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It takes each and every one of us to create a true picture of Canada (Ken Kelly/DVBA)
It takes each and every one of us to create a true picture of Canada (Ken Kelly/DVBA)


How I found myself in the Canadian flag Add to ...

I've done it in public twice. Had my picture taken, too.

That's me, there. See? I'm wearing a red T-shirt. Or a white one. See me now? I'm wearing my Tilley hat. Look, look. There's a tall guy with dark hair right behind me. And in front of me, there's a mum with her daughter.

If I thought I knew a lot about being an engaged Canadian, my participation in the Canada Day Living Flag on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria two years running taught me a new thing or two about this country and its people.

The first time, I walked to the event location at 11:30 in the morning. I thought I'd be in plenty of time to participate at 2 p.m. As it turned out, I just made it.

The lineup stretched all the way down the block in front of the legislature - and turned the corner. Ken Kelly of the Downtown Victoria Business Association walked the line with a public address horn, indicating how things would proceed: We'd be given a T-shirt (red or white) and a bookmark indicating where on the lawn of the legislature we were to congregate at 1:45 p.m.

A brainchild of Charlayne Thornton-Joe, a Victoria city councillor, the flag started with 350 participants in 2006, grew to 640 the next year, then 1,000, then 1,200 - and the goal is to at least double that number this year.

Winnipeg also plans to have a flag this year (they've issued a Beat Victoria challenge), and Fredericton hopes to do one next year. "This is going to sweep the country!" says Mr. Kelly.

My first year, behind yellow crime-scene tape, pink tape marked off the flag, with the Maple Leaf points marked by bits of red paper held down by rocks. The flag outlined on the lawn looked pretty small, the line of aspiring flag participants long.

After half an hour in line (and talking to lots of interesting people), I received an extra-large red T-shirt (the only size left) and I was told I was to be part of Red Zone No. 1, the red bar on the left hand of the flag. (My second year, I arrived later and got one of the last white T-shirts. Part of the flag's white field, I chose a spot close to where I'd been the previous year.)

When participants congregated closer to 2 p.m., the energy and bonhomie were clearly visible; the T-shirts that showed we belonged to the Living Flag event united us. Strangers laughed and bantered easily, children played in the sunshine.

The Victoria Fire Department provided one of their aerial ladders so Mr. Kelly could direct people to their zones at the ordained time. At one point, he invited anyone in a red or white T-shirt to participate, asking them to fill in where the Living Flag's human fabric might appear thin to someone viewing from it from above.

Right in front of me, a woman in a white T-shirt held hands with her young daughter in a red T-shirt across an invisible divide between a symbolic red ocean and a symbolic white edge of the northern North American continent.

Mr. Kelly, ably emceeing from the aerial ladder bucket he now shared with the first of several photographers, didn't ask us to "Say cheese!" Instead, he asked us to sing O Canada.

We became the singing Living Flag. I always choke up at "we see thee rise" and " ton histoire est une épopée."

The dark-haired fellow behind me had staked out his spot with intent: upper right-hand corner of left-hand red bar, "so I can tell my friends where to find me in the flag."

We can all find ourselves in the Living Flag that is Canada; we don't need to look far. We can all look to our left and to our right and say hello to our neighbours, no matter what colour T-shirt they're wearing, no matter whether they're a point on the Maple Leaf or part of the stripe on the left-hand side or the right-hand side. And we can sing together as though nobody were watching, even while we're having our picture taken.

It takes each and every one of us to create a true picture of Canada; we need to remember that. To celebrate Canada's 150th anniversary in 2017, imagine if we were to create a nationwide Living Flag, an image of Canada that could be seen from space.

We can do it. We're Canadian.

Moira Dann is a Victoria-based writer.

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