Flag Rotation Atop Canada’s National Flagpole

Canadian Flag

Canada’s beautiful Maple Leaf national flag.

The United States and her neighbor to the north share the longest international border in the world with almost four thousand miles measuring from the Atlantic to the Pacific and an additional fifteen hundred miles of border between Canada and Alaska on the west together totaling a staggering 5,525 miles.  In a military sense, this is also the longest undefended border in the world, and the tradition of peace and friendship between the two nations is equally long and impressive.

Canadians have one of the most beautiful and recognizable national flags in the world which consists of a red field with a white square at its center whereupon a single red maple leaf appears.   This simple red and white design, using the national colors of Canada, has flown officially since its adoption in 1965.

While many of Canada’s customs are similar to those of the United States, some traditions reflect a distinctly independent heritage, and the differences are interesting.  Both nations have representative democracies with a federal government including a legislature made up of two houses.  However, the United States is a republic with a congress while Canada is a constitutional monarchy with a parliament.  The President is the Head of State in the U.S. while Elizabeth II as Queen of Canada is their Head of State.  Each democracy represents its citizens in its own traditional way.

The Peace Tower in Ottawa, Canada

The Peace Tower in Ottawa.

At Canada’s Federal Capital in Ottawa, the main government building is not a domed capitol building, so common in the U.S., but a Parliament Building with a central tower, the Peace Tower, that resembles London’s Elizabeth Tower at the British House of Parliament.  The bell known as Big Ben which is housed in this clock tower has become a symbol of government in the United Kingdom.

In Canada, the symbol of government is the Peace Tower.  Reaching over three hundred feet in the air, Ottawa’s Peace Tower is topped by a flagpole, recognized as the nation’s flagpole, which flies a Canadian National flag—measuring 7 ½ feet by 15 feet—day and night every day of the year.  Weather permitting the flag displayed is changed for a new flag daily.  Taking care to insure that the flag never touches the ground or floor, a government worker unfolds and inspects each new flag before refolding and placing it in a bag used to carry the flag to the top of the tower which is the base of the flagpole.  The employee can only take an elevator to the observation deck, and then he must climb stairs and ladders for the last one hundred and eight feet to the base of the flagpole.  There is a mere four foot square area where the worker can stand as the one day old flag is lowered, folded and placed in the bag before it is replaced with a fresh new one.  Given the height, the closeness of space and the ever present wind, the worker wears a safety harness during the daily changing of the flag.

Colonial Flag Company has a flag rotation service to insure customers always have a clean and serviceable flag flying from their flagstaff, and while rotation is made at agreed upon intervals, a daily rotation seems extreme.  While daily rotation in Ottawa certainly insures that the flag flying over the Parliament Building is clean and in good repair, a person might wonder what happens to all those flags that are each flown for only one day.  They are given free to Canadian residents who make application to receive one.  The Canadian government suggests that recipients fly their flags from flagpoles 45 to 50 feet tall which are not supplied.  How popular is this Peace Tower flag program?  Well, the currently projected wait time to receive a flag flown over the Parliament building is 38 years.

Nevertheless, the government does on occasion present flags in special acknowledgement.  When a Canadian Corporal died while serving in Afghanistan, a Member of Parliament from the serviceman’s home town of Halifax in Nova Scotia, presented his father with the flag that had flown on the Peace Tower on the day Corporal Paul Davis died.  This was certainly an appropriate and appreciated gesture for the serviceman’s family.

The opportunity to receive a flag flown at the national seat of government is meaningful for Canadians.  We can only salute our good neighbor to the north for honoring their national flag.  “The Maple Leaf Forever?”  Indeed.

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