Personal memories of Canada’s first flag day

UnknownBy Robert Washburn

As the Canadian flag’s 50th birthday is celebrated today, it is a wonderful opportunity to be filled with national pride.

It is lovely to have a day to put aside all our difference, tensions and stresses as Canadians honour a symbol of our unity.

When Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson decided to create a new national flag back in the 1960s, little did he know it would ignite a passionate debate. Amazingly, it also generated more than 6,000 contributions from ordinary Canadians wanting to contribute their vision.

Despite all the acrimony, the red Maple Leaf on a white field with a red background was adopted. It receives praise from flag experts around the world for its simplicity and beauty.

I do not have a grand story about the flag. But I do have a story.

Back in 1965, I was in Grade 2 and only six-years old at Dovercourt Junior Public School. My grandfather and mother both attended the same school before me. Even then, it was a really beautiful old school with amazing architecture. The aged stone with the massive single-hung sash windows were memorable solely for their size. The high ceilings were also incredible. There were separate boys and girls entrances. We were also separated in the schoolyard during recess (I would think because rambunctious boys might harm the delicate young girls).

We were paraded out on to Bartlett Avenue and the entire school lined up along the west sidewalk facing the school. It was a brisk morning. The brilliant sunshine poured down on all of us and you could see your breath. We stood outside as the principal and other officials talked as they stood at the base of the flagpole. As a kid, it was the boring part.

But then, the flag was attached and raised. To this day, I can still see it in my mind’s eye unfurling as it crept up the shining white pole. Then, at the top, the wind caught it and the flag stretched out. You could see the red and white, along with the Maple Leaf against the Bluejay-coloured sky, as a few wisps of white cloud passed by.

My heart soared. The national anthem played. I sang my guts out. It was an incredible moment of pride, an emotion never previously experienced. Looking back, it was the seed of my patriotism. As I would grow older, my sense of being Canadian would also grow. Our family shared a great love for Canada. Eventually, I would explore my heritage and discover our roots running deep into the very early founding days of the country.

My job as a journalist often places me in a critical role of the people and policies. But, it is nice to take time to reflect in a different vein.

This is not some great tale or compelling rhetoric. It is just one Canadian’s memory.

The image of the first Flag Day remains a strong one with me now. My love of Canada continues. My sense of personal history within the country is also profound. So, join and share with me today. Happy Flag Day!

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