This year, Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary of confederation. Canadians from coast-to-coast will join friends, neighbours, and families to honour their great country in meaningful ways.
Throughout this historic year, Kingston will be showcasing its ongoing contributions to the nation. The red maple leaf of our flag serves as Canada’s most iconic national emblem and has been embraced by Canadians. Travellers stitch flag patches to their backpacks to proudly show the world they come from Canada.
But did you know that the Canadian flag was designed right here in Kingston?
Despite numerous attempts, Canada did not have an official national flag until 1965. While the Canadian Red Ensign was used by Parliament, Canadians often viewed Britain’s Union Jack or Quebec’s Fleurdelisé as their national flag.
As national tensions grew when the Quebec separatist movement gained momentum in the 1960s, it was clear that Canada needed a symbol to unite the nation. While most everyone agreed that Canada needed a flag, there was little agreement on what that flag should be – though many saw the necessity of a design which represented Canada as an independent nation, not as a colony.
To resolve “The Great Flag Debate,” Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson established a committee in 1964 to oversee the creation and design of Canada’s new flag. Of the 5,900 designs submitted to the committee, the preferred design – chosen for its simple beauty and national symbolism – originated here in Kingston.
Three Kingstonians played decisive roles in the flag’s creation:
– Professor Arthur Lower, a historian in the Department of History at Queen’s University, emphasized the importance for a new, distinctly Canadian emblem free of colonial ties to either Britain or France. He suggested the maple leaf as a top contender.
– John Matheson, a Canadian politician and Kingston resident, often referred to as “the father of the Canadian flag,” also played a pivotal role in the flag’s creation as a leading member of Pearson’s flag committee.
– But it was Professor George F. Stanley, the Dean of Arts at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston, who was instrumental in the final design of the flag. He advocated a simple design inspired by RMC’s own flag. It incorporated Canada’s national colours, red and white, with a stylized maple leaf to convey a unified Canadian identity. It became the national flag that Canadians know and love today.
The flag committee voted unanimously for Stanley’s concept and it was approved by the Senate on Dec.17, 1964 and by Queen Elizabeth II on Jan. 28, 1965. The new Canadian flag, Canada’s most important national symbol, was proudly raised on Parliament Hill on Feb.15, 1965, marking Canada’s break from its colonial past and its embrace of the future.
Kingston is at the heart of Canada’s story – shaping our past and building our future.
Explore more Kingston Moments at CityofKingston.ca/Kingston150.