Saskatchewan's flag celebrates 50 years

On Sept. 22, 1969, the Saskatchewan flag was raised for the first time at the legislative building in Regina.

Fifty years later and the flag still flies proudly in the land of living skies.

Prior to the creation of the flag that Saskatchewan residents have come to know and love, the province operated under the Diamond Jubilee Flag since 1965, but that was never recognized as an official flag.

The modern flag was designed in 1968 by Anthony Drake, an English school teacher who was living in Hodgeville, Sask., about 280 kilometres south of Saskatoon, at the time.

Ruth Bitner, who's spent time researching how Saskatchewan's flag came to be, said Drake's design was selected from a pool of roughly 4,000 submissions in a government sponsored contest.

"He had entered the contest because the $1,000 prize money was very attractive at the time," Bitner said. "He decided he would throw in a bunch of entries so I think he ended up with 13, so of course, his number one entry was the one that was chosen."

A non-partisan flag committee was formed, and the entries were sorted through to select the winner.

She said the province didn't want the flag's creation process to be controversial like the federal government had experienced when the Maple Leaf was decided on as the country's new flag in 1964.

Bitner said the green on Saskatchewan's flag was meant to represent the forest, while the yellow represents the grain fields of southern Saskatchewan. 

The lily and the shield of arms were included on various different submissions, according to Bitner, as were prairie chickens, grain bins, beavers, and Fleur-de-lis.

Justin Tang/Canadian Press

It was a free and unanimous vote in favour of Drake's design, and although everyone voted in favour, she said she's found documents which indicate some MLAs thought there could be a better option out there.

Bitner said some MLAs thought the sky, or the sunset should be represented on the flag, but Drake's design won out.

"They also said that they thought it would be impossible to please everybody, which I'm sure was true," Bitner said. "They felt what they had came up with was representative."

Drake's design wasn't left totally alone, according to Bitner, who said that the prairie lily and the shield of arms were originally swapped. It was later decided that the flag would appear more appealing if Drake's design was flipped.

The flag's design was finally settled on in March of 1969, but it took until September for the flag to be officially proclaimed and formally unfurled.

Bitner said she doesn't see why the province wouldn't continue to fly the current flag for another 50 years. 

"I think it's a simple design, it's well known now, and I think it's something that we can be proud of," Bitner said.

Gail Hapanowicz, of Hodgeville — the same village where Drake taught when he submitted his winning flag design — founded the Saskatchewan Flag Foundation, and spent time with Drake when he visited Saskatchewan earlier this year. 

Submitted by Gail Hapanowicz

During that visit, Drake had a chance to meet with Percy Schmeiser, one of the last surviving members of the flag committee who selected his design, Hapanowicz said.

Drake was supposed to receive a flag from the government for being the winner of the contest, but he never claimed it because he returned to England for work. It was taken instead by Schmeiser, but returned to Drake when he visited the province in the summer.

Hapanowicz said she's creating a time capsule, which will be opened on the flag's 60th anniversary in 2029.