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Legionnaires boo Pearson over flag

For nearly a century Canada had no distinctive national flag. Each time Canadians suggested a new symbol to replace the Canadian Red Ensign, modelled after a British naval flag, there was controversy. Maple leaves, beavers, crosses, crowns — propositions that went nowhere. In 1964 Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson said he'd introduce a new national flag. But Opposition leader John Diefenbaker and the Royal Canadian Legion wanted to stick with the Red Ensign. Everyone had an opinion before Canada finally chose the red and white flag with the maple leaf.

On a stage with Royal Canadian Legionnaires standing at attention and holding Red Ensigns, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson steps up to a microphone. He's speaking to a convention of 2,000 at a Winnipeg Legion who invited him to talk about his proposed national flag. Pearson tells the crowd the Red Ensign will no longer serve the needs of Canadians. The crowd boos and heckles the prime minister.

Pearson smiles and says the angry crowd does not bother him, quoting former U.S. president Harry Truman to the audience, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." Most Legionnaires want to continue flying the Canadian Red Ensign, a British navy flag. But Pearson wants to introduce a maple leaf flag. So far, he favours three red maple leaves conjoined on a blue or white background. He also likes a single maple leaf with two blue bars.
. The flag debate divided English Canadians between imperialists who wanted to keep the Red Ensign and nationalists who wanted a new flag. Editorials and letters in French Canadian newspapers showed francophone ambivalence to the debate.
. The Red Ensign, Britain's merchant marine flag, flew unofficially until 1965. It has the Union Jack in the canton (upper-left quarter) and the Canadian coat of arms in the fly (farthest half from rope).

. On May 14, 1964, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson told the media he would aim to introduce a national flag with official legislation.
. Liberal member of Parliament John Matheson suggested the flag with three red maple leafs joined on one stem. It can be seen behind CBC host Norman DePoe at the end of this clip.
. In 1896 Toronto lawyer Edward Chadwick proposed the same three leaves for an official Canadian badge.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: May 19, 1964
Host: Norman DePoe
Duration: 8:38

Last updated: September 26, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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