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Flag Mysteries

Where are the lost flag prototypes?
What happened to the prototype designs that led to the flag as we now know it? We’re not 100% sure how many there were, although the man in charge of the process swore he distinctly remembered three. However many there actually were, we know where only one of them is: at the Queen’s University Archives in Kingston, Ontario. It’s a unique and priceless piece of Canadian history.
If you look closely at the maple leaf on the Queen’s University prototype above, you’ll note a subtle difference from the final design that was hoisted up the ceremonial flagpole on February 15, 1965. The base of the stem is angled to a sharp point. On the final flag, the base of the stem is squared off—making the central image identical on both sides and thus preventing “show-through”. And note that the red on the Queen’s prototype is different from the red on the flag we know, which is extremely resistant to fading. (For the precise specifications of “flag red” visit http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/symbl/df11-eng.cfm.)
Where are the other prototypes? Patrick Reid, the man who oversaw the final refinement of the design in his job as commissioner of exhibitions, believes that one of them was stolen. Maybe it will turn up some day. But that still doesn’t explain what happened to the third prototype—if there really were three.
There are a number of possible explanations, but none of them is completely convincing. If either of the missing flags turns up, it ought to fetch a pretty penny from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which has managed to lose a trove of flag material given to it by the Privy Council Office in 1965.
Where are the 15 flag finalists?
Group A finalist
After the House of Commons Flag Committee concluded its deliberations and recommended the single-maple-leaf flag to the House of Commons, the hoard of material gathered for them was turned over to the Privy Council office, the arm of the civil service that work directly for the prime minister. In July 1966, more than a year after the new flag officially flew for the first time, the Privy Council transferred all of its flag material—possibly including one or both of the missing silk-screened prototypes—to Dr. Richard Glover, director of the Human History Branch, National Museum of Canada, which later became part of the Canadian Museum of Civilization (CMC). This material likely included the 15 finalists painted by Alan Beddoe for the Flag Committee's final vote. Dr. Glover wrote a letter acknowledging receipt of the flag material, and that’s where the trail goes cold. In 2000, the CMC conducted an exhaustive search of its holdings but found no trace of the missing material.
Group B finalist
On October 22, 1964, Beddoe presented the Flag Committee with 15 designs subdivided into three categories: Group A (designs including 3 maple leaves); Group B (designs including a single maple leaf); Group C (designs including symbols of other countries). Here are three finalists:
Group C finalist
Where are the remaining 12 finalists? It’s possible they are buried in the vast collection of Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Recent detective work by one of LAC’s art archivists turned up a number of Beddoe paintings that could be finalists, but not all twelve. Maybe the whole cache will reappear some day in an as-yet-uncatalogued box somewhere at CMC or LAC.
Who has the first official flag flown?
On the morning of February 15, 1965, a large crowd gathered on Parliament Hill for the official ceremony inaugurating Canada’s national flag. On a temporary dais in front of the Peace Tower, the leading antagonists in the political drama of the previous year, Prime Minister Lester Pearson and Leader of the Opposition John Diefenbaker, stood to either side of Governor General Georges Vanier. In front of the dais, from the top of a temporary flagpole erected for the occasion, the Canadian Red Ensign fluttered for the last time.
Vanier spoke first. Then Pearson gave a brief but stirring speech. Diefenbaker remained silent, his face as dark as a thundercloud. The old flag was lowered, carefully folded and marched away, then the new flag was ceremonially unfolded and prepared for raising. Finally, to the strains of “O Canada,” which wouldn’t become Canada’s official national anthem for another 15 years, the red-white-red maple leaf flag was raised up the flagstaff. Just as it reached the top, a light breeze caught it and the sun suddenly shone. The crowd applauded. Even the reporters on the scene were deeply moved.
Within moments the new flag shot up every official flagpole in Ottawa and across the country. Every official flagpole, that is, except the one atop the Peace Tower. The governor general’s personal standard had been flying from the Peace Tower since his arrival on the Hill and would continue to fly until he departed. Thus the most important official flagpole in Canada was the last to fly the new Maple Leaf.
Once the crowds had dispersed and workers arrived to dismantle the dais, the new flag was lowered from its temporary perch and the very first official Canadian flag flown was given to...?
No one seems to know.
The first flag raised from the Peace Tower became the property of Deputy Speaker Lucien Lamoureux. (It was returned to Canada by his widow in July 2005.) But so far the very first maple leaf flag flown is still missing. As for the last Canadian Red Ensign, it recently turned up in the holdings of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
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