It’s Flag Day! – a long-standing tradition

Doug Johnson hoisted the Canadian flag on Chantry Island

As every organization changes and grows, many newcomers do not know the history behind its founders and long-time members.

Doug Johnson was not only a lifetime member of the Propeller Club (Marine Heritage Society) in Southampton, he was also known as a flag expert with a collection of some 300 flags from around the world and was able to tell the historic significance of each.

Every February 15th, the phone would ring at 6:00 a.m. and it would be Doug.  “Do you know what today is?” he would say.  How could we forget, when for 10 years, Doug would tell us “It’s Flag Day!”

So in tribute to Doug, we try to keep the tradition going with a history of Canada’s flag because today, February 15th, is not only ‘Flag Day’, it is also the 58th anniversary of Canada’s flag.

It was on February 15, 1965, after much controversy, that the red maple leaf was hoisted in Ottawa at the Peace Tower.

The debate over a new flag divided English speaking Canadian Anglophones and Imperialists who wanted to keep the Red Ensign that had been Canada’s flag since before Confederation.

The Red Ensign

Among the most vocal supporters of the Red Ensign were the Royal Canadian Legion Veterans who had gone to war under the Ensign and were against changing it.

An early choice

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson however,  announced the year before, in 1964, that a new national flag would be brought in during his tenure and he had two preferred choices.  Three maple leafs on a white background with a blue bar on either side and a single maple leaf with blue bars.

As the debate waged on, almost 3,000 designs with traditional ‘Canadiana’, such as beavers, mountain, Mounties and hockey players were submitted to a flag committee, until December, 1961, when the debate was closed by the government.

The winning Maple Leaf designed by historian George F. Stanley and John Matheson, was submitted in March, 1964 and was based on the flag of the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC). On October 22, 1964, the selection committee voted unanimously (14–0; the chair abstained) in favour of the Stanley flag.

The Canadian Red Ensign is still part of the Royal Canada Legion colour party and has also been officially declared to fly with the flag of Canada at the the Canadian National Vimy War Memorial in France.