On a cold February day in Ottawa a crowd of ten thousand gathered as Canada’s new flag rose above the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill for the first time. The preceding debate had been long and acrimonious. Lester Pearson believed that Canada needed a distinctive new flag, while opposition leader John Diefenbaker was passionately committed to the existing Red Ensign. Eventually Pearson prevailed. His brief speech here contained none of the drama of his clashes with Diefenbaker in the House of Commons. While the prime minister spoke Diefenbaker, seated nearby, used a handkerchief to dab a tear from his eye.
Today our new flag will fly for the first time in the skies above Canada
On September 5, 1945 an Order-in-Council was passed declaring the Red Ensign to be Canada’s National Flag pending a decision of the Parliament of Canada.
Such a decision was made in December 1964 after long and vigorous parliamentary debate and careful committee consideration and recommendation.
As a result of this decision by the Canadian parliament and on the advice of the government of Canada, Her Majesty, our beloved Queen, was pleased to issue a proclamation that the flag we are about to raise today should be the flag of Canada.
So, at noon today, in this eighth month of our ninety-eighth year as a Confederation, our new flag will fly for the first time in the skies above Canada and in places overseas where Canadians serve.
If our nation, by God’s grace, endures a thousand years, this day, the 15th day of February, 1965, will always be remembered as a milestone in Canada’s national progress.
It is impossible for me not to be deeply moved on such an occasion or to be insensible to the honour and privilege of taking part in it.
There are many in this country who regret the replacement of the Red Ensign by the red Maple Leaf. Their feelings and their emotions should be honoured and respected. But I am sure, now that the decision has been made by the representatives of the Canadian people in Parliament assembled, that all Canadians, as good patriots, will accept that decision and fly with pride our national flag.
This ceremony today is not a break with history but a new stage in Canada’s forward march from a group of separate and scattered and dependent colonies, to a great and sovereign Confederation stretching from sea to sea and from our Southern border to the north pole.
No step by which we have advanced to our present position among nations has been an easy one and none has been taken without some nostalgia for the past.
This is inevitable in the succession of new beginnings that mark a nation’s progress – as they do the course of human events – for each brings to an end a stage for which deep attachment often lingers.
The patriotic motives that have led Parliament to adopt a new Canadian flag do not include disrespect for our past or for the emblems of that past.
We salute the future, but we honour the past on which the future rests. As the symbol of a new chapter in our national story, our maple leaf flag will become a symbol of that unity in our country without which one cannot grow in strength and purpose; the unity that encourages the equal partnership of two peoples on which this Confederation was founded; the unity also that recognizes the contributions and the cultures of many other races.
And so the new flag, joining and rising above the milestones of our history, today takes for the first time its proud place as the emblem of Canada — “The Maple Leaf Our Emblem Dear.”
May the land over which this new flag flies remain united in freedom and justice; a land of decent God-fearing people; fair and generous in all its dealings; sensitive, tolerant and compassionate towards all men; industrious, energetic, resolute; wise, and just in the giving of security and opportunity equally to all its cultures; and strong in its adherence to those moral principles which are the only sure guide to greatness.
Under this flag may our youth find new inspiration for loyalty to Canada; for a patriotism based not on any mean or narrow nationalism, but on the deep and equal pride that all Canadians will feel for every part of this good land.
God bless our flag!
And God bless Canada!