“It was a special day in our nation’s capital and indeed throughout the whole country. At military parades, and in hundreds of communities across the land, the Canadian Ensign, displaying the Union Jack, was lowered for the last time, and Canada’s bold, new flag was flown for the first time from flagpoles everywhere.”
— News item, February, 1965.
It is a raw, gusty northern day in North Bay, Ontario. High above the military ramp, three civilian air traffic controllers watch from the tower cab, as a full dress parade goes through its paces. Atop a temporary flag-staff, the old flag, symbolized by the Union Jack of Great Britain, snaps and flutters in the wind.
A colour party marches smartly to the flagpole’s base, bearing a bright, folded bundle.
In the tower stand three men, all former servicemen; two are transplanted Britons, veterans of the Second World War. The third, and youngest, is born in Canada.
The parade commander snaps orders; slowly, to the brassy call of a bugle the Union Jack sinks. At the same moment, a bright red and white new flag of Canada mounts to the flagpole’s peak.
A breach of discipline occurs, as hundreds of airmen and airwomen follow its ascent with uplifted faces, unconsciouly, soundlessly greeting the new banner under which they serve.
Its birthing was not without travail, this new flag. When the government decided that Canada should have its own flag to help celebrate the Centennial and to raise awareness of a distinct Canadian identity, the ensuing debate shook Parliament and the whole nation to its foundations.
In emotional arguments that sundered the peace of pulpits, pubs and playgrounds, homes, hotels and hospital. The pros and cons of a new flag were hotly contested everywhere.
Despite all the rhetoric, democracy prevailed, a design selected from many thousands submitted, now cracked brazenly in the wind.
So it was not strange that these three air traffic controllers, good friends and close co-workers, were observing an uneasy truce. Nearly 98 years after Confederation, the old gives way to the new and Canada has a new flag, for, by and of Canadians. The youngest murmurs, almost to himself, “You’ve been a long time coming. Welcome.”
The two ex-Britons, caught up in the quiet drama of the moment, exchange looks. After a brief inner struggle between British tradition and British fair play, they turn as one, thrust out their hands, saying to their younger compatriot, “Well, laddie, she might just do at that. You’ve more than earned the right.”
Flag Day. I remember.