Happy 50th birthday, Canadian flag!

happy 50th birthday canadian flag

While Canada is closing in on its 150th birthday, its current flag turns a mere 50 years old today. This fine bit of design — praised by vexillologists for its clean, clear design that works even at a distance — was a long time coming.

From 1867 to 1965, the flag that Canadians flew was either the Union Jack or some variant of the Red Ensign, the last one looking like this:

There were several attempts to get an official flag made throughout the previous century, which led to the Great Canadian Flag Debate. It began in earnest in June 1964 when then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (after whom Toronto’s airport is named) proposed plans for a new flag. He wanted a flag that embodied Canadian history and tradition, and he also didn’t want it to have a Union Jack. It’s that latter bit that got people, including former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, riled.

Here’s Pearson’s preferred flag:

pearson preferred flag

The three maple leaves are straight from the design on the Red Ensign, and the blue fields represent the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The Great Flag Debate is commemorated in this painting by Rex Woods, who could very well be Canada’s answer to Norman Rockwell. This painting can be found in one of the ground floor meeting rooms of the Toronto offices of Rogers, one of the big Canadian telecommunications companies:

Click the photo to see it at full size.

Of the designs in the painting, I’m kind of fond of the psychedelic one:

I think it would make a stunning poster or mural.

A number of designs for a new Canadian flag were submitted during the time of the debate, and the National Post features a selection of notable ones in an article that looks at the flags Canada could’ve had. Among them is this too-busy, too-literal one:

too busy flag

…and this one, which uses a stylized aurora borealis to represent the ten provinces:


…and this one featuring St. George’s Cross for English Canada, the fleur-de-lys for French Canada, and the Beatles for rock and roll Canada:

beatles flag

Happy 50th birthday, Canadian flag! May you continue to fly high and end up in places you’d never expect to be:

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer borrowed my Canadian flag hat for this shot.

Worth checking out

flag design

Give episode 140 of the design-focused podcast, 99% Invisible, a listen. It’s titled Vexillonaire, and it’s all about designing kickass flags.

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