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Calgary Celebrates 50 Years of Canada Flag Creation

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Images from Calgary’s Laurier Lounge (home to flag creator George Stanley). Mayor Naheed Nenshi was present in honour of National Flag Day, Feb. 15. He didn’t get to try the duck confit poutine this time, but says he’ll be back to sample.

Story From the Calgary Herald, Feb. 15

While Canadians proudly pay homage to their national flag this Sunday, Davinder (Davi) Singh will help his team serve duck confit poutine for lunch guests at the Laurier Lounge in downtown Calgary.

It’s a fete befitting the late-George Stanley, a man widely regarded as a founding father of the Canadian flag, who also happened to grow up in this turn-of-the-century, wine-coloured clapboard house—now a French restaurant at the corner of 11th Ave. and 7th St. SW.

Blackwell says Stanley’s flag vision was influenced by that of the Royal Military College where he taught in Kingston, Ont. His wife Laurie adds the 1928 Olympics also played a role.

Stanley’s rich history as a Calgary resident and Rhodes Scholar-turned-seminal-national-flag-designer of the red and white maple leaf emblem may fly under the radar as a hidden Cowtown gem. But such roots, says Cynthia Klaasen, president of the Calgary Heritage Initiative, make for a fun fact Calgarians should celebrate.

“It’s a lot of fun that the designer of the Canadian flag actually had Calgary roots even though he was living in Kingston at the time he came up with the design,” says Klaasen.

“[The location] gives Calgary a connection to an important part of Canada’s national identity—a little touchstone or taste of the history of the neighbourhood as one of the few single-family homes left— and [now] surrounded by high rises.”

Stanley was born in 1907 to well-to-do, conservative parents that hobnobbed with local leading figures. His father owned a wholesale paper business and spoke fluent Chinese.

“They were the merchant professional class—the first generation of people from Eastern Canada who settled the West,” says son-in-law and history buff John Blackwell, of Antigonish, N.S., who is married to Stanley’s youngest daughter, Dr. Laurie Stanley-Blackwell, a history professor at St. Francis Xavier University.

Her late-grandfather might have been less than chuffed to learn his old house is now named after a Liberal Prime Minister.

“We were amused by that; George’s dad was a lifelong Conservative,” says Ruth Stanley, George’s widow, from her home in Sackville, N.B.

George Stanley was a proud Albertan who talked about his fond western heritage and spending “carefree summers” at the Stanley family cottage in Banff. As a boy, George loved to hike and explore the mountainous terrain, notes Blackwell.

“That was his ideal place – one of the places he was happiest in his life. He always looked back on that with immense affection.”

“The mountains were his playground,” adds Ruth, 93, noting how in those days with no helicopter parents in sight, the elder Stanley’s gave their son free reign to roam as “long as he turned up for lunch.”

“When [he’d come back from a trip to Alberta] he’d be hard to live with for the next six weeks because there were no mountains—Sackville is very flat,” she jokes.

Blackwell recalls Stanley’s tales of Calgary cattle drives a century ago that trampled right through his neighbourhood. He was told of visits to the Sarcee Reserve and the time Stanley fell off a horse when visiting a friend’s ranch.

Stanley’s life in the West was also where he developed an intrinsic sense of humility, compassion and a faithful regard for Canadian culture.

When he was 17 he taught school to children in the small rural town of Hussar, Alta., alarmingly different from Stanley’s middle-class, comfortable suburban lifestyle.

Stanley witnessed dire poverty among some families and Blackwell says it pained him during these formative years to watch his new friends “struggling against this adversity.”

“He was always conscious of that. I think it made him extremely compassionate—He never forgot these people,” Blackwell asserts.

Della Stanley, a historian and professor emeritus for Canadian Studies at Mount St. Vincent University in Halifax, vividly remembers the night her father composed his infamous “Flag Memo” later presented by MP and flag committee member John Matheson, under Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, on March 23, 1964.

She says during years rife with flag tension, Pearson was anxious the new flag become a unifying symbol to replace the Old Guard, conservative and colonial-rooted Red Ensign and Union Jack original flags.

“The union jack was so British that for Aboriginal people, for new Canadians, for French Canadians – it didn’t mean anything,” she says.

In his four-page memo, George Stanley laid out sketches for two designs—one was a single maple leaf with two red bars, the other depicted three red maple leafs and two red bars. Stanley proffered the former as his first choice for its simplicity, the fact it comprised Canada’s national colours and would be visible from a distance and easily identifiable.

Blackwell says Stanley’s flag vision was influenced by that of the Royal Military College where he taught in Kingston, Ont. His wife Laurie adds the 1928 Olympics also played a role.

Canadian sprinter Percy Williams donned the red maple leaf and white jersey during the Game leaving “a very indelible impression” on George and “driving home the importance of the maple leaf.”

Stanley also eschewed any inclusion of conflicting symbols between cultural groups and should lead to unity and “instil in [Canadians] a sense of oneness,” says daughter Della.

“The union jack was so British that for Aboriginal people, for new Canadians, for French Canadians – it didn’t mean anything.”  Ruth Stanley, widow of George Stanley

And Ruth states her husband’s flag vision stuck with him through much of their married life.

“When he wasn’t talking about Louis Riel he was talking about the flag. Those were his two favourite topics,” she says.

On a cold winter’s day, Feb. 15, 1965, Stanley’s national flag design, with touch-ups and technical additions attributed to other contributors, became Canada’s official symbol of independence.

Ruth Stanley proudly remembers her husband standing ceremonially clad in his colourful Hudson Bay blanket coat amidst a sea of stark black coats worn by his peers.

“He was the only one you could pick out,” she recalls, hinting this was a typical George maneuver.

“Knowing his sense of humour, I know he did it just to be different from everybody else,” she quips.

And Della says her father had frank words for the rampant flag naysayer of the day.

“Stop worrying about it,” he advised. “In 30 years they’ll never remember what this was all about.”

Vintage Fridge: Sometimes hoarding the old beats trading up.

photo 3In 1958 my grandfather built a clapboard cornflower blue cottage in Kannata Valley, Saskatchewan. It’s since passed down through three generations. Parts of its charm are the many retro trappings that still exist in all their 56-year-old Value Village-esque glory.

From the sea-foam green plastic curtains, to a red manual can opener fastened to the cedar plank kitchen wall, to a tank of a white Frigidaire refrigerator that sits like a beast beside the cabin door. (I’m told it’s one of the oldest models in the country.) A chug-chug-hum-and-sputter one that still works and which faithfully, each summer, cools our family’s cans of pop, pilsner and popsicles.

fridge (1)But truth be told, it’s a darn good thing we only use it in the summertime (for nostalgic purposes paying homage to our “Papa” who put it there eons earlier). Refrigerators are one of the highest energy suckers you can keep at home. Can you imagine the cost to your wallet to store such a behemoth, let alone operate it on a daily basis?

Glad we still get to spend our few precious weeks each year, loading her up and cracking open the treats Ol`Bessie provides us—before letting her chill out while the seasons change—instead of putting her out to pasture.