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Standardizing a Canadian Symbol

February 12, 2021

Standardizing a Canadian Symbol

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The Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) is Canada’s oldest federal government standardization organization. Through its work, CGSB helps make goods and services safer and protect consumers. From the fuel used in cars and airplanes we travel in, to the protective clothing worn by forest firefighters, to the organic food we eat, and to the construction materials used to build our homes, CGSB impacts our daily lives. CGSB’s most highly recognizable standards, however, likely relate to the National Flag of Canada.

The red-and-white, maple leaf flag is raised for the first time on Parliament Hill
The red-and-white, maple leaf flag is raised for the first time on Parliament Hill, February 15, 1965.
Source: The Gazette, Montreal / Library and Archives Canada / PA-117488

The National Flag of Canada has proudly represented Canada since it was first officially flown from Parliament on February 15, 1965. Today, the red Maple Leaf on a white background is one of the most recognizable symbols around the globe.

The story of the great flag debate and how Canada chose its national flag is famous, but less well known is the story of what happened after the Maple Leaf was unveiled. Issues began within two months of the flag first being raised on Parliament Hill. Close observers noticed that the brilliant red Maple Leaf quickly faded into a variety of colours, ranging from pink to orange to rust, but virtually none of it stayed red.

On June 1, 1965, prime minister Lester B. Pearson tasked the Department of National Defence (DND) with maintaining the integrity of the new national flag. As one of the country’s primary flag users, DND maintained specifications for various flags— the Red Ensign, the Blue Ensign, and the Navy and RCAF Ensigns. An interdepartmental committee was formed, including representatives from DND and from CGSB (then known as the Canadian Government Specifications Board). Together, they created the first national flag standard, 98-GP-1 – “A Standard for the National Flag of Canada (Nylon Taffeta),” which was published on June 1, 1966.

In 1972, the Canadian government began to heavily promote the Maple Leaf as a national symbol of Canada, with initiatives such as the Canadian Parliamentary Flag Program to encourage citizens to use the Maple Leaf. CGSB took ownership for the National Flag standards in that same year, and convened the first meetings of the new National Flag Committee on May 2, 1972. A new national flag standard was published in October 1974.

Today, CGSB still leads the National Flag of Canada Committee, which maintains three separate flag standards:

Since the passage of the National Flag of Canada Manufacturing Standards Act, flags purchased by all Government of Canada agencies, boards, Crown corporations, offices and departments must conform to CGSB standards

Over the years, the flag standards have evolved to keep pace with advances in fabric, dye, thread, measurement and manufacturing technologies. There are specific standards for the fabric, stitching, grommets, colours and dimensions. Both the indoor and outdoor flag standards include rigorous test methods in textiles, including tests to prevent the flag’s original problem, colour fading, from returning. Outdoor flags are tested for colourfastness to sea water, weather resistance, along with various tearing and fabric strength tests, while indoor flags are subjected to tests for colourfastness to washing and vertical flame resistance tests. In addition to these standards, CGSB also maintains a standard for one-event-only flag use. This standard applies to flags that are manufactured for use during a period of time not exceeding 24 hours, such as on Canada Day. One-time-event national flags have specific requirements for their specialized use, for example, the flag being composed of either biodegradable or recyclable materials.

This February 15, millions of Canadians will celebrate the 56th anniversary of the national flag first being raised on Parliament Hill; but unlike all those years ago, the Maple Leaf that flies over Parliament will retain its brilliant colour, thanks to the national flag standards that CGSB is proud to maintain.

Standards Development Organizations (SDOs), such as CGSB, are bodies responsible for the development, publication, and maintenance of National Standards of Canada (NSCs), National Adoptions of Canada (NACs), and Consensus SDO Standards. Visit our website to find out more about SCC accredited SDOs.