Alec and the Canadian Flag Debate

Before 1965, Canada did not have a national flag. In 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson introduced a government resolution for the adoption of a new Canada flag in time for the centennial celebrations of 1967.

The government began with its own design proposal, of three maple leaves with a blue stripe down each side, but submissions also flooded in. At least five years prior, Jackson had also taken the initiative to create up to 28 of his own designs for the new flag for his own interest.

In June 1964, O.J. Firestone discovered one of these at Jackson’s home in Ottawa, consisting of three natural-looking maple leaves and two wavy blue bars in watercolour on paper. Evident from his use of the back to scribble down phone numbers for five years, Jackson had not seriously considered it as a design to submit.

Before 1965, Canada did not have a national flag. In 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson introduced a government resolution for the adoption of a new Canada flag in time for the centennial celebrations of 1967.

The government began with its own design proposal, of three maple leaves with a blue stripe down each side, but submissions also flooded in. At least five years prior, Jackson had also taken the initiative to create up to 28 of his own designs for the new flag for his own interest.

In June 1964, O.J. Firestone discovered one of these at Jackson’s home in Ottawa, consisting of three natural-looking maple leaves and two wavy blue bars in watercolour on paper. Evident from his use of the back to scribble down phone numbers for five years, Jackson had not seriously considered it as a design to submit.

Although he was patriotic, he had a distain for politics and bureaucracy. Only after a lengthy discussion, did Firestone managed to convince the artist to allow him to submit it directly to Maurice Lamontagne, the Secretary of State with whom he was acquainted. Jackson reluctantly agreed,19 and Lamontagne brought it directly to Pearson. Jackson ended up involved in the nine-month long process in 1964, serving as one of twelve expert witnesses called to review the submissions.

The committee seriously considered Jackson’s design, and the press called him “Canada’s Betsy Ross.” In the end, however, another design prevailed. The familiar red maple leaf bracketed by two red bars, conceptualized by Dr. George Stanley, Dean of Arts at the Royal Military College, and John Matheson, a Member of Parliament, and designed by Jacques St-Cyr, first flew on February 15, 1965. Jackson voiced his disapproval of the final design saying that the leaf looked as though it was “cut out of leather and a paralyzed maple leaf is not a maple leaf at all.”20

19. O. J. Firestone, The Other A. Y. Jackson, Toronto, The Canadian Publishers, 1979, p. 109.

20. O. J. Firestone, The Other A. Y. Jackson, Toronto, The Canadian Publishers, 1979, p. 117.