What's Your Story

A first look at Vimy Ridge, and 4 more of your heartfelt Maple Leaf stories

From a soldier's first look to the flag fluttering in a traveller's heart, here are five letters that express a deep love for the Maple Leaf.
A choir stands ready to perform against the backdrop of a massive Maple Leaf flag. February 15 marks Flag Day across the nation. (Brandon Giesbrecht/Flickr CC)

Canadians who grew up with the Maple Leaf might find this hard to believe, but our national flag polarized the nation when it was first introduced in 1964.   

The design was hotly debated, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was publicly booed and flag designer George Stanley had his life threatened. But even back then, Stanley predicted that the Maple Leaf would be accepted within a generation.

If your letters are any indication, he was right — and then some! In honour of Flag Day, here are five stories about what our national banner means to you.

A monumental first look

Anne and E. (Pat) Patterson in Brighton, Ont., on their 60th anniversary. (Courtesy of E. (Pat) Patterson)

When our new flag was revealed in 1965, I was off serving with the RCAF in Metz, France. 

We were completely cut off from Canadian media, so my wife and I actually never saw it flying — that is until later that spring, on a day trip to Vimy Ridge.

We entered that hallowed ground, conversed with some visiting WWI British veterans, and then, with utter pride, awe and privilege, we first saw our very own Maple Leaf flying proudly, framed by Canada's truly magnificent monument.

That moment could not have been scripted.

How proud we were to be Canadian at that moment. We've revisited that memory many times since then, whenever we see Canada's emblem.

E. Patterson/Sgt/ret.
A proud Cold War veteran.
Brighton, Ont.

Tell all the neighbours!

Growing up in Ottawa in the 1960s was a privilege. It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. So much was happening in the world.

I was fortunate to be in our school choir in 1967 and we performed, along with many other school choirs, for Canada Day that year. I can't remember how many choirs participated but there were many, including the Ottawa Central choir.

We were all given a red or white cloak to wear, along with a flashlight. I remember walking down a long corridor, being handed my cloak and light, and turning right to walk ahead to take my place on the platform.

We had been lined up so we formed the image of the Canadian flag, and we turned on our flashlights as we paraded into the auditorium.

I'll never forget that day and the feeling of national pride.

Sheila Bruce, right, smiles widely in 1967 during a vacation to P.E.I. — a fitting trip during the Centennial year, considering the road to Confederation began in Charlottetown in 1864. (Courtesy of Sheila Bruce)

I also remember selling tickets for the concert. I went around to all the neighbours. Our next door neighbour declined to buy one, and I said to her "It's for Canada's 100th birthday party.  You won't be around for the next hundredth!"

Somewhat rude I guess, in hindsight.  That didn't change her mind though.

Sheila Bruce
Ottawa and Cameron, Ont.

An unapologetic kiss

Canada's Daniel Igali, from Surrey, B.C., holds up the Canadian flag after winning the gold medal in 69 kilogram freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

I look back at two moments when I think about being Canadian. The first was in October 1995 when I was sworn in as a Canadian citizen.  

The second was during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. I was watching television as Daniel Igali won gold in freestyle wrestling.

I watched him celebrate with the Canadian flag — his overt pride in being Canadian was something I don't think I'd seen before that point.  

Here was a man, an immigrant like me, kissing the flag of the country he was now fortunate enough to call home. At that moment, I realized that my pride in being Canadian didn't have to be in the stereotypical, unassuming "Canadian" way that the world expected.  Instead, it was okay, and even appropriate, to be loud and proud about being Canadian.

Since then, I see the signs of Canadian pride more frequently and I am proud to raise my daughters as Canadians — with a little Irish mixed in. ;)

Allen M.
Ballinasloe, Co. Galway, Ireland and Nanaimo, B.C.

Allen and his daughters smile for a photo. (Courtesy of Allen M)

Colour me proud

My Canada is defined by the flag. White for peace, and red for the great sacrifices our veterans made and continue to make for our freedoms. My Canada is defined by caring and conscientiousness, and by the quality — and qualities — of its people, Canadians.

An anecdote: I once lived and worked in the U.S. for several years. When it was time to return to Canada in 2004, I loaded my rental truck and drove north. At the border crossing I was asked how long I was away. 

Jeff Kelly, left, with his partner Maybeline on Canada Day 2015. (Courtesy of Jeff Kelly)

When I told the Canadian border officers "six years," they said, "Welcome back to Canada!"

I felt a huge lump in my throat at that moment, and realized how good it was to return home, how much I missed being back and how lucky I am to be Canadian.

Jeff Kelly
Norton and Florenceville-Bristol, N.B.

Can you see it in my face?

I might as well have a Canadian flag tattooed on my forehead. I am one of the proudest Canadians out there, and I've been spreading the word.

Ever since I arrived in the U.S. almost two years ago, I've felt an ever so slight pull from our closest neighbour to the north. Canada beckons to me — playing on all my insecurities about not belonging anywhere else but there. My New York reality doesn't shield me from a stray "eh" or an over-dramatic apology when I brush someone in the street.

Erin Woodward, an avid traveller, sets off a sky lantern in Bali. But no matter where she goes, Woodward carries Canada with her. (Courtesy of Erin Woodward)

Some things are so ingrained in the very fabric of who I am that even a decade abroad can't coax these Canadianisms from me.

I've spent nine years away. But I've always been facing north. I've been dreaming, planning, plotting my return to the "promised" land, where we have dreamy politicians, real maple syrup, small populations and too many manners for our own good. 

I've lived in five countries in my life and I've visited over 52. I've been mistaken for an American, Norwegian and Swede, but never once have I ever balked to tell someone that actually, "I am CANADIAN".

It's ever so poetic that I am moving home on Canada Day.

Erin Woodward
Lindsay, Ont.

Lead photo by Brandon Giesbrecht/Flickr/CC


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