There’s a lot going on in the world these days, most of it unsettling. And there’s so much that it tends to be distracting. As a result, when the anniversary of our flag rolls around on 15 February 2021, the chances are we won’t be giving it the awareness it’s due, because of all the competition for our attention. As Canadians, one of the things we have to remember is that if we don’t take care of our national heritage, nobody else will. That’s our job as thinking, proud Canadians. Our heritage is a reflection of everything we are and everything we believe in and the flag is now recognized around the world as a magnificent, welcome, symbol of democracy.

So, in the middle of the pandemic and a lot of political unrest, to put it mildly, let’s all take a moment to remember just how truly important our flag is. Over the decades since its arrival, our national emblem has become one of the most respected symbols of freedom in the world, with thousands of people choosing to leave their birthplace, to lead a better life in Canada. I was lucky enough to be on duty on Parliament Hill that cold, February, Monday morning the flag was inaugurated in 1965. We were there because the Prime Minister of the day, Lester Pearson, had decided Canada needed its own new flag, instead of the British Ensign when Canadian troops were denied entry into Egypt because President Nasser, said their flag contained the Union Jack of Great Britain, his arch-enemy in the Suez Canal conflict of 1956. Although Pearson’s innovative diplomatic solution of introducing peacekeepers to settle an international dispute won him the Noble Peace Prize, it left him determined to give Canada its own flag.

It would not come easily, however, as the debate tore the country apart as the new flag, and its design, became the focal point of intense, emotional disagreements, each side fully confident their perspective was the only one acceptable. In living rooms, Legion branches, classrooms, and taverns across the country, it was the rant of the day, with son against father, a daughter against mother, brother against brother, and Veterans booing Pearson vehemently in Winnipeg, at their 1963 annual general meeting. As far as they were concerned, they had lost too many of their friends and comrades in arms fighting under the red ensign in both World Wars. To them it was sacred.

One of those veterans was the country’s distinguished military hero, Georges Vanier, the only Canadian veteran ever to rise to Commander-inChief. He too had fought under the red ensign, even losing a leg in France during WW I. But in 1959, he had been named our Governor-General and when the Queen authorized the new flag, as recommended by Parliament, the irony of ironies, he would end up having to preside at its inauguration. I remember how deeply struck I was, when that beautiful, new symbol slowly unfurled, to give our country a powerful, fresh identity. Now, hardly a day goes by when I don’t see that flag flying proudly and reminding me of what it means to not only be a Canadian but of how widely respected it now is around the world. In a word, we are blessed and, in caring for our national heritage, we should cherish the privilege by remembering our flag every year on its February 15th anniversary – from coast to coast to blessed coast.

Published by The London Free Press February 10, 2021, and The Toronto
Star on Flag Day, February 15, 2021.
R. Bruce Stock
Maj (Ret’d)
16 January 2021

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