Canada’s red and white flag is known throughout the world. In many ways, it acts as an ambassador for the country, once known for its peace-loving and peace-keeping efforts around the world. Young Americans travelling abroad are often advised to sew a Maple Leaf patch to their backpacks, to pave the way for friendly relations with people living in other countries.
While it seems impossible to imagine Canada without that famous icon flying from flagpoles throughout the country, decades ago it was not certain what flag would portray this country. Part of this story includes two Aylmer men who played a pivotal role in the selection of the Maple Leaf, which celebrates its fiftieth birthday this year.
In 1964, when the debate over the flag was raging, Frank Therien, former city councillor for Ward One, and his brother-in-law Gerard Quenneville had a silkscreen printing business in Aylmer. One day, Mr. Therien brought an order of samples of the flag designs under consideration to one of their customers, Ritchie’s sport shop on Bank Street in Ottawa.
By coincidence, a reporter from the Canadian Press was in the shop and took photos of Mr. Therien and the various flags. The photos “went viral” nearly immediately. Reporters from news outlets, including Time and Life magazines, contacted the two men, who received so many orders from people across the country that they could barely keep up. The prime minister at the time, Lester B. Pearson, ordered a flag, as did Tommy Douglas, the leader of the NDP. Rev. Douglas even brought Mr. Quenneville to a rally to promote the NDP version of the flag.
Although a few still long for the Red Ensign, the flag that Canadians eventually chose was a fresh start, with no references to Canada’s colonial past nor to the struggles between its English and French populations. Instead, the flag unites all Canadians in their love of the great natural beauty with which this country is blessed … and of course, of real maple syrup.