On July 1st, Canadians from coast to coast will proudly wave the red and white Maple Leaf flag. But how many are aware that the tradition started here, in Toronto?
At the time of Confederation in 1867, the maple leaf as a symbol of Canadian patriotism was relatively new. At a public meeting in August, 1860, a group of Toronto citizens, planning for the upcoming Royal Visit of the Prince of Wales, decided to identify themselves as native-born Canadians by wearing a maple leaf.
“The Englishman glories in his rose, the Irishman in his Shamrock, and the Scotchman in his thistle. Why should not Canadians, their descendants, wreath around their brows a chaplet of the maple leaf?”
Leather Maple Leaf badge, 1860.
This leather badge was worn at the reception for the Prince of Wales held in Toronto on September 7, 1860. Although the maple leaf had previously been used as a symbol for Canada, this was the first occasion on which it was worn as a national emblem.
Maple Leaf Forever: Click here to see the complete lyrics and sheet music
Alexander Muir wrote the anthem, the Maple Leaf Forever, in 1867 as an entry in a song writing contest, to celebrate the Confederation of Canada. He came in second in the contest, but published it himself in a limited run of 1000 copies. The patriotic song rapidly became popular, drawing on intense loyalty to a British heritage, and staking a new pride in a Canadian identity.
In days of yore,
From Britain’s shore,
Wolfe the dauntless hero came,
And planted firm Old England’s flag
On Canada’s fair domain!
Here may it wave,
Our boast, our pride,
And joined in love together,
The Thistle, Shamrock, Rose entwine,
The Maple Leaf forever!
Click here to listen to Maple Leaf Forever
John McPherson, The House of A. Muir after a Shower in Toronto, 1907.
This tree, still standing on Laing Street in the east end of Toronto, is believed to be the inspiration for Alexander Muir’s song. According to local legend, Muir was strolling through Leslie Gardens with his friend James Lesslie, when a leaf from this tree fell onto his shoulder, inspiring the unofficial national anthem.
Click here to read more about patriotic Canadian songs and poems