The Maple Leaf, Canada’s National Flag, also called l’Unifolié, which means “the one-leafed” in French, is a red flag featuring a white center square, in the middle of which is an 11-pointed, stylized, red maple leaf. It is used as the country’s national flag, as specified by Canadian law.
In 1964, then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson resolved some conflict concerning which flag to use by forming a committee to reach a decision. George Stanley’s Maple Leaf design was selected out of three possible choices, and it officially appeared for the first time in 1965, on February 15th, which is still annually celebrated as Flag Day in Canada. The flag was based on Canada’s Royal Military College flag.
The first Canadian flag known to have officially flown in the country made its first appearance in 1497, and was called the Saint George’s Cross flag. It was first carried by John Cabot upon his arrival in Newfoundland that year. Since then, there have been a multitude of flags flown to symbolize Canada and its culture, such as the Canadian Red Ensign flag that was unofficially used from 1890 to 1945. Another official flag in Canada is the Royal Union Flag, featuring the union flag in the canton and the Canadian coat of arms on a background of red. Although it is never flown in place of the Maple Leaf, it is given primacy over most other flags that were flown from the 15th century until 1965.
Various flags have been designed for use by Canadian military forces, government bodies and officials, many of which contain the Maple Leaf motif in some way. However, the only one ever signed into law as the official flag of the country was George Stanley’s Maple Leaf.
The flag is designed in asymmetric, horizontal fashion, and therefore the reverse and obverse sides have an identical appearance. However, its width measures twice its height. The white square on which the Maple leaf is placed is called the Canadian pale, and each bordering red area is exactly half of the size of the white, center square.
Since the 18th century, the maple leaf has been used as a Canadian emblem and appeared on both the Québec and the Ontario coat of arms in 1868. This was the first time it was used in this manner and in 1921, it was added to the Canadian coat of arms. “The Maple Leaf Forever,” a patriotic song composed by Alexander Muir, became the unofficial Canadian anthem for English-speaking residents of the country. From 1876 until 1901, all Canadian coins featured a maple leaf, which remained on the penny after different designs began being used on all other coins in 1901. The Royal Canadian Regiment’s use of the Maple Leaf as a symbol dates as far back as the mid-1800s. Additionally, badges of the Canadian Forces were frequently based on Maple leaf designs during the Great War and World War II. Eventually, the design would adorn the gravestones of members of the Canadian military who died during either war.
Although many theories have been created concerning the 11 points featured by the famous leaf, there is actually no significance to this number. It was merely the fact that this arrangement and number of points were considered by experts as the least likely of all leaf designs to blur when seen from a distance or during high winds when the flag is moving. In 1984, manufacturing standards for the flag were unified under the National Canada Flag of Manufacturing Standards Act.
In 1965, the Maple Leaf flag was officially adopted, and this terminated what was essentially an almost hundred year-long debate on the design of Canada’s flag. Until that time, the aforementioned Royal Union Flag was used, and its claim unchallenged. Until then, the Canadian merchant Marine continued to fly the Red Ensign, which was also uncontested.
However, the flag of Canada is now officially the Maple Leaf and its status has not been challenged since 1965. On February 15th,1965, the flag was raised for the first time on the flag staff of the Peace Tower in Ottawa.
As in many other countries, Canada also recognizes the “dress flag,” featuring the official Maple Leaf design. A dress flag is essentially a flag adorned with a gold fringe, but the flag’s size is in no way altered. Throughout Canadian history, a fringed flag has held no particular symbolism, but is often used in formal settings or in military parades. This decorative embellishment is optional, and therefore added on a discretionary basis, but writing on the flag, pinning anything to the fabric, or otherwise defacing it is strictly prohibited. Considering the long debate and lengthy discussions preceding the official recognition of the Maple Leaf design, it is likely that this beautiful and colorful flag will permanently remain Canada’s national flag for many future years.