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Flag Facts & Fictions

True or false, everybody has a story about the Maple Leaf. Some of the more interesting follow.
1. A flag at “half-mast” is actually raised two-thirds of the way up the flagpole.
Why? It looks better.
2. So far I've discovered three songs written to celebrate our flag:
  • “Flag of Canada,” words and music by Freddy Grant (1965)
  • “You’ve Got a Flag—Wave It!” words and music by Stan Daniels (1965), who went on to a stellar career as a writer, director and producer. Among his credits: he wrote 12 episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • “The Canadian Flag, the Canadian Flag,” words and music by Chris Patterson & Trevor Strong. Chris and Trevor, who together comprises the satirical singing duo The Arrogant Worms, wrote this tongue-in-cheek tribute to celebrate the flag’s 40th birthday in 2005.
3. The first province to adopt its own flag was Quebec.
On January 21, 1948, Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis surprised the legislature by announcing an order-in-council adopting the “fleurdelisé” as the new Quebec flag. The design combined two symbolic elements evoking the history of French Canada: the white cross of Christianity and the white lily (fleur-de-lys) of the French monarchy. The second provincial banner was Newfoundland’s. When the British colony of Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949, its flag—the Union Jack—automatically became the new province's banner. (Newfoundland later adopted as its flag a stylized Union Jack designed by one of its most famous artists, Christopher Pratt.)
As with any important historical event, the adoption of the maple leaf flag generated all sorts of apocrypha. There’s the widespread notion, for example, that the 11 points of the flag’s stylized sugar maple leaf were meant to represent the 10 provinces plus the territories (Yukon, NWT). In fact, the number of points was reduced from 13 to 11 because the 11-pointed version looked better up close and a lot better from a distance. (The real sugar maple leaf has 27 points.)
Here are some of the more persistent myths:
1. George Stanley of Royal Military College “designed” the maple leaf flag.
To say that any one person designed the Canadian flag is both wrong and ridiculous. For starters, the sugar maple leaf had been used to represent things Canadian at least as far back as the 1830s. And from the federal government’s first attempt to legislate a flag in the late 1920s until the Flag Debate of 1964, thousands of Canadians submitted many thousands of possible designs for consideration. The vast majority of these citizen flags incorporated a maple leaf as part of their design; many adopted it as their central symbol. The leaf came most often in either green (the youth and vitality of the country) or red (the spectacular colour it turns in the fall). The actual proportions of the flag 1:2:1 were proposed by historian George Bist of Toronto. And the elegant, 11-pointed maple leaf that graces the final flag is the work of Jacques St.-Cyr, a federal government designer. And I haven’t even mentioned the work of the Flag Committee itself, especially its resident artist and heraldic expert Alan Beddoe, who painted all fifteen of the designs that made it to the finals.
All of these individuals had a hand in designing the new flag, which was in the best sense a collective creation of the Canadian people.
2. It’s a criminal offence to mutilate or burn the national flag
Burning your country’s flag may be a crime in the United States, but in Canada it’s just, well, impolite. The proper way to dispose of a faded or torn national flag is to burn it. There’ve been a number of incidents of Maple Leaf Flag burning over the years, usually during periods when Quebec nationalism is on the rise. (For “Flag Dos and Don’ts” visit http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/special/jdn-nfd/ettqt/index-eng.cfm.)
3. The flag is red because red is the colour of the Liberal Party of Canada
This is one of the silliest myths of all, but it was a popular falsehood in the immediate aftermath of the Flag Debate when emotions still ran high among supporters of the Canadian Red Ensign. The 1965 Flag Committee chose red and white because these were Canada’s official colours as granted by George V in 1921. Red and white also happen to be colours associated with both the Kings of England and of France, the two European nations who “founded” Canada. (For the precise specifications of “flag red” visit http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/symbl/df11-eng.cfm.)
If you’ve heard a flag story you’d like to share, email us at facts@flagforcanada.ca
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