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John Ross Matheson

Jan 1 2014 5:21 PM
On the last day of 2013, newspapers carried obituaries of John Ross Matheson, one of the key figures in the story of the Maple Leaf Flag. It was Matheson who, as Lester Pearson's parliamentary secretary, led the push for the new flag and served with distinction on the committee that ultimately agreed on the one-leaf version that was adopted by parliament on December 15, 1964. Recently a monument was erected in Brockville, where he lived for many years and which he represented as a Liberal member of parliament, saluting him as the "father" of the Canadian flag. That may be a slight exaggeration, but there's no disputing his instrumental role in this historic achievement.

Maple Leaf Turns 46

Feb 14 2011 11:16 AM
Tomorrow Canada's national flag celebrates its 46th birthday. The day is not yet a national holiday, but there will be an official ceremony on Parliament Hill and many unofficial ceremonies scattered around the country. And, since Flag Day falls on a Tuesday this year, some celebrations have already taken place. One of the most impressive of these is Markham's annual Salute to the Flag, organized by the Proud to be Canadian from Sea to Sea Association (PTBC) under the leadership of John Hawco.

On Sunday, February 13, the PTBC held its fourteenth annual Salute to the Flag event in the main atrium of the Markdale Shopping Centre in Markham. The ceremony was attended by Mayor Frank Scarpitti and an impressive gathering of veterans, along with representatives of the RCMP and the various regional emergency and police services. In their dress uniforms they made an impressive patriotic spectacle. They were joined by troops of Army and Air cadets and a troop of Boy Scouts.

Students from Unionville Public School sang the delightful song, "I've Got Canada in My Pocket" and the perennial favourite, "This Land Is Your Land," and added their voices to the throng for "O Canada."

The featured guest speaker this year was Rick Archbold, author of A Flag for Canada. Archbold began by quoting the closing words of Lester Pearson's speech in the House of Commons that launched the legendary Flag Debate back on June 15, 1964: "Mr. Speaker, it is for this generation, for this Parliament, to give them to give us all a common flag which, while bringing together but rising above the landmarks and milestones of the past, will say proudly to the world and to the future: 'I stand for Canada.' "

But just what does the Maple Leaf flag stand for at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century? We talk a lot about Canada's diversity, but what's even more important the mere fact of a multicultural society, is the way we celebrate diversity and the embrace difference as basic value. This goes hand in hand with a second value fundamental to contemporary Canada but whose origins are as old as the oldest inhabitants of the land: a deep and abiding sense of fairness that manifests itself as a strong belief in egalitarianism.

Neither of these essential values will mean much, however, unless we re-commit ourselves to our democratic institutions and to the democratic process. Politics and politicians have never been held in lower esteem that they are now. Voter turnout trends steadily downward with each election. If we aren't careful, we will lose the democracy that stands on guard for the values and the way of life we take for granted.

The multitudes of ordinary Egyptians young and old who by their collective will toppled a dictator did so because they dream of living some day in a democracy like Canada's don't take such a gift for granted. So let's use this Flag Day and every Flag Day in the future as a day to celebrate Canadian democracy and nurture citizen engagement at every level of civic life.

How Big Is Your Maple Leaf?

Nov 23 2010 10:51 AM
It's a cliché to say that size matters. And this seems to be true even in the case of national symbols. Otherwise, why would the Guinness Book of World Records care about the world's biggest maple leaf?

According to recent news reports, Joseph Donato of Pickering, Ontario, has just been named the holder of the World's Biggest Maple Leaf. It measures 33 cm wide by 38 cm high--this includes the stem. (Like the leaf on the flag, Donato's apparently comes from a sugar maple.) Other leaf holders are already contesting Donato's record--but a challenge is expensive, so the title is likely to belong to Donato for the foreseeable future.

Nonetheless, it looks like we're in for an avalanche of GIANT MAPLE LEAVES.

Highest Flying Maple Leaf?

Aug 15 2010 10:21 AM
World's biggest, world's tallest, world's longest--human beings seem perennially obsessed with size as a marker of status. Or at least as an attention grabber. Latest entry in the size sweepstakes is the flag concocted by Toronto Councillor George Mammoliti and the Emery Village Business Improvement Association. They've recently announced plans to erect the tallest flagpole in North America near the corner of Finch Avenue West and Arrow Road. Atop this 125-meter-tall staff will fly a huge Canadian flag. But it theirs won't be the world's highest free-standing flagpole. That's found in in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, atop a pole that's 133 metres in height. Even higher is a flag in Gijeng-dong North Korea.

Mammoliti and the BIA intend their flagpole to anchor a planned revitalization of a now mostly derelict area of North York, just east of Highway 400.

If so, their flag will be the highest Maple Leaf, but not the biggest. That distinction was briefly held by the huge flag that draped Vancouver's Hotel Georgia building (at Georgia and Howe) during the recent Vancouver Olympics and for several months thereafter. When that flag came down, the honour may have reverted to the flag landmark in Falkland, B.C.. It is 8.5 metres (28 feet) high and 17.1 metres (56.1 feet) long, but it doesn't fly. It's really a fancy billboard--the colours were heated onto enamel--that is illuminated at night.

Old Red Ensign Sells for $120,000

Jun 6 2010 3:11 PM
On June 2, 2010, Sotheby's held an auction of "important Canadian art." Among the valuable artworks for sale, Lot 46 stood out: "Canadian School, Red Ensign, c 1868. Printed and stitched wool, linen edge, hemp rope. All seams are folded over and sewn in a straight stitch. 119 cm x 226 cm / 47 in x 89 in." Sotheby's pre-sale estimate estimated the sale price at between $40,000 and $60,000. The winning bid came in at a whopping $117,500, including buyer's premium.

What made this old flag so valuable? Its putative age--nearly as old as Canada--is the most obvious factor. (This is apparent both from the material used and the manner of its construction.) According to Sotheby's president, David Silcox, himself a distinguished art historian, the experts who examined this vexillological specimen singled out its size--large enough to have been flown from a several-storey building--and its excellent condition. On close examination, the ensign did prove to be in very fine condition with only a few holes in the wool fabric (likely due to moths) and with colours almost as bright as new. The shield in the fly (bearing the badges of the four founding provinces) was in pristine shape, but the loveliest thing of all was the construction of the Union Jack in the upper hoist, which consisted of individual pieces of red, white and blue wood fabric laboriously and precisely sewn together.

All in all, this was a fine piece of Canadian history. But just how old was it?

Here we enter the realm of pure speculation. The first Canadian Red Ensign is believed to have been flown from Ottawa's Peace Tower in 1868, the year after Confederation. Until 1904, when a surge of post-Boer War Imperial patriotism caused the Canadian ensign to be replaced by the British Union Jack, it flew from Canada's most important flagpole. Unknown, however, is which version of the Canadian Red Ensign was used.

The Canadian Red Ensign evolved with the country. As new provinces joined Canada, the shield on the fly accumulated provincial badges until, by 1905, there were nine provincial emblems jammed together. In 1921, the shield from the newly granted Canadian coat of arms replaced the polyglot shield of provincial badges. However, from 1868 until 1921 the original four-province version of the Canadian Red Ensign continued in wide use.

The flag sold by Sotheby's must be a very old flag because of its wool fabric and its elaborate construction. Maybe it is as old as 1868. Regardless, it's a very fine flag indeed.

Flag Day Report

Feb 24 2010 5:03 PM

With the Vancouver Olympics dominating the headlines there was little media coverage of Flag Day celebrations across the country. And, apart from a brief ceremony hosted by Heritage Minister James Moore outside the Canada Pavilion in Vancouver, the federal government did little to mark the day beyond the usual material provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage. (Check out http://www.pch.gc.ca/special/jdn-nfd/index-eng.cfm.) Nonetheless, individuals and groups and communities staged events in commemoration of the first official raising of the Maple Leaf Flag 45 years ago.

One of the most colourful events was held at the Hershey Arena in Mississauga, Ontario, as finale to a closely fought hockey match between the St. Michael's Majors and the Erie Otters. (The game ended in a tie.) After the dignitaries assembled at centre ice,
The Mississauga Motion Skating Team swept into the arena. Each pair of skaters held a Canadian flag. It made for quite an inspiring sight.


After a rousing rendition of “O Canada,” sung by local vocalist Shannon Butcher (above right), Mayor Hazel McCallion (centre) exhorted the crowd to pressure their political representatives, many of whom were present, to make more of Flag Day. Then she turned the microphone over to Red Kelly, whose legendary hockey career had been honoured before the game. Kelly reminisced about the Flag Debate of 1964, which he’d taken part in as a newly elected Liberal member of parliament.


One of the most venerable Flag Day celebrations takes place each year in Stony Creek, Ontario—but it doesn’t take place on February 15. Back in 1969, when the flag festival started, the organizers decided to wait for warmer weather. (This year the celebration will be held on Saturday, May 29.) The centrepiece of the day is the annual Flag Day Parade. If you’re interested in attending, go to this link: http://www.stoneycreekcanadaflagday.com/.

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