HMCS Sackville and her Green Maple Leaf
Well before the coming of the first European settlers, Canada’s aboriginal peoples had discovered the food properties of maple sap, which they gathered every spring. According to many historians, the maple leaf began to serve as a Canadian symbol as early as 1700. In 1834, the St. Jean Baptiste Society made the maple leaf its emblem and in 1836, Le Canadien, a newspaper published in Lower Canada, referred to it as a suitable emblem for Canada. In 1848, the Toronto literary annual The Maple Leaf referred to it as the chosen emblem of Canada.
By 1860, the maple leaf was incorporated into the badge of the 100th Regiment (Royal Canadians) and was used extensively in decorations for the visit of the Prince of Wales that year. Alexander Muir wrote The Maple Leaf Forever as Canada’s confederation song in 1867; it was regarded as the national song for several decades and the coats of arms created the next year for Ontario and Quebec both included the maple leaf.
The maple leaf appeared on the penny. However, between 1876 and 1901, it appeared on all Canadian coins. The modern one-cent piece had two maple leaves on a common twig, a design that has gone almost unchanged since 1937 until the penny was withdrawn in 2013.
During the First World War, the maple leaf was included in the badge of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Since 1921, the Royal Arms of Canada have included three maple leaves as a distinctive Canadian emblem. With the proclamation of Canada’s new flag in 1965, the maple leaf has become the most-prominent Canadian symbol. In 1939, at the time of World War II, many Canadian troops used the maple leaf as a distinctive sign, displaying it on regimental badges and Canadian army and naval equipment. Later in the Second World War someone painted a green maple leaf on a funnel to signify that his ship belonged to Canada. The practice spread and was at last authorized by Naval Headquarters and adopted by the whole fleet. Naval Headquarters files only disclose the date on which the maple leaf symbol as formally introduced into the Royal Canadian Navy. This was in a Naval order in September 1944, which followed a recommendation dated June 15, 1944, by the Canadian Naval Mission Overseas.
The practice of painting a maple leaf on the funnel had, however, already been put into practice unofficially by Canadian warships. After the war, for the sake of contrast, the colour of the maple leaf was changed from green to red and this it remains to this day. The maple leaf remains in a secure and lasting position as a symbol for all to see that the ship that wears it is Canadian.
It was actually in 1957 that the colour of the maple leaves on the arms of Canada was changed from green to red, one of Canada’s official colours. On February 15, 1965, the red maple leaf flag was inaugurated as the National Flag of Canada.