The flag of Canada was adopted on February 15, 1965. It is a rectangular flag with two vertical red stripes on the left and right sides. The center section of the flag is white with a red 11-pointed maple leaf in the center. The flag is known in Canada as the “Maple Leaf” or l’Unifolié (“the one-leafed”).
The story of the Canadian flag’s development is a colorful one and dates back to the Age of Exploration. Both the British and the French settled in Canada in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. When John Cabot arrived in Newfoundland in 1497, he flew the St. George’s Cross, a white flag with a red cross that was is used in England. When Jacques Cartier arrived in Gaspé in 1534, he flew a red flag with a white cross, the reverse image of the St. George’s Cross that, at the time, was France’s national flag.
When the British settled in Nova Scotia in 1621, the Royal Union Flag, the current United Kingdom flag that contains St. George’s, St. Andrew’s, and St. Patrick’s crosses, was introduced into Canadian colonies. Once New France came under British control in the mid-eighteenth century, the Union Flag served as the official Canadian flag until the current flag’s adoption in 1965.
This did not stop Canadians from advocating for a distinctively Canadian flag, however. Many versions of a national banner were proposed before the Canadian flag’s official adoption. The first flag proposed was called the “Flag of the Governor General of Canada” and contained a red background, the Union Flag in the upper left corner, and a shield in the center that combined the coats of arms of Canada’s four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. As new provinces were added in the nineteenth century, their arms were added to this shield. The British approved this flag, now called the “Canadian Red Ensign,” for use at sea, but not as the official Canadian flag. In 1920, the Canadian coat of arms replaced the combined coat of arms on this flag.
During World War II, some efforts were made to design a new Canadian flag; however, debate regarding the presence of the Union Flag on the Canadian flag halted these efforts. The real flag debate began in the 1960s with the help of future Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. He proposed a flag similar to the current flag, but with blue vertical stripes and three red maple leaves in the center. Despite strong opposition more conservative Canadians, Pearson formed a committee to design a new flag, and the House of Commons, the Senate, and Queen Elizabeth II all approved the current Canadian flag design by 1965.