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Not giving up!
Feb 04, 2005

I’m not giving up! 

Nor should other Canadians.

It’s been two years since I’ve written about the need to lobby the federal government to establish a national holiday between New Year’s Day and Easter. We need a break. Something to lift our spirits that are too often shattered by a sudden bout of severe weather.

In the past, the Dominion Institute has suggested a day to honour our prime ministers. An Internet petition was launched  in 2002, calling for the creation of a national Prime Ministers Day on the second Monday of February. Roughly 85 per cent of the over 375,000 people who responded to the petition favoured the suggestion.

But one tends to think that the prospect of a holiday had more to do with the overwhelming response than any deep-seated interest in Canada’s prime ministers. After all, only 51 per cent could name John A. Macdonald as this country’s first prime minister in another poll. By the way, Macdonald was born on January 11 and that’s why the Dominion Institution selected this day for its proposed holiday.

Another appropriate date for a new holiday is February 15, a date filled with significance for Canadians. It happens to be the anniversary of the raising of Canada’s flag, the Maple Leaf, for the first time over Parliament Hill.

On February 15, 1965, then prime minister Lester Pearson declared: “If our nation, by God’s grace, endures a thousand years, this day ... will always be remembered as a milestone in Canada’s national progress.”

If it is such a milestone, why isn’t it an official day of celebration? Very few Canadians know that the Maple Leaf was first raised on February 15, 1965. If we had a national holiday on February 15 Canadians would be reminded at least once a year of the importance of the date. It has been designated Flag Day, but without statutory status it pales as a national celebration of Canada’s coming of age.

“It is impossible for me not to be deeply moved on such an occasion,” said Pearson, “or to be insensible to the honour and privilege of taking part in it.”

Who wasn’t moved to shed the odd tear when our flag was raised behind the podium at Grand Forks after our hockey juniors took on the world’s best and emerged triumphant. 

The red Maple Leaf is arguably one of the world’s most recognizable symbols of Canada, yet the establishment of a uniquely Canadian flag was controversial and provided a study of how we view ourselves, which makes February 15 even more significant. 

Former prime minister John Diefenbaker fought tooth and nail to prevent the lowering of the Red Ensign with its Union Jack. He was joined by veterans who felt the flag they fought under in two world wars and the Korean War should always be Canada’s flag.

No one could argue with their opposition in light of their contribution to Canada’s freedom, but the Union Jack is a British flag and Canada throughout its history had been ridding itself of all the trappings from its former colonial status. Respect of institutions inherited by Canadians from Britain, such as the parliamentary system, didn’t have to be thrown onto the wayside, but having one’s own flag became a reflection of how far Canada had come on the world stage. In addition, immigration from all four corners of the globe created a new environment where pride in being accepted in, and contributing to, a new land had risen to the forefront.

On February 15, 1965, Diefenbaker was reported by the media to have looked downcast and dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief as he shed tears when the Red Ensign was lowered. Meanwhile, the crowd of 10,000 on Parliament Hill were hushed, waiting for the next stage of this dramatic event.

“On the stroke of 12, as guns on Nepean Point thundered a salute, the sun broke through a white haze and bathed the occasion in February light. And then, the crowd cheered as a young RCMP corporal inched the Maple Leaf up the flag pole on the Peace Tower for the first time.”

Another February cause for celebrating being Canadian is National Heritage Day which falls on the third Monday in February. And like Flag Day, it is not a statutory holiday. This year, National Heritage Day falls on February 21. It is the time when Heritage Winnipeg hands out its annual Preservation Awards to individuals and organizations who have protected, restored and conserved the city’s built heritage.

The creation of a new national flag is a part of our heritage so combining the two celebrations into one big celebration on February 15 (or, at the very least, on the second or third Monday in February) makes a lot of sense.

Besides breaking the tedium of winter, a statutory holiday in mid-February celebrating Flag Day, Heritage Day and Prime Ministers Day combined can be a day for Canadians to pause and reflect on their roots so that we can face the future with confidence.