The Evolution of the Canadiens' Jersey / The Origin of the Canadian Flag

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Robert L note: This is an update of a post from December 24, 2008. Seeing as the Canadiens will be wearing the above jersey this evening against the Lightning, Tuesday against Calgary, I thought I'd give this post a little refresh. Enjoy!

Long before Canada adopted the maple leaf for the flag of the country, it had adorned the jersey's of the Montreal Canadiens (1910-1913) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (1927 - present).

Looking at photo's of the Canadiens retro jerseys that they will don on several occasions this season, I got to thinking that if hockey teams going back 100 years saw fit to identify themselves as Canadian through the maple leaf, then when, I wondered, did Canada first begin to adopt the symbol as an insignia of national identity.

What I discovered was quite intersting, if not downright funny. At a website called Flags of the World, the Canadian flag is discussed at great length, and the origin of the maple leaf as a symbol for Canada is further explained.

It might not be all that funny if you happen to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, but I thought the part about beavers was especially enlightening.

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On 21 August, 1860, the Prince of Wales was visiting Canada (Ontario and Quebec, at that time) - the first real royal visit. People lined the streets of Toronto to see him - those of English origin wore a rose, the Scots wore a thistle, but what were the Canadian born to wear? Canada's emblem had long been the beaver. Twenty six years earlier the St. Jean Baptiste Society in Quebec had adopted the maple leaf as its symbol (apparently the first time the maple leaf was used as a symbol), and it was decreed that for the prince's visit the Canadians should wear a maple leaf. The idea took root.

In 1867 as Canada was becoming a country, a call was put out to write a patriotic song. Whatever song was chosen has since been lost to history, but the second place winner was Alexander Muir who wrote "The Maple Leaf for Ever", a song which became very popular, although today is downplayed a lot as it is not inclusive of the French Canadians.

In World War 1, Lester Pearson noted that almost every battalion from Canada included the maple leaf in its insignia, and vowed he would campaign to put it on the flag, and of course 50 years later as prime minister of Canada he was part of the 33 day debate that resulted in the maple leaf as the Canadian flag.

So there you have it! Comical, eh?

Regardless of where it originated, or who wore what first, the idea of having a maple leaf at the forefront of a hockey jersey in Canada is a novel one. It is no surprise that Toronto hockey fans stuck to it, after undergoing several name, colour, and logo changes from the franchise's inception as the Toronto Arenas in 1917.

I had always wondered why the Leafs logo was on a Habs jersey for three seasons well before the Toronto hockey franchise existed, but it turns out that the Leafs have actually borrowed the idea from the St. Jean Baptiste Society, in a roundabout way.

They would love to know that, wouldn't they?

What I'd like to see now, is the Habs wearing those retro's next time they play Toronto! (Note, they did wear the pyjamas against the Leafs last Saturday. The 1911-12's would have been better!)

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The old knit sweater you see above, belonged to Toronto's Frank Finnigan, who wore it between 1931 to 1937. The blood on the lower part must have been where he wiped his nose.

Check out the historical clip below. Note the part where the narator says "......but blue is not an official Canadian colour!"

Oh, well, so much for that notion of Canada's team, Leaf fans!

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