The real reason there's a single red maple leaf on the Canadian flag

Jul 14 2022, 7:03 pm

Whether you were born in Canada or made it your home later in life, you probably own something with a print of the iconic red maple leaf seen on the Canadian flag.

But have you ever wondered why the True North has a single maple leaf on its flag, front and centre? Don’t worry — it looks like most people don’t.

We asked our team members at Daily Hive if they were aware of the reason. A few said it was probably because of all the maple trees we have. One colleague who shall remain unnamed said, and we quote, “Dude, I thought it was because we go hard for nature.”

Unfortunately, none of those answers are really true (though, yes, we do go hard for nature, in general). The true reason is a little darker than you might think.

canadian flag maple leaf


According to the Canadian government’s records, the maple leaf began gaining a reputation as “a symbol of Canadian identity” in the 19th century. It was already pretty popular before it was incorporated into the flag, and was seen on coins, books, badges, banners, and other items.

But during the First World War — which lasted from 1914 to 1918, the maple leaf started to grace the caps worn by those in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. That’s when it became a mainstream symbol of Canada and its people’s pride, courage, and loyalty.

“Most poignantly, it is a single maple leaf that is carved upon many of the headstones of Canadian service men and women who gave their lives in the two world wars,” reads Canada’s official heritage page.

Maple leaves made appearances on flag trial designs for years before we finalized the flag we have today.


maple leaf canadian flag

©Cliff Buckman, PA-213164 Library and Archives Canada

In 1964, a parliamentary committee was set up and dedicated to picking a flag. They went through thousands of design entries and shortlisted the following flags.

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Canadian Heraldic Authority

The last design was a sweet and simple one, with a single red maple leaf in the middle.  Created by Calgary-born historian George Stanley, it won the committee’s hearts and votes.

Stanley was sent a letter of congratulations for making history.

“Dear George, your proposed flag has now been approved by The Commons 163 to 78,” read MP John Matheson’s letter. “I believe it is an excellent flag that will serve Canada well.”

National Archives of Canada/Archives nationales du Canada

The National Film Board of Canada recorded the moment that the flag as we know it debuted on February 15, 1965, at Parliament Hill in an official inauguration ceremony.

So while maple syrup is delicious and we love how the leaves turn red in the fall, it was Canadian soldiers and their sacrifices in two world wars that inspired the design.

If it wasn’t for the carvings on the martyrs’ headstones, who knows what our flag would’ve looked like? 👀

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