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Last modified: 2012-11-10 by rob raeside
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[Flag ofCanada] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, and Martin Grieve 27 July 2007
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The Current Canadian Flag

The Maple Leaf flag

The Canadian National Flag was adopted by the Canadian Parliament on October 22, 1964 and was proclaimed into law by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (the Queen of Canada) on February 15, 1965 [the certification of Parliament's decision was made on Jan. 28, 1965, Feb. 15 being the 'in force' date]. The Canadian Flag (colloquially known as The Maple Leaf Flag) is a red flag of the proportions two by length and one by width, containing in its centre a white square, with a single red stylized eleven-point maple leaf centred in the white square.

The colours red and white used in the Canadian flag are the same as those colours used in the Union Flag (of the UK). Red and white are the national colours of Canada since 1921 (when they were proclaimed by King George V on the recommendation of the Canadian Government). The heraldic description of the Canadian National Flag is: Gules on a Canadian pale argent a maple leaf of the first.

Philatelists will note the issue of a Canadian stamp commemorating the 30th. Anniversary of the National flag on May 1, 1995.

Sources (of this item and the following ones):
Department of the Secretary of State of Canada, The Arms, Flag and Emblems of Canada, 1984
Department of the Secretary of State for Canada, Canada: Symbols of Nationhood, 1988
Bruce Peel "Emblems of Canada: Flag" The Canadian Encyclopedia, Hurtig Publishers: Edmonton, 1988.
Peter Cawley - 25 May 1995

There are standards available from the Standards Council of Canada for making the National Flag of Canada from fabric.

CAN/CGSB-98.3-M91 National Flag of Canada (One-Event-Only Use)
CAN/CGSB-98.2-92 National Flag of Canada (Indoor Use)
CAN/CGSB-98.1-92 National Flag of Canada (Outdoor Use)

Dean Tiegs - 06 December 1997

Origin of the Maple Leaf as symbol for Canada

This comes from a daily vignette on local radio "This Day in History".

On 21 August, 1860, the Prince of Wales was visiting Canada  (i.e. Ontario and Quebec at that time, I assume) - the first real royal visit. People lined the streets of Toronto to see him - those of English origin wore a rose, the Scots wore a thistle, but what were the Canadian-born to wear? Canada's emblem had long been the beaver. 26 years earlier the Saint Jean Baptiste Society in Quebec had adopted the maple leaf as its symbol (apparently the first time the maple leaf was used as a symbol), and it was decreed that for the prince's visit the Canadians should wear a maple leaf. The idea took root.

In 1867 as Canada was becoming a country, a call was put out to write a patriotic song. Whatever song was chosen has since been lost to history, but the second place winner was Alexander Muir who wrote "The Maple Leaf for Ever", a song which became very popular, although today is downplayed a lot as it is not inclusive of the French Canadians.

In World War 1, Lester Pearson noted that almost every battalion from Canada included the maple leaf in its insignia, and vowed he would campaign to put it on the flag, and of course 50 years later as prime minister of Canada he was part of the 33-day debate that resulted in the maple leaf as the Canadian flag.

Rob Raeside - 21 August 1998

Three Leaves or One?

The Pearson Pennant shows three leaves on one stem.

So do the Coat-of-Arms of Ontario (also on the flag) and Quebec.
(editor's note)

Why three leaves on a single stem. While I can't claim to be a vexill-botonist, I am unaware of any maple tree that has three leaves on a single stem. Is there a hidden meaning to the three or just artistic license?
Nathan Bliss - 17 August 1998

True. This is impossible, because maple leaves always grow two by two, opposed on a branch, like this:


So the arms of Canada, Quebec and Ontario are not botanically correct, so to speak. Whether this is a problem or not is debatable, because a dragon doesn't exist, so one could argue that the flag of Wales isn't zoologically correct! But of course, the three arms cited above are meant to represent a certain reality, unlike the flag of Wales, so...

Is there a hidden meaning to the three or just artistic license?

Not officially, but we could suppose that there was a certain religious intent behind this decision.
Luc-Vartan Baronian - 17 August 1998

Ontario first badge
Ontario - first badge

It is unlikely that the three maple leaves on the Arms of Ontario1 were intended to represent the founding people of Canada as recently suggested. However the original design by Sir Charles Young, Garter King of Arms, was changed at the request of the Canadian authorities; the three maple leaves replacing a single garb or sheaf of wheat. Conrad Swan in Canada : Symbols of Sovereignty, from which the original design is copied, gives a National Archives reference for correspondence between the Colonial Secretary and Garter on the matter.
David Prothero, 23 June 2006

1Editorial Note: the Ontario badge change appears to be a first instance of the use of the three maple leafs.
image contributed by
David Prothero, 23 June 2006

I found a copy of Swan's book Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty [swa77], and found on p. 161:

Chapter 10


Deputed great seals were duly assigned for both Upper Canada and the Province of Canada, but neither had arms. Indeed, not until the year following Confederation were arms provided for Ontario, along with Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, by a royal warrant dated 26 May 1868. This instrument assigned the following ensigns for the Province of Ontario: vert, a sprig of three leaves of maple slipped or, on a chief argent, a cross of St George.

By this time, the maple leaf was firmly established as emblematic of Canada and, in fact, since 1854 had been an heraldic charge, having been so granted in the arms of Sir Louis Hypolite La Fontaine, Bt., Chief Justice of Lower Canada. As a consequence, the Canadian authorities specifically requested its inclusion in the Arms of Ontario in place of the wheat sheaf suggested by the then Garter King of Arms.

To complete the effective simplicity of these arms, a chief of St George was added to the green field charged with three gold maple leaves on a single stem. For a province which came into being out of loyalty to the Crown, the inclusion of this reference to the namesake and patron of the monarch to whom this loyalty was directed, George III, was appropriate. It also served to recall the country from which had derived so much of the constitution, the laws, and the methods of government which the founders of Upper Canada were determined to maintain. It certainly could not have been intended to reflect national origins in the province when the arms were assigned for Ontario, as the Irish greatly outnumbered the English at that juncture.

At the top of the next page is the illustration, above.
Dean McGee, 23 June 2006

The 'leaf' on the Canadian flag is a representation of the "broad leaf maple". Looks great on our flag, but the broad leaf maple only grows in the east.
Jim Brown, 13 September 2007

Among other things I work as a researcher to several Dakota (Indian) bands in the province of Manitoba, Canada. An interesting thread of information which emerged during recent oral history interviews (and a parallel archival corroborative project) showed that an individual Dakota chief in the 1760s known usually as "Wabasha III" employed the red maple leaf as his particular symbol.

Wabasha - or Wa pa ha sha -- refers to the standard carried by senior chiefs, a kind of shepherd's crook. This was routinely decorated with various articles that symbolized the bearer, including great attention to colour. Wabasha is "Red Standard", and his name sometimes appears in British accounts of the period as Wapahasha, or "Red Standard" or simply "the Standard."

While Wabasha used a common device of red-dyed eagle feathers, he also apparently employed red maple leaves as an additional embellishment on his staff, and this too became associated with him. So, in many French accounts he becomes "la Feuille" or "la Feuille Rouge", and in the corresponding English accounts of the period he becomes "the Red Leaf" or "the Leaf."

Wabasha chose the British side of the French, and in 1782 was (according to Canadian National Archives documents) made a brigadier general of provincial militia in the British Army in recognition of his support. According to family oral tradition, as Wabasha was now "General Wabasha", it befitted that he should also have a flag like the other British officers had. He adapted the imagery of his staff/standard and chose a flag of a red maple leaf on a white background. Documents of this period sometimes refer to him as "the Red Flag" or even "Red Sheet".

In the absence of a illustration from the period, or a definitive linking document, is only a hypothetical explanation, but it is consistent with the usage of the term and its appearance as a badge among the British colonial military of the frontier during the late 1700s.
James A.M. Ritchie, 17 April 2010

11 points

Since this question was asked, Canada added Nunavut as a territory, giving the country a total of 10 provinces and 3 territories.

If the ten points on the maple leaf on the Canadian Flag represent the ten provinces, and territories, what does the eleventh point on the maple leaf represent?
a Frequently Asked Question

The number of points on the maple leaf is pure coincidence, perhaps this way of thinking may come from one of the most famous flags, the American Stars & Stripes, where we all know that the 50 stars stand for 50 states, but the 11 points on the leaf are just coincidental - if we got 5 more provinces, say, can you imagine a 15-pointed maple leaf?
David Kendall - 1998-01-16

As some members have already pointed out, the eleven points/eleven governments (10 provincial plus federal) story is false. If you want a reference, go to your local library and ask for a pamphlet called: Etiquette of the Canadian flag, 1995(?) (I'm not sure of the exact title) in the federal publications.

You will see in there in black on white that the eleven points have no significance
Luc-Vartan Baronian - 16 January 1998

The Colours : Red and White

Does anyone know why red and white are Canada's official colours. I heard somewhere that the red represents blood shed in World War I and the white represents the land. Can anyone confirm this?
Fyaz Faisal, 15 August 1998

According to the documents edited by the Government of Canada : The flag is red and white, official colors that King George V designated for Canada in 1921.
Palac, 16 August 1998

I believe red and white has been our unofficial colours since the early-mid 18th century though. I don't know where it came from, but the official Canadian government site (I'm not sure of the URL, it's linked from my home page though) might help.
David Kendall, 16 August 1998

I've consulted two references on this, and both disagree with each other regarding the meaning of the colors on the Canadian flag. Mssr. Palac in his response to this list was correct in that the colors were officially part of the 1921 proclamation by George V.

I have also consulted the Canadian government server. They do not mention any symbolism on the flag, but do note that the red-white-red combination first appeared as part of the design of a General Service Medal for Canada issued under Queen Victoria between 1866 and 1870.

The design is somewhat based on the Pearson Pennant. This had a blue-white-blue format for the colors, which a three leaf design for the Maple Leaf.

According to another source, the source of the design was the flag of the Royal Military College, with the white pale made large and the Maple Leaf in place of the mailed fist replaced by a maple leaf. This flag design was based on the General Service Medal mentioned earlier.
Phil Nelson, 16 August 1998

Perhaps the question should be "why not?" rather than "why?"; a matter of elimination not selection. As others have written the colours were established with the grant of arms of 1921. The "colours" associated with a coat of arms are those of the mantle, the covering of the helmet located above the shield. In this case maple leaves. In English heraldry these are traditionally a 'metal', yellow (gold) or white (silver), and a 'colour', blue, green or red. Red seems a fairly obvious choice of 'colour'. The Red Ensign with the badge of Canada in the fly was beginning to replace the British Union Flag as the National Flag. The maple leaf was established as a, perhaps the, National symbol.

A characteristic of the maple leaf, apart from its shape, is its red colour in the autumn (fall).

Do you now select yellow or white to go with red? Yellow and red appear together in the English and Scottish quarters of the shield, so white and red would be a more distinctive combination. White would also symbolize the ice and snow associated with much of Canada. Red and white just seem the best option within the tradition of English heraldry. A note about the colour of the maple leaves in the base of the shield. In 1921 these were green and were not changed to red until 1957. The original blazon (description) was; 'argent three maple leaves slipped vert'. (Three green maple leaves with stalks on a white background). However before publication this was changed to; 'argent three maple leaves conjoined on one stem proper'. The significant change is that 'vert' which must be 'green' has been changed to 'proper' which means 'natural'. Since the botanical maple leaf changes colour from green to red, the leaves in the base of the shield could have been made red even in 1921, just as the maple leaf in the paw of the lion on the crest, already was.
David Prothero - 17 August 1998

Why would gules and argent be a logical choice for the torse and mantling of the 1921 arms? If anything, since the 1921 arms are based on the British royal arms it would be gules and ermine (don't forget the furs). I believe gules and argent for the torse and mantling might have been derived from the St George's cross in the chief of the Ontario arms, which I assume was in the senior quarter of the pre-1921 arms?
Andrew Young - 18 August 1998

The Red Ensign (created in 1707 as ensign of the Merchant Navy) was used from 1870 as flag on sea and on land. On the fly, there was the armories of provinces on one shield, often maple embellish bough and of oak and overcome of the royal crown, with to the-under a castor on a roundel.

In 1892, the British Admiralty authorized its use on sea as flag of Canada, as the "Red Canadian Ensign".
Palac - 18 August 1998

The colours of Canada were suggested to George V of GB because They had been the colours of Both France & England.

In the First Crusade a Norman lord, Bohemund I, had red crosses cut from his mantles and distributed to 12,000 crusaders, who wore them as a badge on their garments. In later crusades, each nation was distinguished by a cross of a different colour, making the first uniforms. France long had a red cross on its banners while England used a white cross. Time and again in history red and white are found as the colours of France or of England so it's quiet fitting they were adopted here.

Philip, 23 January 2006

The protocol manual for the London 2012 Olympics (Flags and Anthems Manual London 2012) provides recommendations for national flag designs. Each NOC was sent an image of the flag, including the PMS shades, for their approval by LOCOG. Once this was obtained, LOCOG produced a 60 x 90 cm version of the flag for further approval. So, while these specs may not be the official, government, version of each flag, they are certainly what the NOC believed the flag to be.
For Canada: PMS 032 red. The vertical flag is simply the horizontal version turned 90 degrees anti-clockwise.
Ian Sumner, 10 October 2012

Prime Minister

Interestingly, the Canadian Armed Forces do designate special flags for the prime minister and the minister of Defence: miniature National Flags.

They're used in a way analogous to a general's rank flag: on vehicles, on ships, and in front of Canadian Forces buildings where the prime minister or minister of Defence is actually present.
Dean Tiegs, 14 January 1998

The Royal Union Flag in Canada

[Royal Union Flag] image by Clay Moss, 16 December 2006

The "Royal Union Flag" (British Union Flag) is a current "official" flag of Canada per act of parliament of December 18, 1964, to "show allegiance to the crown and as a symbol of Canadian membership in the Commonwealth". It is required to be flown at Canadian federal government facilities (if sufficient poles are available) on Victoria Day, the anniversary of the Statute of Westminster (Dec 11), and Commonwealth day. The national flag (maple leaf) takes precedence in all cases except during a royal visit.

My personal observation in southern Ontario is that it is infrequently used, although it can be seen occasionally.
Kevin McNamara, 31 October 1998

One of the "concessions" which the advocates of the new (Maple Leaf) national flag of Canada granted to those in favour of the erstwhile Canadian Red Ensign was the formal recognition of the Union Jack as a flag of Canada, (where, in official Canadian parlance -- as I'm certain many of you know -- it is formally referred to as the "Royal Union Flag"). This was done via a resolution of the federal Canadian Parliament on 18 December 1964 wherein "Parliament approves the continued us of the Union flag as a symbol of Canada's membership in the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as our continued allegiance to the Crown".

The practical result of this resolution is that the Union Jack is to be flown alongside the Canadian national flag at all federal government buildings, airports, and military bases on special occasions, "such as the Queen's Birthday, and on the anniversary of the passing of the Statute of Westminster by the Imperial Parliament", on 11 December 1931.

[The Statute of Westminster, by the way, is the piece of British legislation wherein it was formally declared that all the self-governing Dominions of the Empire/Commonwealth and Britain were constitutionally "equal in status", with "no member subordinate in any way" to another. Until this Statute was passed, there was still considerable confusion about the legal status of the Dominions on the international stage; although we had been self-governing, internally, for almost 100 years, all our foreign affairs were, more-or-less, supposed to be conducted via London. The Statue of Westminster formally changed that -- and, in fact, there is a school of thought which asserts that 11 December is the real independence day for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa.]

I actually put this to the test last time I was home on the Queen's Birthday: I randomly drove around Ottawa and found that out of 21 federal government buildings I came across with the capacity to implement the resolution (i.e.., those with a second flag pole, since the National Flag must also be flown), 19 complied. That was in May 1992.

One last point: although it is true that we general still say "Victoria Day", in fact, the formal title has been for quite some time "the Queen's Official Birthday" (with the added implication of "in Canada"). We are not technically celebrating Queen Victoria's birthday, but rather the reigning sovereign's birthday. The same thing occurs in the UK -- the Queen's actual birth date is 21 April, but the official celebration is in June.
Glen R. Hodgins, 23 May 2000

Just a quick note to advise those so interested that the Royal Union Flag (AKA the Union Jack) was prominently on display at key Canadian government buildings in Ottawa on March 9 [2004]. Although I am certain there were many who believed it indicated a VIP visit from the UK, in fact, (and in accordance with Canadian government regulations), it was flying to mark Commonwealth Day. The same should have been the case at government sites across our northern Dominion.

There was a time when "mindless bureaucrats" overlooked these regulations, (and some who believed in republican conspiracies considered these oversights deliberate), but now, due largely to repeatedly being called to account on such matters by ordinary citizens in the know, the regulations regarding the Royal Union Flag on such occasions are currently (based upon my observations) fully observed.

FYI, the Royal Union Flag is to be flown at all Canadian government sites, where physical circumstances allow (ie., a second flag pole exists) on:

  • Commonwealth Day: 8 March;
  • Victoria Day, (i.e.., the Queen's Official Birthday in Canada, the third Monday of May); and
  • Statute of Westminster Day: (11 December).

Within Canada "Royal Union Flag" is the official title (i.e., by government regulation) of the flag when displayed by the Canadian government, (i.e., to mark our membership in the Commonwealth or allegiance to the Crown). It is only officially referred to as the Union Jack or British flag when it represents HM's Britannic government -- ie., at the British High Commission or Consulates within Canada or when Tony Blair, et al, visit. A subtle (and even potentially confusing) difference -- but an important and useful one if employed properly, and explained as such.
Glen Hodgins, 9 March 2004

Whether or not the Flag is called the Union Jack or Union Flag or Royal Union Flag, there is an interesting concept of precedence: the UJ representing Britain is the flag of a sovereign country, so it takes precedence over provincial flags. The Union Jack (or Union Flag or Royal Union Flag) representing allegiance to the Commonwealth, is supposed to come after provincial flags. See the Canadian Heritage page on flag etiquette.
Dean McGee, 9 March 2004

Unofficial Pledge to the Canadian Flag

According to the Canadian government at

There is no official pledge to the Canadian flag; however, there are no laws or statutes which prevent an association or an individual from adopting a form which will suit the purposes.

The following is presented as a possible form of pledge to the Canadian flag.

Pledge to the Canadian Flag
Salut au drapeau canadien

To my Flag and to the country it represents, I pledge RESPECT and LOYALTY

Wave with PRIDE from sea to sea and within your folds, keep us ever UNITED.

Be for all a symbol of LOVE, FREEDOM and JUSTICE

God keep our FLAG

God protect our CANADA

À mon drapeau et au pays qu'il représente, je promets RESPECT et FIDÉLITÉ

D'une mer à l'autre, flotte avec FIERTÉ et dans tes plis garde nous toujours UNIS./p>

Sois, pour nous tous, un symbole de l'AMOUR, de la LIBERTÉ et de la JUSTICE

Dieu garde notre DRAPEAU

Dieu protège notre CANADA

This text was proposed by Mr. Alexandre Cyr, when he was M.P. for Gaspé.
Jarig Bakker, 12 January 2001