When I was a girl at school, girls weren't allowed to wear pants. Female teachers and students all had to wear dresses or skirts. It wasn't considered proper to wear slacks in public. Finally, things reached the tipping point. Girls were being suspended from school regularly for the shocking and rebellious wearing of pants to school. Our principal was upset at his lack of control. At the end of one long day, he made an announcement over the PA system. He was going to pray to see if God would allow girls to wear pants to school.
Next morning, he announced that female teachers and girls could now wear 'pant suits' to school. But jeans were expressly forbidden attire. Girls who wore jeans would be suspended. Next day, almost every girl in the school showed up wearing jeans. He couldn't stop us.
In 1916 Canadian women won the right to vote in the four western provinces. Ontario followed in 1917 (just 100 years ago!), and other provinces followed in the years afterwards. Quebec women didn't win the right to vote until 1940. It was a hard fought for... and sometime dangerous battle.
Once, I heard the great Canadian speaker and former ambassador to the United Nations, Stephen Lewis, talking about Human Rights. He said that he felt that worldwide, women have always been the most ill treated. Women's Rights are Human Rights.
For many reasons, I chose to walk with tens of thousands of others - a diverse crowd of women, children and men in the Women's Walk on Washington in Toronto on January 21st, 2017. We joined millions of others around the world in a peaceful march that shared common values: Human Rights, Social Justice and Good Government. We must never become complacent about Human Rights. We must remember that we are all global citizens who share the same planet. We must learn to live in peace with each other, and respect our earth if we are to survive.
One cold wintry day - February 15th, 1965, we stood at the front of our school and watched as the old flag was taken down and a new flag – the iconic red maple leaf was hoisted. We cheered and clapped as the flag caught the wind and fluttered high in the bright blue sky.
The boy with the honour of hoisting the flag struggled to cross the slippery sidewalk. Someone helped him over the ice. He wore braces on each leg, and when he spoke, his words were slow and sometimes hard to understand. He’d been chosen because of his outstanding citizenship. I watched in awe.
Across the country, there was controversy about changing the flag. The media coverage shared the parliamentary debate between Prime Minister Pearson, who supported the change, and John Diefenbaker, leader of the opposition, who was strongly opposed. Canada’s flag had already undergone several changes. Beginning in 1870 the Red Ensign was used – a composite of the Union Jack and the Canadian Coat of Arms on a red background – but never made ‘official’. As Canada’s Centennial approached in 1967, a movement began to promote national unity and the Canadian identity.
My dad was one of the people who’d felt that Canada should shed its Colonial background and needed a unique flag. He’d supported a proposed flag with blue borders and three conjoined red maple leaves on a white background designed by artist Alan Beddoe. This ‘from sea to sea’ concept had mixed support. Dad thought this would be the flag that would be chosen and purchased some. We displayed two on the hood of our car.
One warm summer evening, we’d stopped at Avondale Dairy on Stewart Road for ice cream. When we came out of the store, our car was surrounded by an angry group of people protesting our display of the flag. They shouted that the old flag was good enough, and that we were traitors to our country. My little sister started to cry.
Dad was a WW2 vet, and not afraid to defend his ideas. He loved his country and valued the attributes that are integral to Canadian society. He stood his ground, and politely shared his opinion. The people moved away peacefully and we ate our melting ice cream. But I was worried. What if the flag changed and people continued to say they hated it and still wanted the old one?
On that cold February day, 52 years ago, I cried when our beautiful new flag was hoisted. We proudly flew the new flag from the flagpole at home, and dad often wore the little flag pin he treasured.
Now, Canada has achieved its 150th birthday and our flag is recognized worldwide. We are known as a country that is diverse, inclusive and respectful. Our problems are solved by discussion and debate. We move forward and change with the times.
I’ve never forgotten the triumphant first raising of the Canadian Flag, and cherish its symbol of our country.
Some folks make them, most folks break them. But January is a time to reflect about making some realistic goals and an action plan to achieve them. I was at a coffee meeting today with friends, and one woman said, "I'm resolving to be kind. I think if we all tried to do some simple kind things for others every day - what a great place the world would be." I think she's on to something.
I'm planning to write everyday, and improve this website to reach more people.
Sharon Frayne is a writer and artist. She is a member of the Canadian Author's Association, the Niagara Writer's Circle and the Pumphouse Art Gallery. She looks for the universal experience and the mystery in everyday things.