National Flag of Canada

Photo: Ian Muttoo

From a graphic design standpoint, Canada’s National Flag is among the most successful flag designs in the world. The bold simplicity of the design is instantly recognizable and it’s unique proportions (1:2 with a central stripe occupying half of the flag) are known in flag design circles (vexillology) as a “Canadian Pale”.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the great success of this design, there is still debate about its authorship. The official story makes it clear that it was a collaborative effort, crediting George F.G. Stanley with the original concepts (though many others suggested similar designs), Jacques St-Cyr with the 11 pointed leaf, George M. Bist with the flags proportions, Dr. Gunter Wyszchi with the precise colour selection and John Matheson as the ‘project manager’ who made it happen.

Over time, many others have also stepped forward to claim authorship of the design. Most recently, the obituary of iconic Canadian graphic designer Don Watt, claimed that he had secretly created the design (a claim that he apparently made to his family and others prior to his death). While this conflicts with the official story, it seems there’s at least some grain of truth to Watt’s claims. According to graphic designer Norman Hathaway, his Toronto-based studio Hathaway Templeton was tasked with the final execution of the flag in 1965 – Watt was one of Hathaway Templeton’s staff designers at the time. However, Hathaway is adamant that Watt’s claims to the design are unfounded.

Flag histories generally credit Jacques St-Cyr for the flags final graphic design, but the one surviving prototype of St-Cyr’s design (two others have been lost) has an asymmetrical pointed stem. This detail was simplified in the final flag design to prevent “show-through” and the colour also appears to have changed. These design changes are generally overlooked or even credited to John Matheson, but it seems far more likely that this was the contribution of Hathaway Templeton.

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