A New Leaf

A. Y. Jackson proposes a national flag


Illustration by Kellen Hatanaka

Illustration by Kellen Hatanaka

In 1964, after two decades of indecision, Lester B. Pearson tasked a Senate and House of Commons committee with establishing our first official national flag. The prime minister’s preference, nicknamed the Pearson Pennant by its detractors, consisted of three red maple leaves on a field of white flanked by blue vertical bars. Eight months before the red and white “Maple Leaf” was presented on February 15, 1965, while the parties sparred in the House of Commons, painter A. Y. Jackson weighed in on the debate.

Dear Mr. Pearson,

Several years ago I made a design for a Canadian flag. It was not shown to anyone and I had forgotten all about it. I had scribbled some phone numbers on the back of it. A visitor to the studio the other day saw it and remarked he liked it more than the one being reproduced in the press, and asked if he could show it to Mr. Lamontagne. I imagine that back of my mind was the memory of camping with Tom Thomson in Algonquin Park just fifty years ago. I made a sketch which became a canvas entitled “The Red Maple” and was purchased by the National Gallery that same year 1914. It represented a tree with red leaves and the Ox Tongue River prancing by in the background.

The design under discussion at present is confounded by the idea of “Sea to sea.” It should be horizontal, but it cannot be done. But when one thinks of how all this country was discovered and explored by men in canoes, running down or poling up rapids, and all the heroic adventures of brave men from La Salle, Champlain, Mackenzie, Hearne, Tyrrell, Camsell and countless others, the wild river is far more associated with our history than any ocean and the rollicking line can be the expression of it on a flag.

Apart from that, I believe the leaf of the sugar maple in its natural state is much more beautiful than the simplifications made of it in most of the flag designs, also the blue lines at the top and bottom in my design separate the flag more effectively from whatever its background may be.

I trust you will forgive me for intruding my views into this rather confusing situation.

Yours very truly,

A. Y. Jackson

This appeared in the March 2015 issue.

Kellen Hatanaka will publish his second children’s book, Drive: A Look at Roadside Opposites, in May 2015.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER. Get the weekly roundup from The Walrus, a collection of our best stories, delivered to your inbox. Learn More »

Elsewhere on