The provocative results of a new survey challenge the long-held notion that Canadians are reluctant to be as outwardly patriotic as their brash American neighbours.
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The Ipsos-Reid online survey of 1,100 people — conducted for the Historica-Dominion Institute in the days leading up to the Canada Day long weekend — suggest the Canadian sense of national pride is becoming an in-your-face swagger.
That is particularly true when it comes to the country’s most potent national symbol: the maple leaf.
One in five of those surveyed said they would consider getting a tattoo of a Canadian flag somewhere on their body.
They didn’t say where.
But respondents from Saskatchewan and Manitoba seemed the most eager, as well as those under 55.
“We’re talking about a country that traditionally was not very extroverted in a way that Americans or Brits are,” said Jeremy Diamond, the institute’s national director.
“We’re breaking a mould here. We’re breaking out of our conservative feelings that the flag should only be flown a certain way.”
That’s an understatement.
The survey suggests that when it comes to the maple leaf, Canadians consider it their overwhelming choice for a national symbol — and they like seeing it everywhere, even on their underwear.
Forget the Mounties in red serge, industrious beavers and well-worn hockey jerseys — these stodgy icons each garnered only 10 per cent support when respondents were asked to pick a national symbol.
The polar bear, Inukshuk and canoe were even further behind. Poutine wafted into the survey at two per cent, smothering Anne of Green Gables at one per cent.
The maple leaf, by contrast, was selected by 59 per cent — one of the most decisive findings in the survey.
“The fact that it was a clear front-runner surprised us,” says Diamond.
“We thought that (the other symbols) would be much higher up. … It looks like there’s an interesting consensus across regions, across age, across any demographic that the maple leaf remains the one symbol that all Canadians can agree on.”
Deborah Morrison, president of Canada’s History Society, says there are many reasons why Canadians seem to love the leaf more than ever.
“It’s recognized around the world. It’s very distinctive. It’s very simple. It’s very clear, and it’s got a long history,” she said in an interview from Winnipeg.
Long before Europeans settled in what would become Canada, the Aboriginal Peoples had discovered the sweet sap of the maple tree. During the 17th and 18th centuries, maple syrup would become as common on the table as salt is today.
By the 1800s, the maple leaf had become a symbol for several institutions, including the army’s 100th Regiment, known as the Royal Canadians.
“The Maple Leaf Forever,” written in 1867 by Alexander Muir, was regarded as Canada’s national song for decades.
And on February 15, 1965, the red-and-white maple leaf flag was inaugurated as Canada’s national flag, displacing the Red Ensign after a long and bitter debate.
“Our flag is something that all Canadians have embraced,” says Morrison, noting that the design is based on the leaves of the sugar maple, found mainly in Eastern Canada.
“I think it’s ironic, seeing as Western Canada doesn’t even grow these trees. But they’ve still embraced it as perhaps the most unifying symbol of the whole country because it is so deeply ingrained in our history and heritage.”
This helps explain why 74 per cent of those surveyed agreed that displaying the flag in any way possible is appropriate, including on their underwear (61 per cent) or on a garage (86 per cent).
“That just shows the strength of it as part of our identity,” says Morrison. “I’m not surprised about that. I’ve already got a couple of friends who have (maple leaf tattoos).”
On the street, it wasn’t hard to find people to sing the praises of the maple leaf.
“It’s probably the thing that means the most to us as Maritimers,” says Craig McCluskey, a young man from New Brunswick who recently moved to Halifax to join the military reserves.
Still, McCluskey says he’s not sure about flagging underwear.
“It’s probably isn’t the best thing for it. (But) as long as it’s displayed properly it shouldn’t be an issue.”
As if to drive home the idea that Canadians are feeling more patriotic, the poll revealed that almost eight in 10 agreed that Canadians should put more effort into displaying their national pride.
Diamond says he expects to see many of Canada’s athletes sporting maple leaf tattoos during the London Olympics.
“And we love it,” he says. “It’s an opportunity for us to be excited about it and not be ashamed at all.”
When asked to pick the most quintessentially Canadian food, nearly half chose salmon, followed by poutine, back bacon, Timbits, Montreal bagels and ketchup chips.
As for Canada’s national drink, beer took top honours at 42 per cent, while one quarter picked ice wine, followed by ginger ale, cider and the Caesar.
The survey was conducted among members of an online pool between June 20 to 22. The results were weighted to balance demographics and political composition.