CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers: What Was Wrong with the Old Flag?

History, Social Studies
1 lesson
To examine the role of symbols in creating and extending cultural identity.
In this introductory activity, students gather information about the Red Ensign and the meaning of the symbolism of the flag to Canada.

Lesson Plan

Before Exploring

Ask students if they were aware that Canada's flag has only been in existence since 1965. Discuss with them their feelings about the national flag, its importance as a symbol and their understanding of its acceptance throughout the world.

Describe and show them the Union Jack and the Red Ensign. Explain that the Union Jack, the flag of Britain, flew over Canada to show that Canada was a British Colony. After 1867, the Union Jack continued to fly over Canada to show Canada's place in the British Empire. After World War II, Canada instead began to fly the Red Ensign, which included both the Union Jack and Canada's own coat of arms, to show that Canada was an entity unto itself.

Ask students to share their first impression of the symbolism of these flags, and record their answers for later discussion.

Outline the Opportunity

Have students explore the topic The Great Canadian Flag Debate on the CBC Digital archives website for 10 to 15 minutes. In that time, they should find and record any information they can about the meaning of the symbols on the Red Ensign and on the current Canadian flag.

Revisit and Reflect


Have students share their information with the class. Together, identify the elements of the Red Ensign, and the symbolism of each element. Have students discuss how important they think each symbol was as a reflection of Canadian identity at the time.

Students can repeat the exercise for the current Canadian flag. Then have students discuss and explain whether they think it was necessary to change Canada's flag in the 1960s, and whether they think the new flag was a good choice.


Have students examine Canada's provincial flags and identify symbols that reflect meaning for these provinces' identities. Check for similarities in symbols and colours. What commonalities exist among the provincial flags?

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