• PrintMag

Oh Canada, Who Designed You?

By: Steven Heller | January 13, 2010

Apparently, there has been some controversy about who designed the impressive Canadian flag. Here’s the recent quote in an obituary about Canadian brand designer Don Watt on thestar.com (Toronto) who passed away on December 23 at 73:

“Watt’s sterling resumé contained one questionable item. He told his family, colleagues and clients he had designed the Canadian flag in his late 20s but had never received credit – having kept quiet for years at the request of Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who personally approved the design after a well-connected colleague of Watt’s had it shown to him. The only major alteration Pearson made, Watt said, was changing Watt’s blue bands to red because he was a Liberal. . .

. . . But John Ross Matheson, the former MP who is widely credited as one of the central figures behind the flag, said he had never heard of Watt; so did Rick Archbold, who wrote a book on the flag, and three expert professors.”

In 1964 the PM, Mr. Pearson, appointed a committee that selected the design based on the flag of the Royal Military College of Canada designed by George Fancis Gillman Stanley.

“The scholars agreed that Watt’s story contradicted known facts,” continues the obiturary. “Pearson did not personally choose the final design. His publicly expressed preference, moreover, was “Pearson’s Pennant,” a flag with blue bands and three maple leaves. . . Pearson biographer John English said he was “astonished” by Watt’s claim. “Pearson would never make the remark about the Liberals.”

And such, in a nutshell, is the problem with who gets and can claim credit for something as collaborative as graphic design.