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.
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.