RMC, Dr. Stanley returned to Mount Allison University in 1969 to set up the first undergraduate program in Canadian Studies at a Canadian university. He taught trail-blazing courses in Canadian civilization that dealt with literature, music, architecture and culture.

"He was very demanding of his students and a stickler for French, which was a component of the course," said David Beatty, a retired Mount Allison University history professor and a former colleague. "But he always had an open door and was available to the students. He had a tremendous passion and feeling for history that is impossible to describe."

In 1982, Dr. Stanley became the 25th Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick since Confederation; he held that post for five years.

He was also one of the founders of the University of Moncton, and the author and editor of 18 books and numerous articles and book reviews. During his lifetime, Dr. Stanley received countless honours in recognition of his academic and public-service contributions, including a Companion of the Order of Canada, a Canadian Forces long-service medal and 12 honorary degrees.

Dr. Stanley leaves his wife of 56 years, Ruth; and daughters Della, Marietta and Laurie.

George Francis Gillman Stanley, historian, author and designer; born in Calgary on July 6, 1907; died in Sackville, N.B., on Sept. 13, 2002.

Copyright 2002 Jane Doucet. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.