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Celebrating the Maple Leaf flag at 50

[Maple Leaf Flag Book]
Authors Ann-Maureen Owens, left, and Jane Yealland have updated their book Our Flag: The Story of Canada's Maple Leaf, originally published in 1999, in time for the 50th anniversary of the flag. (University Communications)

Canada’s Maple Leaf flag turns 50 on Sunday, Feb. 15 and to mark the event, a book on the flag’s history, with some strong connections to Queen’s University, has been updated and re-released.

Authors Jane Yealland and Ann-Maureen Owens are both from Kingston, with Ms. Yealland currently working as a research associate at the university’s Centre for Studies in Primary Care and Ms. Owens (BEd’74), education manager of Kingston WritersFest , being an alumnus.

The book, Our Flag: The Story of Canada's Maple Leaf, which was originally published in 1999, was a regular feature in school libraries and could be bought at bookstores across the country. Ms. Owens, a former teacher, even recalls seeing it for sale at airports.

But now, with the anniversary coming up, publisher Kids Can Press has re-released the book, albeit with some updates discovered in 15-year interim.

One of the new pieces of information is the integral role of George Stanley, a professor at Royal Military College at the time.

It was well-known that Dr. Stanley was one of the key players in the creation of the Maple Leaf Flag, but to what extent was uncertain. That changed when a drawing considered the root of the flag was discovered after it had been improperly filed, the duo says.

“There was this talk of it being drawn on the back of napkin but in fact they found that (Dr. Stanley) actually did a proper drawing and sent it to John Matheson,” says Ms. Owens. “So that was nice to be able to bring his contribution into the book.”

Dr. Stanley’s design, based on RMC’s flag, had three equal blocks of red-white-red, with a red maple leaf in the middle rather than a mailed fist. The final flag’s middle white section accounts for half the area while the red blocks on either end are a quarter each.

Ahead of the initial publication, the pair did a massive amount of research and that path could only lead to John Matheson, often considered the father of the flag for his role as a leading member of the multi-party parliamentary committee to select a new flag. Soldier, Member of Parliament, lawyer and judge, Mr. Matheson (Arts’40, LLD’84) long maintained a connection with Queen’s, serving as chairman of the Board of Management of Queen’s Theological College and as a member of University Council. He was also on the Board of Trustees for two decades.

The authors also found out that Mr. Matheson, as always, was eminently approachable and a most valuable resource.

“I remember we called him out of the blue, he was at his cottage with his wife and we said we were working on this and he said ‘Can you come up today?’” says Ms.Yealland. “They were so sweet, just lovely, and they ordered lunch. He couldn’t have been more generous with his time and you could really see how passionate he was. It was a topic he just didn’t tire talking about.”

Ms. Yealland adds that they were fortunate to reach so many primary sources, including Jane O’Malley, who sewed the first flag.

Since the book was first published, the two have seen a growing connection to the flag for Canadians. Simple yet vibrant, the image of the Maple Leaf has been reinforced through sporting competitions such as the Vancouver Olympics but also the increased military involvement over the past decade and the Highway of Heroes.

“It’s also the sense of identity and belonging because it has been our flag now for 50 years,” explains Ms. Owens.

Quite simply, the flag helps answer the question ‘Where do I belong?’ they say.

Ms. Yealland adds that returning to the book some 15 years later has been fun.

“We have some upcoming workshops that we will be doing with schoolchildren in Moncton and later in the fall in Kingston,” she says. “It’s always fun talking to the kids and I think this is just a nice supplement to a textbook because it’s a little more interactive.”