On Canada Day, Ron Jardine will wake up with more than 50 flags flying outside his house. That’s because there are always flags flapping in the wind outside the 70-year-old retired transport driver’s home in Cambridge, Ont.
The Maple Leaf is a constant presence, of course, and this week he’s been flying a few provincial flags, as well as the Stars and Stripes, and a handful of U.S. state flags because the Fourth of July is coming up and, well, “They’re our neighbours,” he says.
But Friday morning, Mr. Jardine will dig into a storage locker and spend hours setting out his entire collection – about 200 flags from every province and territory, and many other nations, too. The equal-opportunity patriotism – everyone can celebrate whatever country they want – is a distinctly Canadian tribute, but that’s not to say Mr. Jardine doesn’t proudly fly the Maple Leaf all year long. In fact, he flies four.
“I love it,” he says of the flag. “It means the greatest country in the world.”
That kind of unbridled love of country is a rarity in Canada, with the exception of the Olympics, Stanley Cup finals and, of course, Canada Day. July 1 may see plenty of waving flags, but then they go back into storage. Into the basement. Back in a box in the garage. Anywhere but still on display.
Despite decades of efforts, some of them controversial, to get more Canadians to fly the flag as much as our neighbours to the south do, we still have an ambivalent relationship with the Maple Leaf, loving what it stands for but not wanting to make too much of it.
There are modest signs, however, that Canadians have turned a corner in favour of this visible form of patriotism. When a blogger for Home and Garden Television asked just before Canada Day in 2009, “Is flying a Canadian flag on your house too American?” the responses were overwhelmingly in favour of the red and white. “Why should patriotism be reserved for just the Americans?” one man wrote in response. “Canadians should be proud of our country as it’s one of the best places to live. As for you flying the flag, why not? Don’t you feel honoured to live here? I know I do.”
But the flag-flyers can sometimes feel in a minority. Certainly, Linda-Lee Cassidy feels honoured to live here. She and her husband Brian fly the full-sized 3-by-6-foot flag proudly from the side of their garage at the Cooper’s Mill retirement community in Belle River, Ont.
But they seem to be alone there in their sentiment – some of the neighbours aren’t happy.
Last summer, the homeowners’ association said the flag violated a rule that no additions or substitutions can be made to the exterior of homes without permission. Ms. Cassidy, a 62-year-old retired nurse, says some complaint letters received by the homeowners’ association called their flag “trailer trashy.”
The couple are no longer allowed to speak or vote at homeowner association meetings. But they won’t take their flag down, even if it would make life easier. “I’m a Canadian, I’m proud,” Ms. Cassidy says. “We replace it twice a year so it’s always fresh and bright. As a Canadian I have a right to fly my flag. That Maple Leaf is very dear to me.”
If more people don’t fly flags throughout the year, it’s because Canadian patriotism of the flag-waving type is “selective,” says Myra Rutherdale, an associate professor of history at York University.
“During sporting events, particularly hockey, we tend to cheer and become nationalistic about hockey,” she says.
Our patriotism is also pluralistic, Prof. Rutherdale says: Just look at how many different flags are waved around during an event such as the World Cup. As well, she says, Canadians become patriotic when travelling abroad. Most of us wouldn’t sew a Canadian flag onto our bags to walk around our own city, but many of us would to walk around Paris, London or any place where it might be critical not to be mistaken for, ahem, an American.
Still, there has been no shortage of efforts to motivate Canadians at home.
In 1972, when Canadian nationalism was still on shaky ground following the FLQ crisis two years earlier, the Trudeau government established the Parliamentary Flag Program. Designed to help parliamentarians promote national symbols, the program provided MPs and senators with tiny paper Canadian flags and full-sized nylon flags, as well as thousands of flag pins to give away to constituents.
Laurie Hawn, a Conservative MP from Edmonton, usually keeps a couple of full-sized flags in the trunk of his car. “If I drive by somebody someplace who has a ratty-looking flag in the riding, I’ll stop and say, ‘Here’s a better-looking flag. Why don’t you put this one up,’ ” he says.
Guy Lauzon, a Conservative MP from Ontario, has also taken up a similar challenge. Mr. Lauzon launched the Proud To Be Canadian campaign in 2006, in which MPs mailed out Canadian flags to constituents to put in their windows. Last year, more than 40 MPs had participated in the campaign. (It’s not running this year because the recent election made it too difficult to organize).
“When you travel in the United Stages, you see Old Glory … all over,” Mr. Lauzon says. “But it occurred to me that Canadians are just as much if not more patriotic than Americans, but we’re not as showy about it.”
Ever since Canada’s national flag was created in 1964, it’s been at the centre of one controversy or another. Whether it’s political protest or efforts to boost national pride, nothing excites passions like the Maple Leaf. Here, a few of the more memorable flag flaps:
1992: The nation called foul when U.S. marines carried the flag upside down in a pre-game ceremony at the World Series.
1996: Heritage Minister Sheila Copps was heavily criticized for a program to give away one million Canadian flags after the Quebec referendum.
1998: Bloc Québécois MP Suzanne Tremblay took heat for complaining that too many Maple Leaf flags were displayed by the Canadian delegation at the Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
2004: Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams ordered Canadian flags taken down from provincial government buildings to protest against a deal with the federal government on sharing offshore royalties.