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Kevin Hampson

Diefenbaker: Red Ensign Warrior

By the summer of 1963, Canadians had entered what would be a long period of passionate and often bitter debate about the meaning of Canada. Until the end of 1964, that debate would centre on the question of whether or not Canada should adopt a new flag. The flag that generations of Canadians had known was the Red Ensign, which depicted the British Union Jack in the corner and the Canadian Coat of Arms, which included the French fleur-de-lis, in the fly. Supporters of adopting a new flag proclaimed that after nearly 100 years of being a country, Canada ought to have its own distinctive flag. Others argued that Canada already had a distinctive Canadian flag - the Red Ensign. It went back almost to Confederation and Canadians had fought two world wars under it. But Prime Minister Pearson, who called for a new flag, presented a powerful argument. Quebec nationalism, energized by the decolonization movement abroad, threatened to tear apart Confederation. For years, the Mackenzie King and St Laurent governments had been quietly dropping overly-British symbols and phrases from use - such as the official name of the country, the 'Dominion of Canada' - but then Pearson created a sense of urgency to that agenda. The British symbols of Canada’s past would inflame the separatists, it was argued. Pearson spoke of the need for new symbols that would promote national unity. The flag debate was extremely divisive. The popular historian Donald Creighton, echoing other critics, would call the Maple Leaf flag “vapid and monotonous” and a “deliberate rejection of Canada’s history.” Creighton’s views may have been unfashionable in the eyes of the growing counter-culture movement, which Pierre Trudeau would later brilliantly exploit; but they weren’t anachronistic, University of New Brunswick historian Donald Wright says. In an upcoming biography on… Read More

Come all you bold Canadians

Come all you bold Canadians I’d have you lend an earConcerning a fine ditty that would make your courage cheerConcerning an engagement that we had at Sandwich TownThe courage of those Yankee boys so lately we pulled downIt is said that these words were written by a private from the York militia after the Detroit campaign in 1812. Come all You Bold Canadians is a rousing “ditty,” brimming with Old-World gentlemanly valour. I have a feeling that a lot of young Canadians would enjoy it - if they ever got to hear it.Though it was popular in the 19th century1, the song today is obscure. There is a fantastic recording of it by Charles Jordon on Canadian Folksongs: A Centennial Collection, produced in 1967 by the CBC. But Baby Boomers were more interested in American socialist folk balladry than in authentic Canadian folk songs; the Collection was never released commercially. Many Canadians today would be surprised – offended, even - by the fact that Canada has a two hundred year-old patriotic song that celebrates a military victory.  Such historical remnants contradict the prevailing orthodoxies: Canada is a “young country” that shuns military engagements.  And, in the words of Yan Martell, it is “the greatest hotel on earth”- a storehouse of non-Western cultures without any culture of its own.But Come all You Bold Canadians expresses an older version of Canadian identity. The last stanza says:Success unto our volunteers who did their rights maintainAnd to our bold commander, General Brock by name!Those rights are, colloquially, the “rights of Englishmen,” enjoyed by subjects of the British Crown.  Something of what they are is expressed in the Magna Carta, though they do not owe their origin to judges or politicians; rather, they came from the people, and are believed to be older than memory. The way my… Read More