I Stand for Canada: The Story of the Maple Leaf Flag

by Rick Archbold

Published by MacFarlane, Walter & Ross

185 pages, 2002




Standing On Guard

Reviewed by Lincoln Cho


To many Canadians, the bold red maple leaf on a stark white background bordered on either side with the leaf's deep crimson is an entirely tangible symbol of nationalism. More meaningful than maple syrup, Mounties, hockey sticks or even our beloved beaver, the Canadian flag embodies all that we'd like to be. The flag manages somehow to convey the stark rawness that continues to be an accurate representation of much of the country. The flag is beautiful and it is pure: things we all hope for ourselves, in spirit if not in fact.

At this point, deep in the year 2002, it's safe to say that perhaps the largest percentage of Canadians don't even remember any other flag, much less think about the old one fondly. And, certainly, few non-Canadians identify Canada with any other banner.

With all these facts in hand, it's tough to believe that the Canadian flag in its present form has only been around since the mid-1960s. From a historical perspective, that's only about two minutes, though it's more than a lifetime for many of us. In a lovely new book, I Stand For Canada: The Story of the Maple Leaf Flag, author Rick Archbold reminds us of a time and an event most of us never got the chance to forget.

It's hard to recall now, nearly forty years later, just how big a deal the flag question was: the passions it aroused, the divisions it deepened, the crisis in Confederation it amplified.

On the path to explaining the current Canadian flag, Archbold brings us a mini-history of Canada and how, in one form or another, the maple leaf has always played a part in Canadian identity. He also writes about the factors that contributed to Canada's first flag -- a Union Jack-dominated flag known as the Canadian Red Ensign -- being ultimately put aside for the flag we now know and love.

Unsurprisingly -- this is Canada we're talking about, after all -- the debate was ultimately put before a committee of MPs: 15 of them. They would look at the almost 6000 potential flag designs that had been collected over the preceding two decades. It boggles the mind. Just how many things can you do with a maple leaf or three? The potential flag designs came from artists and designers all over the country. Even the artist A.Y. Jackson got into the act, testifying in front of the committee and submitting two designs of his own.

Archbold shares the moment when the Red Ensign was lowered and the new Canadian flag -- the now familiar red and white -- was officially raised for the first time on February 15, 1965:

Those who gazed upwards remembered the moment always. To them the new flag looked ... right. It looked like a country coming into its own.

I Stand For Canada is a beautiful book, lovingly written and designed, elegantly reproduced. It is amazing to me that this story has never been told in its fullness before. A fitting tribute to a national symbol worthy of the attention. We stand on guard for thee. | November 2002


Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.