Design for Canada

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Growing up I used to love flicking through the pages of an atlas and imagining all the places I might one day visit.

Towards the end of the book there was a double page spread depicting the flags of every country in the world.

I remember peering closely at each design, looking for clues about the nations they represented.

One of my favourites was the Canadian flag, with its upstanding maple leaf guarded by two vertical red bands.

I liked its bold simplicity. And I assumed it originated from when the country that became known as Canada was founded.

I was wrong, of course.

From 1867 to 1964 Canada had a very different face to the world. Its flag was a variant of the British ensign – blood red with the Union Jack pasted into the upper left corner and a traditional coat of arms placed centre-right.

But change was coming to Canada by the 1960s. The grip of empire had loosened. Indigenous peoples were finally able to vote. A separatist movement was brewing in Quebec. Society was evolving.

In 1963 the government decided a new symbol was needed to tie the nation together. A parliamentary committee was convened and an idea submitted by George Stanley was selected.

The job of turning the concept into a final flag design fell to the talented graphic artist, Jacques Saint-Cyr, who successfully argued against using a realistic depiction of a maple leaf in favour of a cleaner and more visually distinctive icon with 11-points.

A recent documentary by designer Greg Durrell, called Design Canada, tells the story of how the new flag served as a catalyst for great Canadian design in the 1960s and 1970s.

This included now classic brand identities for Expo 67 and the Canada Centennial (1967), the Canadian Broadcast Corporation (1974), and the Olympics in Montreal (1976).

“There was this real need to redefine Canada and to create a new unique identity,” Durrell explains.

“When design is this simple, it allows it to become memorable and adaptable. I think that’s one of the reasons this design has become so cherished in this country.”



A version of this article was also published in the Lancaster Guardian, Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Post.
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