After many months without rain in Australia’s capital, the drought broke – just in time for the Canadian High Commission’s celebration of Flag Day!
National Flag of Canada Day marks the day in 1965 when the red and white maple leaf flag was first raised over Parliament Hill in Ottawa and in hundreds of communities across Canada. Nowadays it is celebrated around the world in countries with which Canada has a valuable relationship, such as Australia.
The Canadian maple leaf is one of the world’s most instantly recognizable flags, but it was not always so.
Red and white were designated as Canada's official colours in 1921. The two colours are significant because red and white were frequently used as the colours of both France and England, as far back as the 11th century.
In 1964, Canadian MPs voted to hold a national competition to design a new flag, with 3541 submissions received for consideration. Finally, after six months of bitter debate over maple leaves, beavers, fleur-de-lys, union jacks, ensigns and other designs, a 15-member, multi-party committee selected Colonel George Stanley and Liberal MP John Matheson’s design.
The maple leaf itself has been a Canadian symbol for much longer. Well before the coming of the first European settlers, Canada's Aboriginal peoples had discovered the edible properties of maple sap, which they gathered every spring. According to many historians, the maple leaf began to serve as a Canadian symbol as early as 1700. In 1860, it was used in decorations for the visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada, and in both world wars soldiers wore the maple leaf on military badges.
At the Flag Day celebrations, High Commissioner Michael Small likened the divisive arguments and challenges of 1965 to the debates which raged over the construction of the Sydney Opera House. Today, the 11-pointed maple leaf and the red and white are synonymous with Canada, just like it is difficult to imagine Sydney without its landmark building.
Families braved the elements to take part in the Flag Day festivities, resisting torrential downpours to take in the flags and the fun, and the celebratory maple leaf cake most of all. Children enjoyed red and white festive balloons and temporary flag tattoos, while older guests were treated to a challenging trivia quiz – with many participants turning to the Canada Down Under Facebook page for answers.
Some guests were Canadians living in Canberra, while others were members of the Australian business, education and diplomatic communities.
While everyone enjoyed the display of the Canadian flags throughout the Chancery grounds, the provincial flags sparked discussions about the influence of British and French history over the years, and discussions of the shared elements of Canada and Australia’s legacies as former colonies.
Flag Day celebrations are sure to become a regular annual event at the High Commission, and 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of the flag. Let’s just hope for better weather next year!