Canadians love the maple leaf symbol and ready to display it almost anywhere, poll finds

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

I've always thought we Canadians lucked out when it comes to national brands.

It's easily recognizable, even at a distance. It's colourful and much more singular on our flag than that busy design they use south of the border. And hey, it's even got an eco-friendly vibe. I mean, it's a leaf!

I doubt the best focus-group program in the world could do better.

Now my feelings have been borne out by a new poll released just in time for Canada Day by the Historica-Dominion Institute.

The survey suggests the maple leaf is the overwhelming choice of Canadians as their favourite national symbol, chosen by 59 per cent of respondents.

The maple leaf, which has been a Canadian symbol since the early 1700s, far outstrips the other choices in the Ipsos-Reid poll, including the beaver, mountie and hockey at nine per cent, the polar bear (seven per cent), the inukshuk (three per cent) and canoe (two per cent).

Poutine got on the board with one per cent but Anne of Green Gables didn't even register that high. Sorry P.E.I.

Older Canadians gave some of the other symbols a little more support, but it was no contest.

The maple leaf's official Canadian Heritage web page notes the St. Jean Baptiste Society adopted the maple leaf as its emblem in 1834, though you won't find one on the Quebec nationalist group's web site today.

An 1848 Toronto literary annual referred to the maple leaf as Canada's chosen symbol and it appeared on all Canadian coins between 1876 and 1901.

[ Related: What would world peace sound like? National anthem mashup ]

The poll suggested Canadians are prepared to embrace the maple leaf as a patriotic symbol in all sorts of ways.

One in five would consider getting a maple leaf tattoo, The Canadian Press reported. Others are even prepared to have it on their underwear.

"We're talking about a country that traditionally was not very extroverted in a way that Americans or Brits are," Jeremy Diamond, the institute's national director, told The Canadian Press.

"We're breaking a mould here. We're breaking out of our conservative feelings that the flag should only be flown a certain way."

Diamond was surprised the maple leaf was so dominant.

"We thought that (the other symbols) would be much higher up. ... It looks like there's an interesting consensus across regions, across age, across any demographic that the maple leaf remains the one symbol that all Canadians can agree on," he said.

But there are many reasons Canadians seem to love their leaf so much, said Deborah Morrison, president of Canada's History Society.

"It's recognized around the world," she told The Canadian Press. "It's very distinctive. It's very simple. It's very clear, and it's got a long history."

The now-beloved Maple Leaf flag was adopted in February 1965 but not without considerable controversy and debate.

Liberal leader Lester Pearson had promised a new flag during the 1963 election campaign against John Diefenbaker's incumbent Conservative government. He began the process as prime minister the following year.

Older Canadians, including veterans, were appalled the country was abandoning the Red Ensign with the Union Jack in the corner.

The flag debate went on in Parliament for weeks over the summer of '64. An all-party committee was set up to find a suitable design. Several options were considered but the committee eventually settled on one that featured a red maple leaf on a white background bounded by two vertical red bars.

[ More from The Daily Brew: Is B.C. a dumping ground for misbehaving Mounties? ]

The maple leaf is popular across Canada despite the fact the sugar maple tree is found mainly in Eastern Canada.

"I think it's ironic, seeing as Western Canada doesn't even grow these trees," Morrison said. "But they've still embraced it as perhaps the most unifying symbol of the whole country because it is so deeply ingrained in our history and heritage."

Among other findings in the poll:

  • Almost half of Canadians would make the salmon Canada's national food and 21 per cent chose poutine
  • Forty-two per cent chose beer as Canada's national drink
  • Almost half (47 per cent) believed the Queen should be on Canadian currency
  • Most respondents knew Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Wilfrid Laurier are on the money but only 44 per cent believed Mackenzie King is, and eight per cent thought Pierre Trudeau is (wrong!), while 20 per cent didn't think any prime ministers appeared on our money.

The online interviews of 1,101 adults was conducted between June 20 and 22 and has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.