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Norman Blasdell Hathaway.Courtesy of the Family

Look up at the familiar Canadian flag with that bold maple leaf fluttering in the breeze. Or look down at the commonplace red-and-gold Coffee Crisp wrapper drifting along the sidewalk. Either way, you are witnessing the fine eye, exacting standards and ebullient showmanship of Norman Hathaway.

Mr. Hathaway was a leading Canadian graphic designer in the Mad Men era that first tied corporate and public identities to simple icons. He tweaked the new red-and-white flag, oversaw the creation of Ontario’s trillium logo and designed packaging for Smarties and KitKat. He was also a big band musician, passionate car collector and natty dresser. He died May 11, in North Salem, N.Y., his adopted home in the United States, at the age of 96.

A Canadian flag flaps in the wind above houses in Burnaby, B.C., on June 28, 2019.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

Norman Blasdell Hathaway was born in New Hamburg, Ont., on Aug. 18, 1924, to George and Rolena Hathaway. His parents ran a general store in New Hamburg; later the family lived in Elmira and Kitchener, and his father worked as a door-to-door salesman selling clothing. But the Hathaways’ real passion was music. George was a vaudeville performer and played saxophone while young Norman learned piano and clarinet, and also took up the saxophone, touring Southern Ontario with travelling bands. As a young man he apprenticed as a tool-and-die maker, and began tinkering with old cars. By 14, he already owned a Model T.

In 1942, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy’s reserve division at the land-based HMCS York in Toronto to play in its professional band. It was a good gig, but the next year the musicians were transferred to HMCS Chatham in Prince Rupert, B.C., and later Hathaway wound up serving as a seaman on a mine-sweeper patrolling Canada’s northwest coast. There, his foot was crushed when a hatch was dropped on it, an injury that hospitalized him for several months and would come back to haunt him in old age.

After the war, he continued as a professional musician, playing in bands in Toronto, and touring in Quebec and Alberta, while enrolling at what was then the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University) to study design. On graduation, he worked as the advertising manager at a Newmarket, Ont., office supply company before he moved back into the big city and founded the design firm Hathaway Templeton with William Templeton.

Graphic design in those postwar years was abandoning the highly detailed but undistinguished commercial styles of the early century that had favoured a lot of black type and many illustrations. Instead, a bolder, simpler, modernist aesthetic was taking hold and Toronto was a hotbed for new studios. In the 1960s, before design had been digitized, graphic designers were often independent from the advertising industry and closely allied to the printers whose technical skills they depended on.

“There was a real insurgence in graphic design and Norm Hathaway was part of that,” said Keith Rushton, a design professor at OCAD University, explaining how a movement originating in Switzerland transformed commercial art into graphic design after the war, and blossomed in Canada in the years around Expo 67.

Hathaway Templeton began to attract top clients seeking the new look, and could take credit for the original version of the trillium logo – a trefoil inside an O – that is still used by the Ontario government. Premier John Robarts was looking for a new symbol for the province and, after beavers and waterfalls were rejected, Mr. Hathaway had suggested the trillium.

Ontario trillium symbol, 1972. This updated version of the original design was done by Ernst Barenscher, under the direction of Norman Hathaway, at the request of the Davis government. The original trillium symbol and logotype were designed by Mr. Hathaway and Wolfgang Letzin in 1964 at the request of the Robarts government.Government of Ontario

Many people – from prime minister Lester B. Pearson to George Stanley, dean of arts at the Royal Military College in Kingston – contributed to the creation of a new Canadian flag, but Mr. Hathaway’s hand was one of the last to touch the final creation in late 1964. After Mr. Stanley, inspired by the RMC flag, had suggested that the maple leaf be positioned between two red bands, the design was refined until it was presented to Mr. Hathaway’s studio. A graphic designer’s job was to ensure that a logo worked in all formats and all media. Working with designer Don Watt, Mr. Hathaway ensured an even ratio of red to white on the flag and straightened the stem of the maple leaf so that the icon looked identical whether you saw it from back or front.

“It was a very controversial design,” Mr. Rushton said, recalling the debate over the new flag. “It turned out to be a wonderful decision and gave Canada an identity.”

In the 1970s with his wife Lois, Hathaway established Hathaway and Associates where they designed packaging by the yard, for Rowntree of Canada’s candies, for Libby’s foods, for Sanka instant coffee and Welch’s juices, squeezing bilingual text and nutritional information into tiny spaces. Many of those labels were so successful their design solutions are still visible in the products’ contemporary packaging. These were the glory years at the studio on Toronto’s Charles Street.

In the 1970s with his wife Lois, Mr. Hathaway established Hathaway and Associates.Courtesy of the Family

“It was rocking and rolling,” his daughter Cynthia Hathaway said. “It was bigger than life: red-and-white velvet wallpaper and a Smarties machine. It was like Mad Men.” As a child, she particularly appreciated all the stale chocolates left over from a Dairy Box photo shoot and the many coloured markers. A design researcher herself, she now appreciates how all the artists at Mr. Hathaway’s various studios worked entirely by hand in the days before design was computerized, using Letraset rub-down letters to create type or designing new typefaces themselves.

Lois Hathaway was always one of the artists. Norman had met Lois Draper at art college, where they shared a love of both design and music: She was also from Southwestern Ontario and came from a family of piano builders.

“She raised five kids and at the same time maintained a high degree of artistic output. She worked as chief designer at Dad’s firm and ran the household and put up with Dad’s eccentricities,” their son Norman Hathaway Jr. said.

That meant vintage cars: He was seldom without several, Model Ts, Packards, Cadillacs and even a few Rolls Royces over the years, and family holidays involved car rallies rather than cottages.

“We never had a new car,” Mr. Hathaway Jr. said.

Dressed in a yachtsman’s blazer, sporting a distinctive goatee and curling moustache, and arriving in a vintage car, Mr. Hathaway in his Toronto prime cut a very fine figure. Students and faculty at the Ontario College of Art were deeply impressed when he arrived in 1983 to assume the role of president – although the fine art crowd did wonder why a graphic designer had been chosen to lead the college.

Dressed in a yachtsman’s blazer, sporting a distinctive goatee and curling moustache, and arriving in a vintage car, Mr. Hathaway in his Toronto prime cut a very fine figure.Courtesy of the Family

“I loved Norm Hathaway; he was flamboyant,” recalls Peter Fraser, director of finance at OCAD University. “His car collection, his demeanour, his presence were wonderful. He was interesting and debonair. He had that Hollywood look.”

He was also, Mr. Fraser said, the right person at the right time, a design businessman brought in to professionalize the college’s cliquish administration.

But apparently Mr. Hathaway, charmed to be called back to his alma mater, didn’t really know what he had signed up for. The college was largely run by powerful faculty members and their pet students. Cleaning house caused much controversy when Mr. Hathaway abruptly fired the formidable Joan Burt, chair of design, and another instructor, who were accused of running the department as a personal fiefdom and were the subject of several student complaints.

“He seemed like a good-hearted person who didn’t understand the structure until he walked into it,” recalls artist Ian Carr-Harris, a retired OCAD University instructor.

The story about the kerfuffle at the art college wound up on the front pages and Mr. Hathaway was deeply hurt when the college only offered him a one-year extension of his five-year contract instead of a full second term. Disillusioned and exhausted by the politics, he quit after only four years in the job.

“He was a broken man,” Cynthia Hathaway said.

There followed a tumultuous period in his life. Around that time, he sold Hathaway and Associates, which his son Caryl had taken over while he was at OCA, and left Lois, much to her distress.

Now in his 60s, he kicked over his traces, but remade his life quite happily. In 1990, he married Lorraine Janus, an American expert in watersheds whom he had met while she was completing her studies in Canada and working at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters in Burlington, Ont. As computers took over the design industry, the sun was setting on the Toronto studios, and Mr. Hathaway followed his wife’s work instead, moving first to Florida and then to her hometown in New York’s Westchester County, while taking U.S. citizenship.

She is also a saxophonist and in his later years, Mr. Hathaway returned to his love of music, forming the Norm Hathaway Big Band. He played weddings and parties in the New York area and the Iridium jazz club on Broadway during a prolonged second career.

He suffered badly from arthritis in the last years of his life and, with Ms. Janus at his side in their house in Peach Lake, North Salem, N.Y., he eventually succumbed to the physical complications of old age. At his death, the band was still active and its namesake still owned a Model T.

Mr. Hathaway leaves his wife, Lorraine, his children George, Caryl, Norman, Cynthia and Amy, and three grandchildren.

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