Here's a fun fact: Canada didn't have an official national flag until February 15, 1965. A not-so-fun fact: choosing one caused a huge divide in both public and political opinions, and the matter had to be settled by cloture in the Canadian House of Commons.
Until the red and white "Maple Leaf flag" we all know was adopted, Canada used the Canadian Red Ensign, which features a Union Flag and the Coat of Arms of Canada. But most Canadians weren't happy flying the Red Ensign. A poll in 1958 showed that 80% of the people wanted a distinct Canadian flag, and 60% of those would like that flag to bear a maple leaf. By the time Lester B. Pearson was elected Prime Minister in 1963, the "flag problem" was big enough to become a party platform. Pearson promised a new flag within two years.
Since pretty much everyone agreed that the flag should have a maple leaf somewhere, that part wasn't really a problem. The debate was really over whether or not Canada should ditch the Union Flag in its new design, thereby minimizing ties to the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries like Australia. The debate went on for months, and even after Pearson forced Parliament to stay in session over the summer, an agreement couldn't be reached. A special flag committee was called; they would have 6 weeks to find a new design.
The committee dusted off the suggestion box and invited ordinary citizens to submit their vision of a brand new flag. Of the total 3541 submissions, 2136 bore maple leaves, 408 the Union Jack, 389 had a beaver, and 359 contained fleurs-de-lys. (Some managed to work in all four.) In the end, a simple red maple leaf design by Colonel George F. G. Stanley would win... but not before beating out some tough competitors.
The biggest loser in the Great Canadian Flag Debate was the prime minister himself. Though Pearson had called for a new design and pressured Parliament to make a decision, his favored flag was voted against 14-0 in favor of Stanley's winning banner. The so-called Pearson Pennant was criticized intensely and the subject of hundreds of editorial cartoons and running jokes. An Alberta newspaper asked local readers to write in with their thoughts. One response: "I don't like the three maple leaves on the white background... the single maple leaf looks better. As I am only 10 [I] will have to look at it longer than Mr. Pearson."
The description for this busy little number is as complicated as the design itself:
The top green strip portrays in the background the Rocky Mountains of the West and the Laurentians of the East....The second strip of yellow gold depicts the growing grain for which Canada is famous...The third strip describes untold numbers of rivers and thousands of lakes...the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic....The coats of arms of the ten provinces which make up Canada are in the shape of an arc and depicts its beginning and origin. Even the shape of the arc has a meaning - freedom, better life and individualism for all those who want to make Canada their new country.
"What the heck, let's turn it sideways. And let's put all the things on there, while we're at it."
There's always someone who just can't be serious.
I wish the committee had selected this flag, which comes without a description but looks like it might be saying "SOON."
This aurora-inspired flag is one of the more interesting pieces received in that it ignores all of the conventional Canadian symbols in favor of a fascinating natural event. But it looks a bit like a wave, and also like a leaf, and it never garnered much support: this design didn't even make it to the semifinals.
This is just one of hundreds of similar designs; if one sample had to sum up the majority of proposals sent in by the public, this would be the one.
Canada geese, which are a nice change of pace.
This looks something like a shoe company logo, but was apparently intended to "represent the unity of Canada."
This one comes with a sternly-worded history lesson, and then multiple choices for reworking the design if that's not what the special flag committee had in mind.
[Indians were] here 20,000 years ago, getting along peacefully until the White races came and stole nearly all they own. THEY ARE THE TRUE CANADIANS . If you don't care [for] the Indian head, have a beaver, a Buffalo's head - or 4 maple leaves - in light green (spring) - dark green (summer) - yellow (fall) - red (winter): The Four Seasons. 1 maple leaf in each corner.
This design was sent in by one Jennifer Robinson. An accompanying note indicates that the artist was 6 years old at the time of its rendering. The design was removed from the flag committee's files so it could be placed in the art holdings in the Canadian National Archives.