Monday, December 15, 2014

December 15th 1964 - A Flag is Born - A History Lesson...

It all began before Canada in 1834 when the Societe Saint – Jean- Baptiste proposed the “ single maple leaf” as an emblem of the new world.
In 1860 the “single maple leaf” was worn on the lapel of people to identify themselves as truly Canadian along the parade route of the Prince of Wales in Toronto - Austin Chadwick had a hand in those celebratory designs.
It was suggested in 1896 by a prominent lawyer Edward M. Chadwick (Austin's nephew) that Canada have its own national flag with a “single maple leaf”.
 In 1919, the Government of Canada solicited the expert opinion of Sir Eugene Fiset on the design of a National Flag for Canada. He suggested the “single red maple leaf” to match the image worn by Canadian Olympic teams since 1904. The Government did not act on this suggestion.
In 1925 the Government of Canada called on Canadians to send suggestions for the design of a National Flag. The “maple leaf” was the most common suggestion. The Government did not act on these suggestions.
In 1946 the issue of a National Flag for Canada came to the Government for discussion. The Government called on all Canadians to submit their suggested designs for the flag. Over 2,100 had the “maple leaf” as part of their design. The Government of Canada did not act on these suggestions.
In 1958 the Government of Canada surveyed hundreds of thousands of Canadians and asked if they wanted a National Flag of Canada. A full 80% answered yes to the survey and 60% said they would prefer a “maple leaf” design.
In 1960, the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada Lester B. Pearson made it party policy to have a National Flag of Canada. He promised to bring the Flag to fruition if elected to Government.

Here is where it gets interesting... In May 1961 Brockville resident John Ross Matheson was elected as the Liberal Member of Parliament for Leeds County. In July 1961 Mr. Matheson met with Mr. Pearson on Parliament Hill. At this meeting Mr. Pearson explained to Mr. Matheson his dream and commitment to bring a Canadian National Flag to fruition if and when they formed a Government. He requested his newly elected “flag expert” to begin the research on how to bring a national flag to fruition.
John Ross Matheson accepted this challenge with his promise to work diligently behind the scenes researching and enlisting the advice of experts in the fields of history, heraldry, colours, art,  ensigns and design to bring all of this information  back to Mr. Pearson.
In 1963 the Liberal Party of Canada formed the Government, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson informed Canadians his Government would produce a National Flag of Canada within 2 years. Mr. Matheson continued to work diligently gathering expert opinions from highly regarding experts :
Sir Eugene Fiset, Fortesque Dugid, Sir Anthony Wagner, Alan Beddoe, George Stanley, Sir Conrad Swan and others. It was George Stanley who suggested the single red maple leaf on a white background with 2 red borders (based on the RMC flag). In May of 1964 Prime Minister Pearson was handed a design by Alan Beddoe which was 3 co-joined maple leafs on a white background with 2 blue borders (Pearson’s Pennant). Pearson publicly presented this design as his choice as the new Canadian Flag.
On June 15th 1964 the “Great Flag Debate” began in earnest in Parliament with both sides showing no signs of backing down from their  stance. Leader of the Opposition John Diefenbaker was determined to keep the Canadian Red Ensign.
On September 10th 1964 Prime Minister Pearson announced that a Parliamentary Flag Committee would be formed and made up of all parties (14 members and a chairperson), this committee would make the final decision on the Flag design and bring their recommendation back to Parliament to be voted on. There were 7 Liberals, 5 PC, 2 Social Credit and one NDP on this committee.
The Flag committee called on all Canadians again to submit their suggestions for a National Flag Design. More than 5,900 flag design submissions were reviewed by the committee with over 2,600 including a “Maple Leaf Design’.
Finally after 41 meetings in 6 weeks, the flag committee voted on 3 finalists. These finalists were based mostly on the maneuvering of John Ross Matheson to ensure the input from all of the experts was taken into account in the final selection. Mr. Matheson had quietly slipped the “single red maple leaf” design he had sketched in his Brockville study onto the selection wall as a "Flag Committee suggestion". John had quietly created alliances within the committee to ensure the “perfect” design would be unanimously ( 14-0) chosen. The five PC members had all believed that the Liberals would vote for their Leader's Choice of the "Pearson Pendant". The only mathematical way to beat seven Liberal "pendant" votes was for the PC members to reach agreement with the other three members to achieve a tally of eight and thus trump the Liberal majority. John had no intention of promoting a flag that broke so many rules of heraldry and history - blue wasn't even an official colour of Canada.
This design recommendation was sent to Parliament and the debate continued as a full blown filibuster. I imagine that the talk was full of sound and fury but not much substance. Meanwhile during the ongoing tumult John Matheson took the time to bring in the team of experts he had assembled to refine the design.

  • Patrick Reid and Ken Donovan from the Department of Expositions to coordinate, 
  • Jacques Saint Cyr to finalize the stylized maple leaf to 11 points versus 13, 
  • George Bist finalized the exact proportions 2:1 length x width, 2:1 white centre pale to be 2 times the size of the red borders so the maple leaf could be sized just right, 
  • Dr. Gunter Wyszcki to ensure the colours were a perfect match to the official colours presented to Canada by King George V in 1921, and 
  • Joan O. Malley to sew the prototypes. 

John Matheson also had discussion with members of the opposition parties to build quiet support for the final design. In particular he spoke with Conservative Member of Parliament Leon Balcer and Creditist Member Real Caoutte asking for support of the committee’s recommendation. On December 9th 1964 these two Parliamentarians presented a motion requesting the Government enact  closure of the Flag debate. Prime Minister Pearson used the act of closure to bring forth a vote on the Flag issue. It took another six days. John was waiting for the right moment when he felt that the flag would pass. He had arranged to signal Lucien Lamourex, the alternate Speaker of the House when the time was ripe. I recall John said it was a "touch to his temple" but I can't be certain of that. A subtle signal was passed to the supportive Lucien Lamourex and on December 15th at 2:13 AM the vote was concluded 163-78 in favour . The Canadian Maple Leaf flag and one of the most recognized emblems around the world, was born.

It was not until January 28th 1965 that Queen Elizabeth signed the official Flag Proclamation and the first Canadian Maple Leaf flag was flown on Parliament hill on February 15th 1965 our official “National Flag Day”.

Try Googling "most responsible for the Canadian Flag" or something similar ... John was the first person to share the success and rather shy in accepting the honour. This is the way Pearson introduced John Matheson when John came into the celebrations after the historic event. Without John's quiet and patient negotiations and team building, 1964 would have been another example of "the Government not acting on these suggestions".

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