During the 1950s, Governor-General Vincent Massey urged the federal government to create a distinctively Canadian honours system to replace the British one that had been awarded to Canadians since the 19th century. But two successive prime ministers, Louis St. Laurent and John Diefenbaker, ignored his advice.
After he became prime minister in 1963, Lester B. Pearson was determined to do something about it. The Maple Leaf flag was introduced on Feb. 15, 1965, and in late 1966 he decided he wanted another symbol to promote Canadian nationhood.
So Pearson sent for Flight Sergeant Bruce Beatty of the Royal Canadian Air Force, a graphic designer with the Directorate of Ceremonial at Ottawa's Canadian Forces headquarters.
"We're going to create a new national order and you're the man who is going to design its insignia," is what he said to Beatty. "But don't tell anyone, not even your commanding officer or your wife."
After giving him the assignment, Pearson didn't have too much more to say, Beatty recalled later. "The only thing he stipulated was that the ribbon was to be the same colours and the same proportion as the Canadian flag, you know: a quarter red, half white, a quarter red. So I went back to the office and I didn't know what hit me, I was just a nervous wreck."
Fortunately, inspiration hit Beatty on a Friday afternoon in November as he was walking from work to the CFHQ warrant officers and sergeants' mess, then located in the old Beaver Barracks, for happy hour.
"It started to snow a little bit, just the odd snowflake coming. And I was trying to think of some design for [the order]to be Canadian. And snowflakes, I should base it on a snowflake, you know, you can't be any more Canadian than that," he told Army News.
Just before Christmas, Beatty went back to see Pearson with three designs. The one picked received royal approval from the Queen on March 21, 1967.
The prime minister seemed happy, Beatty said in 1999. "He said that the crown seemed a little too small, so I said I could make it bigger."
Now one of Canada's best-known national symbols, Beatty's design consists of a white, enameled, hexagonal snowflake with six equal leaves. The badge's centre has a disc bearing the Maple Leaf on a white enamel background, surrounded by a red enamel ring (annulus) bearing the motto of the order. St. Edward's Crown sits on top of the annulus.
"The symbolism of the snowflake was ideal. It represented the Canadian climate, and furthermore, every snowflake - like every recipient of the order - is unique," wrote Christopher McCreery in his 2005 book The Order of Canada: Its Origins, History, and Development.
Beatty, who died in Ottawa on March 21 of pneumonia at 88, spent the next three decades designing almost every single medal created by the federal government.
His medals, described as a "happy marriage of tradition and modernity," have been awarded to almost 100,000 people, including Canadian Forces members, civilians, police officers, firefighters and the RCMP. Known for his versatility, he also designed the Order of British Columbia and hundreds of official crests, badges, logos and coats of arms.
Working for Rideau Hall's Chancellery of Honours from 1972 to the mid-2000s, and then on contract, Beatty was a meticulous craftsman who took great pains over his designs.
Joyce Bryant of Ottawa worked with Beatty at the Chancellery for 25 years. "We were very close friends. He had a lovely sense of humour, very dry. He knew absolutely everything about badges and honours."
McCreery, an expert on official honours who works as chief of staff to the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, first met Beatty in 2002 when he was writing his book.
"He was one of the most knowledgeable people in the world [on]medal design," McCreery said. "Bruce mixed tradition and modern Canadian symbols into a unique style that now defines the Canadian honours system."
Bruce Wilbur Beatty was born on July 6, 1922, in Melfort, Sask. He was from an early age passionately interested in medals and military insignia, his father having served in Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians) during the First World War.