ICYMI – the Duck: The maple leaf flag embodies Canada’s national amnesia | C.P. Champion

Historian and former CPC staffer Champion on the current and former flags (under former Minister Jason Kenney, the Red Ensign was displayed at some citizenship ceremonies if memory serves me correct but the Conservative government declined to provide it more official status as Champion recommends):

There is much to celebrate on Canada’s 150th, and there will be no shortage of Canadian flags fluttering about. But the maple leaf flag is also the perfect embodiment of our national amnesia.

Unlike Canada’s original flag—the Canadian Red Ensign—the maple leaf tells no story of our country. The Red Ensign, by comparison, vividly embodies Canada’s rich history, inclusive of First Nations, the fleur-de-lis, and the diversity represented by Scottish, English and Irish symbols.

This history dates back much further than 1867. Canada’s traditions were shaped by the first colonists, the Conquest of 1759, the policies of Lord Dorchester, the resilience of His Majesty’s new French Catholic subjects, generations of American and British immigrants, and First Nations who prospered in the pre-Industrial era and understood themselves as proud, though cautious, allies of the King.

Jon Fogg, Saint James Marine operator, left, and his daughter-in-law Wendy Fogg, unfurl the original Canadian Red Ensign flag that flew over the S.S. Keewatin. Darren Calabrese/National Post

When these old colonies were reimagined and set on a new footing in the 1860s, four distinct Provincial shields were combined on the Red Ensign, which was flown by Sir John A. Macdonald. Lord Stanley, the governor-general, and Henri Bourassa, a French Canadian nationalist, both recognized the Red Ensign as a distinctive Canadian flag. After 1921, the flag bore the shield from Canada’s new coat of arms.

When Canadian soldiers took Juno Beach on June 6, 1944 (D-Day) they carried this Canadian flag ashore. Through Normandy and the Netherlands, between the Maas and the Rhine, under the Klever Tor at Xanten, in liberated Nijmegen, Arnhem, and Groningen: as the Reich flag was lowered across Western Europe, the Canadian flag was unfurled among the banners of victory. In 1945, there could be no doubt that “Canada had a flag,” as John Diefenbaker later said, “a flag ennobled by heroes’ blood.”

The Red Ensign was replaced by the red maple leaf in 1964, recommended in the sixth report of a parliamentary committee, voted for by 178 MPs in a discordant House of Commons, and implemented by a minority government led by a jittery Lester Pearson. Why the jitters? Because the old flag was so popular. As Senator Marcel Prud’homme, an M.P. in 1964, told me in 2007: “You see, we had to kill the Red Ensign” — so that the fledgling maple would have no rival.

Many celebrated the new dawn. The late Lt. Gen. Charles Belzile, who witnessed the maple’s raising for the first time while serving as a young soldier in Cyprus in 1965, told me: “It sure looked pretty good against those green hills!”

But the new flag also had its critics. Historian Marcel Trudel warned in 1964 that Canada’s new flag had “no historic significance” and was “a lamentable failure.” “I am convinced, for my part,” he said, “that any flag, if it is to be truly significant, must contain or represent the symbols of the nation or nations which contributed to establishing the country.”

First Nations leaders were strongly attached to the old flag. James Gladstone, a Blood (Kainai) appointed to the Senate in 1958 said: “Personally I do not want to see any other flag flying but the Red Ensign.” Many chiefs had received a Union Jack as a ceremonial seal on treaties: “Under these symbols of justice, we feel safe. Take them away from us and it will be another sign that we are not safe.”

While the national flag is obviously here to stay, Ottawa should accord the old flag official status as “The Canadian Red Ensign.” It should fly permanently alongside the Canadian flag at the National War Memorial — after all, it’s the flag our soldiers actually fought under. It should fly at war memorials everywhere, and at obvious locations such as the Canadian War Museum grounds. And finally, a Red Ensign should wave permanently above the East Block of Parliament as a symbol of our heritage of freedom.

Source: Beyond the Duck: The maple leaf flag embodies Canada’s national amnesia | National Post

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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