The Canadian Flag Debate

Canada had been an outstanding country for many years but has always lacked one important thing. Until the year 1965, Canada did not have their own official flag. The Canadian flag debate was a major controversy to Canada because many thought it was about time for Canada to have their own flag years after gaining their independence from Britain. The Canadian flag debate had a very interesting background and the Canadians involvement towards the flag debate was just phenomenal. As well as the creation of the Canadian flag, there was also a great deal of importance behind the Canadian flag debate itself within Canada.

The Canadian flag debate was one of the most significant parts of Canadian history in the modern era.

In the 1963 federal election campaign, Liberal Opposition Leader Lester Pearson promised that he would give Canadians a distinct national flag during his first term in office. (“The Great Canadian Flag Debate,” Flag Debate) The Canadian Flag Debate had taken place on June 15, 1964 Prime Minister Lester Bowles Pearson scheduled his plans for a new flag in the House of Commons to represent Canada.

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(“Flag Debate,” The Canadian Encyclopedia) Since Canada entered Confederation in 1867, Canada’s official flag had been Britain’s Union Jack, although the Red Ensign was regularly flown about for qualified purposes. Pearson wanted to create a distinctly Canadian flag that would reveal no colonial or cultural symbolism of Great Britain. The French Canadians followed a keen interest in the debate while tensions were mounting amongst the English Canadians.

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John George Diefenbaker had taken an opposition towards Pearson’s idea of the Canadian flag and that Britain should be honored on the flag of Canada. Now the ensuing controversy raged not over whether there should be a new flag, but on its design. This little conflict had lasted for more than six months, bitterly dividing the government in the process. Later on, soon after Diefenbaker’s government came into power he continued his protest of the Canadian flag and he set out a filibuster that brought the debate to a big halt. After delaying and preventing the passageway of a new Canadian flag, the Conservatives in power had enough and forced a vote over Pearson’s design of the new flag. The results came out that 163 members voted in favour of it so on 15 February, 1965, the red maple leaf was flown for the first time as Canada’s official flag and The Maple Leaf quickly became a powerful Canadian symbol, showing how much Canada had changed in a single generation. (“Flag Debate,” The Canadian Encyclopedia)

Under pressure from pro-imperial public opinion, Sir Wilfrid Laurier raised the Union Flag over Parliament, where it remained until the re-emergence of the Red Ensign in the 1920s. In 1945, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, having flown the Union Jack over Parliament throughout the war, made the Canadian Red Ensign the official Canadian flag by Order in Council. Mackenzie King also tried to give Canada a new flag. The recommendation that came back was a Red Ensign, but substituting the coat of arms of Canada with a gold maple leaf. Mackenzie King stopped the venture. (“Great Canadian Flag Debate,” Wikipedia) In 1963, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson pitched his idea for a new flag during a speech to the Canadian Legion in Winnipeg.”I believe that today a flag designed around the Maple Leaf, will symbolize and be a true reflection of the new Canada.” As boos resonated throughout the audience, Pearson got a glimpse of the controversy he’d unleashed. Instead of uniting the country, the flag became yet another divisive issue. Support, laments and threats poured in to Pearson’s office as the country debated its flag.

Canadians were deeply divided on the flag issue. Some felt a strong attachment to the mother country and its Union Jack. Others disagreed on what new symbol should represent the country. (“Flag Debate,” The Canadian Encyclopedia) It was only Quebec that showed more of a lack of interest towards the flag issue. “Quebec does not give a tinkers dam about the new flag,” Liberal politician Pierre Trudeau said. “Its a matter of complete indifference.” (‘The Great Flag Debate,” CBC Learning)Conservative leader John Diefenbaker, insisted that the Union Jack be incorporated into the new flag to reflect Canadas British heritage. The Liberals and New Democratic Party wanted something with maple leaves. Canadians were invited to use their imagination and talent and submit ideas for a flag. As many as 5,900 alternative designs were sent to Ottawa. A 15-member all-party committee was formed to review the suggestions and make a recommendation.

Pearsons preferred design of three maple leaves was finally rejected in favour of a design proposed by the historian George Stanley that featured a single leaf flanked by red bars. Diefenbaker dismissively said that it looked like the Peruvian flag. The parliamentary debate on the flag was lengthy and ugly. It consumed 37 sitting days: the Conservatives made 210 speeches, the Liberals 50, the NDP 24, Social Credit 15, and the Créditistes 9. Pearson eventually used the rules of closure to limit speeches to 20 minutes and force a vote. That vote was taken on December 15, 1964 and the committee’s recommendation was accepted 163 to 78. Canada’s flag was officially hoisted at the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill on February 15, 1965.

During the Canadian flag debate many thought as if the debate would divide Canadians in the creation of the new flag and that arguments for and against the new flag would rage across the country. Many Canadians though, felt optimistic over the suggestion of a new Canadian flag to represent Canada. From coast to coast, Canadians leaped into the debate by creating their own designs for a new flag. One reporter said that, “It seems that every Canadian with a pot of paint, a piece of paper and artistic pretensions sat down to draw a flag.” The next day he said that the Parliamentary mail rooms were just built up with drawings for a possible design of the new Canadian Flag. In Canada it surely showed that many Canadians were eager to help out in the great Canadian flag debate and to prove to Canada that they were willing to help out whenever needed.

The Canadian flag debate had a very strong importance throughout the country. Although, there were various governmental flags which represented Canada as a state, there was no formal flag which represented Canada as an independent nation. The flag debate did not result from indifference on the part of Canadians towards flags, but quite the reverse. It resulted from the passion that these symbols aroused in Canadians.

The difficulty of the flag debate did not arise from any inherent unwillingness of Canadians to proclaim their identity upon flags, but their factious inability to agree upon a common symbolic identity. In retrospect, the choice of such a symbol would seem to have been inevitable, but now to see a maple leaf is to think of Canada. The overall importance was that many people helped out throughout the process and in the end everyone was happy with the end product of the new Maple leaf flag.

The Canadian flag debate was a long and well thought process by all Canadians and was one of the most significant parts of Canadian history in the modern era. Until the year 1965, Canada did not have there own official flag. Many thought it was about time for Canada to have their own flag years after gaining their independence from Britain. On February 15, 1965, Finally Canada’s official flag was hoisted at the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill.


Archbold, Rick. “The Great Canadian Flag Debate,” Flag Debate

“Great Canadian Flag Debate,” Wikipedia 10 January 2011

Matheson, John Ross. “Flag Debate,” The Canadian Encyclopedia

“The Great Flag Debate,” CBC Learning 14 November 2001

The Canadian Flag Debate

Jeremy Snyder

Mr. Seca

Monday January 14, 2013

Cite this page

The Canadian Flag Debate. (2016, Aug 06). Retrieved from

The Canadian Flag Debate

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