Celebrating Our Canadian Flag

Raised for the first time on February 15, 1965, our national flag is 54 years old.

On July 1st of this year, Canada will celebrate its 152nd birthday.

A discrepancy that can be explained by our history…

For almost 100 years after Confederation, Canada flew the Red Ensign, a design based on the flag used by British naval vessels and Canada’s Coat of Arms.

In the early 1960s, Canadians started to voice their concerns about a flag that didn’t recognize our sovereignty. Aware of the public discontent, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson decided to make the creation of a new Canadian flag a priority.

At the time, I was in elementary school. My teacher—and many other teachers across the country— assigned a “Flag Design” project. While there were several artists in the class (not me), I don’t recall any exceptional sketches. I’ve often wondered if any student sketches were part of the thousands of submissions made to Ottawa.

A fifteen-member bipartisan committee was created to pick the most appropriate design. The submitted designs featured union jacks, Fleur-de-lis, maple leaves, and beavers (the most common element). Almost all of these submissions were eliminated, leaving three possibilities.

Here are the two semi-finals:

The winning design (our present flag) came from Dr. George Stanley, a professor at Royal Military College in Kingston.

10 More Interesting Facts…

1. King George V proclaimed red and white as Canada’s official colors in 1921.

2. The flag is twice as long as it is wide. The white square and its maple leaf make up half of the surface of the flag, equal to the two red bars combined.

3. The French nickname for the flag is L’Unifolié, which means one-leafed.

4. In 1982, Canadian mountaineer Laurie Skreslet brought the flag with him to Mount Everest.

5. In 1984, the flag was launched into space by Marc Garneau, the first Canadian astronaut on the NASA space shuttle Challenger.

6. In 1996, February 15 was declared National Flag of Canada Day.

7. The flag at the Peace Tower (Ottawa) flies 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s changed daily, usually early in the morning and by a designated employee who has received training on how to perform the task. Flags on the East and West Block are changed weekly. Once a flag is taken down, it is sent to the Ministry of Public Works and Government Services. Canadians can request these flags by emailing minister@pwgsc.gc.ca or faxing (819) 953-1908.

8. Anyone who wishes to receive a flag that has flown on the Peace Tower will be placed on a 10-year waiting list. The wait is five years for a flag that has flown on the East or West Block.

9. The role of flag-bearer for Canadian teams attending international sporting events is a special honor reserved for outstanding athletes like Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who proudly represented Canada at the PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2018.

10. The largest Canadian flag ever made was unveiled at a football game in Hamilton between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts in 2009. The flag was 38 meters by 76 meters and required at least 80 pairs of hands to carry it on the field. The flag cost $15,000.

Happy National Flag of Canada Day!


In Praise of Canada’s National Bird

Not everyone is happy with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society’s nomination for our national bird. Last week, some Canadians shared disbelief and–at times–outrage in articles and online.

“I’ve never seen one.”

“What??!! Really??? Not the mighty loon?”

“Canada already has a national bird…the Canada geese.”

“That bird didn’t even win the popular vote!”

“So now we have an Electoral College of Ornithologists.”

“Why are we using American spelling for our bird?”

The back story…

In 2015, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society began its search for a national bird. Almost 50,000 votes were cast online, surprising the editorial staff of the Society’s Canadian Geographic Magazine.

Editor Aaron Kylie commented, “We had thousands of comments, and the comments aren’t just a sentence. They’re paragraphs, they are full pages and they are very impassioned, passionate, personal stories about people’s connections to a specific bird they wanted to put forward as the national bird.”

The top three birds…

Common Loon First Place - 13,995 votes

Common Loon
13,995 votes

Snowy Owl Second Place - 8,948 votes

Snowy Owl
8,948 votes

Gray Jay Third Place - 7,918 votes

Gray Jay
7,918 votes

After a public debate and deliberations by an expert panel, the third-place Gray Jay was selected as Canada’s official national bird. Next step: Federal Government approval.

The rationale…

Ornithologist David Bird pointed out that the loon is already Ontario’s provincial bird and the snowy owl is Quebec’s bird. He added, “My feeling is that when we chose the flag of Canada, we did not elevate the provincial flag from Ontario or Quebec…We chose something fresh and new. And that’s what I think we need to do with a national bird.”

About the Gray Jay…

• A robin-sized cousin of the raven and crow, the gray jay has the same brain-to-body ratio as dolphins and chimpanzees.

• Gray jays can be found in every province and territory of Canada. They live in the boreal forests and subalpine regions of the country so you won’t find them south of the 401. Instead, consider visiting Algonquin Park, the mountains in British Columbia, or the backwoods of Newfoundland or New Brunswick.

• Unlike Canadian geese and other birds that migrate south in the winter, gray jays live in Canada year-round. They thrive in winter and can incubate eggs in temperatures as low as minus 30 Celsius. Resilient and enterprising, they often bring up their young in cold and food-deprived conditions.

• Friendly and inquisitive, gray jays will approach and land on a human hand, hoping to find nourishment.

• Each fall, gray jays store thousands of morsels of food in different hiding places, and for months afterward they can remember the location of each cache. It’s not surprising they are often labelled the smartest birds on the planet.

My thoughts…

While reading and listening to all this bird talk, I couldn’t resist putting on my teacher hat. Gray jays remind me of the good students (not always A-students) who come to class each day, prepared and ready to learn. They don’t complain or throw tantrums when things don’t go their way. Instead, they adapt and make the best of changed circumstances. They may not win all the awards, but they are often short-listed.

Good students and Gray Jays get my vote!

Regarding American Spelling…

Gray Jay is the species’ official name. Journalistic publications must honor the proper names of birds and animals even when they conflict with Canadian spellings. (Grey is the Canadian/British spelling of Gray)

Or we could simply call the gray jay by its other name: Whiskey Jack, a name derived from Wisakedjak, a cultural hero and trickster of Cree and Algonquin cultures.

A closer look at Gray Jay aka Whiskey Jack…


Remembering Dave Broadfoot

davebroadfoot1Earlier today, Canadian comedy pioneer Dave Broadfoot passed away at the age of ninety. An officer of the Order of Canada, Dave played to audiences that included Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and President Ronald Reagan.

Born in Vancouver on December 5, 1925, Dave served in the navy during World War II and began acting shortly afterward. During the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared on the “Wayne and Shuster Show,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “The Big Revue,” and “Comedy Café.”

In 1973, he began his 15-year run on “Air Force”, where he introduced two memorable characters: Sgt. Renfrew of the RCMP who “never gets his man” and a hockey-playing dunce named Big Bobby Clobber. Later, he donned the persona of David J. Broadfoot, the member of Parliament from Kicking Horse Pass.

Here are ten entertaining comments…

I came out of an extreme, fundamentalist, born-again-ist family. My three sisters are all missionaries. In my home we have pictures of all 12 apostles, all personally autographed.

We’re loose enough, liberal enough, accepting enough in this country, we’re mature enough that we can make fun of each other and still have great respect and honour each other.

I wasn’t good enough for TV–but I bugged them.

In order to have an act, you have to learn how to write. And you should probably be able to sing adequately, too. You have to learn how to do everything.

Here we’ve got to work harder because we compete with the best from England and the United States. I’m a nationalist–I’ve come to terms with myself and with my roots. I understand the rhythms of this crazy, wonderful country of ours.

I like to dwell on the therapeutic use of comedy. Whether it’s a group or a nation or an individual, in any crisis the first casualty, even before truth, is our sense of humour. And once that’s gone, we have lost our perspective on the crisis. To me, there is nothing more magnificent than a human being, who in a time of great crisis, can still maintain a sense of humour.

The only group that I dare to put down are Anglo-Saxons, because I am one. I feel I have a right to do that. For instance, there is new evidence that Adam, the first man who ever lived, was an Anglo-Saxon. Who else would stand in a perfect tropical garden, beside a perfect naked woman, and eat an apple?

Humour has to be pointed. It’s gotta be political. But it shouldn’t be ugly. It shouldn’t be malicious…It’s gotta be up-happy.

I never got over that sound of laughter. I felt for the first time that I belonged there . . . . It’s like the feeling of being away a long time and then coming home.

(In Canada) you can be the biggest success ever and still have a very, very small bank account because that’s the way we are.