The day after Valentine’s Day will be the 50th birthday for a most important Canada symbol, the Maple Leaf flag. It was a bitterly cold Ottawa day on February 15, 1965 when Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker were among those on Parliament Hill as the flag was first raised to the top of the peace tower.
Until the day he died almost eight years later, Mike Pearson regarded the Maple Leaf flag as his greatest achievement as our 14th Prime Minister, and half a century later, he may have been right all along. The only Canadian to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize was never what you would call a savvy politician. He began the flag debate at a gathering of the Royal Canadian Legion in Winnipeg, and it went downhill from there.
Diefenbaker was allied with the veterans and others who favoured making the red ensign our official flag, but Pearson knew that Quebec would never agree. The debate in the House of Commons seemed to be endless, and frequently pointless. Eventually Pearson’s government managed to find a consensus, and we have lived under the red Maple Leaf ever since.
Our school children pay tribute to the flag every morning. More than 160 Canadians came home from Afghanistan in caskets that were draped with the Maple Leaf. Ottawa is spending $50,000 to commemorate the flag’s 50th anniversary. They spent more than $5 million to commemorate the War of 1812, and more than $4 million to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Sir John A. Macdonald.
Those commemorations are not celebrated by all Canadians by any means, but our history is important. We proudly boast that our country is the envy of the world. Many would say that you’ll have trouble figuring out where you are going, if you don’t know where you came from.
I’m Roger Currie