Today is Flag Day here in Canada. It’s a time to celebrate the day in 1965 when the Maple Leaf replaced the Red Ensign as our country’s new official symbol.
Strangely, an event of such significance didn’t always have its own day. Believe it or not, it took us until 1996 for a government to decide hey, maybe we should recognize this anniversary in some way. And so it was that on February 15th of that year, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Governor General Roméo LeBlanc declared that National Flag of Canada Day would be celebrated for the first time.
The first ceremony was held in Hull, Quebec, because when you think national Canadian pride, Quebec is totally the first place that comes to mind…especially so hot on the heels of that whole should we stay or should we go thing a few months earlier. Although to be fair they did stay, and if memory serves that was part of the reason for choosing that location.
And what a day it was.
All the nice happy flag stuff happened which is great of course, but there was also this, which is what I’ll forever remember it for.
The presiding Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, was confronted by protesters demonstrating against proposed cuts to the unemployment insurance system.
While walking through the crowd Chretien grabbed one protester who had approached him by the neck and pushed him aside, later downplaying the incident.
“I dunno, what happened?” the PM from Shawinigan asked reporters in a media scrum right after. “I had to go, so if you’re in my way, I’m walking. I dunno what happened. Somebody should not have been there.”
Later, the Prime Minister’s Office said Chretien was simply trying to protect himself.
The incident went on to be known as the Shawinigan Handshake.
And Jean Chrétien went on to remain my favourite Prime Minister of all time.