A modest proposal for flag truce

(We should celebrate John Ross Matheson whether or not he is the "Father" of the flag.)


Wars are generally fought between opposing camps, each proudly bearing its flag.

Rarely do we have the spectacle of two camps waging war over the right to claim authorship of the same flag.

But now we have it: a war fought with the weapons of rhetoric and historical argument, one sometimes fading into the other, over Brockville’s right – or its inexcusable audacity – to call itself the “Birthplace of the Canadian flag.”

When this war is being waged in noble fashion, by respectable gentlemen and ladies such as Margaret Beddoe Lawrence or John Blackwell, it is a splendid thing to see.  More Canadians should be so deeply engaged about our national symbol and, by extension, our history.

But more recently the war has drawn in some unsavoury characters who have abused the Recorder and Times comments stream. It has escalated to include the use of slander and other such weapons of mass obstruction.

Here, then, is my modest proposal for a truce. Let’s call it a three-point plan for peace around the flagpole.

The first point: we all acknowledge that each side in this debate is sincere and is in this fight because he or she believes in the validity of his or her historical argument.

Second, let’s have the debate over the flag, as I have argued before, be led by credentialled historians. That means those ne’er-do-wells who made us shut down our comment stream must be relegated to their bedrooms while the grown-ups continue this discussion.

And third, let’s change, at least for the time being, the focus of Brockville’s quest for flag fame.

While the historians lead a great Canadian debate over whether the flag has a single “Father” and “Birthplace,” why not simply find some way to focus on John Ross Matheson’s connection to Brockville?

All sides agree on the important role Matheson played in making the Maple Leaf a reality. Even those who question calling him “Father of the flag” acknowledge his importance.

And it is historically verifiable that Matheson did at least some, if not much of that important work here in Brockville.

So, if the history buffs are the ones we are trying to draw here, why not put forth a tag line that emphasizes the late John Ross Matheson?

Something like: “Brockville, Where the Canadian Flag Took Shape.”

Or maybe: “Brockville, Proud Home of a Maple Leaf Visionary.”

Many other formulations could fit the bill. The point is one of the “Birthplace” campaign’s main goals is to give Matheson his due, and this kind of formula would help us all remember and celebrate Matheson.

It might also help us all get along while we take the time that is needed to settle the other question.