National Flag of Canada Day: what is it, and where did it come from?

A group of students hold up a giant Canadian flag during a massive "No" rally in downtown MontrealFor many Canadians, February 15 is unofficially Discount Chocolate Day. But some may not realize, however, that it is also the day we celebrate our national flag. If you were one of those people, here are a few more things you might not know about National Flag of Canada Day:

When it started

This celebration of our nation's flag is still relatively young. It was first declared National Flag of Canada Day in 1996 by Prime Minister Jean Chretien. February 15, 1996 turned out to be a particularly eventful day, too, as it was during that first observance of the day in Hull, Quebec, that Chretien was approached by protester Bill Clennett, who he then put in a choke-hold and threw to the ground. The move has since been dubbed the "Shawinigan handshake."

The flag's origins

It wasn't until January 28, 1965 before Canada actually had a national flag. At Confederation, Canada flew Britain's Union Jack, but Sir John A. Macdonald flew the Canadian Red Ensign as a way to distinguish Canada from the rest of the Commonwealth and give Canadians a flag they could call their own. The ensign never became Canada's official flag, although it was used and respected by many Canadians as if it were, particularly by soldiers during wartime.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson decided in 1964 that Canada having an official national flag should be made a priority. Pearson proposed the "Pearson Pennant," displaying three maple leaves with a blue border on either side. It was the source of much controversy in the House of Commons, and after three months without any headway, an all-party committee was created. After narrowing it down from thousands of proposals, the Pearson Pennant along with a single maple leaf on a white square and red borders and a flag that had the Union Jack and three fleurs-de-lis were offered as the three top choices.

The motion to approve the single-leaf design we know today was passed December 15, 1964, and made official by Queen Elizabeth on January 28, effective as of February 15.

How we celebrate it

National Flag of Canada Day is a relatively low-key celebration, with small ceremonies happening across the country to reflect on the Maple Leaf, but school children nationwide will be learning more about our flag, and politicians will be making appearances to show how proud they are of our flag, too. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be holding a photo-op at his office and Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore will be at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Quebec.

For those who were not born as Canadians, Flag Day is also a time to think about why they came to this country and the pride they have in being Canadian. These are thoughts from some new Canadians as they reflect on their citizenship.

(Reuters Photo)

National Flag of Canada Day: what is it, and where did it come from?