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Another View: Flagging love for the Canadian Maple Leaf

I am somewhat saddened to see what the flag has come to represent in the past few years. It is obvious, as recent events indicate, the Maple Leaf means different things to different people, but I have always held our flag in a place of esteem

I was 19 in 1986 and had recently flunked (slacked) my way out of my first year of college.

I had a pretty good idea of what I didn’t want to do with my life, but had no idea what I actually wanted to do (it would eventually take a few years to sort that out). With that, I decided I would explore what the world had to offer, which happened to be Australia because friends I knew raved about their hot summers with endless sandy beaches. And what Prairie boy who was used to -30 C winters and had never seen the ocean before wouldn’t want to spend time on a hot sandy beach?

Being a rookie adventurer, I was flying by the seat of my pants when it came to living the good life out of backpack. I was naive. I only obtained the backpack during a quick pit stop at an army surplus store in Edmonton on the way to the airport. Right before my flight, I transferred my belongings to the backpack from a garbage bag, into which I had stuffed them.

I bought myself a travel pack and I thought it was a sweet deal. There were two packs in one — a suitcase-style, larger backpack and a small daypack, both of which zipped together to form one large, combined bag. But it was cheap and poorly designed. It sagged when filled with all my stuff and relied heavily on my back for support, rather than my hips and shoulders.

It was the most uncomfortable backpack I’ve ever owned, but that’s for another story.

At the surplus store, I also picked up a few smallish Canadian flags. As green as I was on the travelling end of things, I knew it was customary for backpackers to fly their flag (except for many U.S. travellers, for some reason).

I didn’t have much time before I left, but it was a priority for me to get the Maple Leaf sewn onto my two packs in the few days following touchdown in Melbourne.

It seems that things always look a little smaller in the backdrop of a cavernous store. When the flag was finally sewn on my larger pack, I realized it was somewhat on the large size as it covered almost the whole bottom third of the bag. Although slightly embarrassed, as a proud Canadian, I was undeterred. For six months, I wore (out) that flag on my pack. I had people stop me in the street and pick me up while hitchhiking, specifically because they saw that large Canadian flag.

Having caught the travel bug, I planned another longer trip to Europe in 1988. Being a grizzled veteran traveller (in my mind), I realized the importance of having a quality backpack that I could wear fully loaded for hours on end — and a new pack called for a new, beefier Canadian flag.

Not wanting to settle for something store-bought, I turned to my mom. She willingly and patiently stitched a needlepoint version of the Maple Leaf and sewed it onto my pack. The flag was awesome and exactly what I was after — vibrant, durable and maybe a little larger than it needed to be, but once again I was ready to show the world who I was and where I was from.

My pride and reverence for our flag does not end with travel beyond our border. It surfaces every Canada Day in all the flags taped to windows, fluttering on lawns or on the throngs of people wearing their red and white as we celebrate who we are as a nation.

It surfaces in the smiles and joy on the faces of newly minted Canadian citizens, immigrants who moved here in search of a better life. It can be found during the national anthem played at local national and international sporting events, during Remembrance Day, when veterans past and present remind us they stand on guard for thee.

My pride and reverence surfaces in a jumbo-sized Maple Leaf floating around the crowd, having been smuggled into the closing ceremony of a recent Olympic Games, and in the Maple Leaf flying at Indigenous events and gatherings, honouring and respecting the very country that essentially upended and nearly wiped out their own nation of people.

I am somewhat saddened to see what the Canadian flag has come to represent in the past few years. It is obvious, as recent events indicate, the flag means different things to different people, but I have always held our flag in a place of esteem.

I never considered our flag to specifically mean “freedom,” unlike the Americans, who fought the British to become a free and United States under one flag. Canadians have always been free — a member of the Commonwealth, but free. We have fought for the freedom of others, but never our own.

I have also never worn or flown the Canadian flag as a show of support for a cause, never considered flying it upside down, never flown it in protest and never displayed it as a point of contention, resentment or anger.

I never took our Maple Leaf for granted. It represented me, my nationality, my country, my culture and, most of all, the pride I had in being Canadian.

In displaying the flag, I was keenly aware I was also representing Canada and knew other people who weren’t Canadian may be inclined to judge all Canadians by my actions. I wear and fly our Maple Leaf because I am proud of who I am, where I come from and who we all are as citizens of Canada.

My hope is that someday, maybe in the near future, we can once again come to see the maple leaf through the eyes of a naive 19-year-old backpacker just setting out to explore the world.

Chris Larouche is a 30-year resident of Kamloops, having moved here from Alberta in 1992.