Post 254

Maple Leaf in the Middle:
Reflections on the Flags of North America


The Dominican Republic’s flag is divided into quarters by a white cross. In the centre is an emblem. The emblem, adopted in 1863, is the most Christian flag emblem in the world, featuring the cross in its upright and most typical style and a Catholic bible open to the Gospel of John: “And the truth will make you free.” (8:32) I like it and I think everyone should like it. So there.

Moving along, Dominica’s green flag is also divided into quarters by a big cross, but in the middle is a birdie. Yes, I can’t get away from them. I guess everyone kind of thought, “Hey, this flag is going to fly in the sky. Birds fly in the sky. How about we put a BIRD on the FLAG? Hey?” This bird is green and blue and has a yellow beak. Alright. It might be a parrot. I’ll just pop over to Wikipedia. I’ll be right back. Okay. I’m back. It’s a parrot. It’s the sisserou parrot, which I’ve never heard of, until now. It’s found only in Dominica. It’s endangered. There are only 250 individual birds left, which brings to the fore another question about animals on flags. What do you do if your chosen animal is suddenly in trouble? The images on a flag represent the nation, which includes, most importantly, the people of the nation, so if you must choose an animal, then it is best to stick with a generic version of it, in the same way that if you must choose a building, then it is best to stick with a generic version of it. Your symbol is less likely to disappear that way.

Jamaica’s flag looks alarming. That big yellow X on a background of black and green has an unsettling effect. Here’s something interesting: with one exception, all the other flags of the world incorporate at least one of the following colours: red, white, blue. (Mauritania’s flag is green and yellow.)


Whoa! That’s a big emblem on the flag of Belize. There are two guys on it who aren’t wearing shirts. They look like characters you’d meet on the Simpsons or something. They have belts and muscles and white pants but no shoes. Someone thought this was a good idea. One fellow is equipped with an oar and the other is holding an axe, which you don’t see every day. The motto translates as, “Under the shade, I flourish.”

Costa Rica’s flag is nice, the only one in this horizontal category without an emblem.

El Salvador’s flag looks quite smart from a distance. Let’s go in for a closer look at that emblem. Well, it gets worse as it gets closer and closer to the center. The gold lettering is arranged in a circle, and that looks good. The leaves look nice, and they are tied artfully with a blue ribbon. The flags are arranged handsomely. But then – but then, you hit the triangle. Inside the triangle is a five-coloured rainbow, the Pacific ocean, a ridge of volcanoes illuminated by the sun, and, on a pole, in front of the sun, is the red Phrygian cap. I wish we could be done with the cap on a stick thing.

Honduras’s flag has nice colours, but your eye is drawn to the five stars arranged in a ninja pose.

Haiti’s emblem is strange because the design is placed on a white background. Everybody knows that’s not how you do an emblem, especially if you’re going to put it on a background of blue and red. It looks dorky. As for the emblem . . . AAAAGHHH! IT’S THE HAT! IT’S THE HAT! I CANNOT ESCAPE THE HAT ON A STICK!!!!

That’s right. It’s the cap again.

But that’s not all. The cap is on a pole which is stuck onto the top of a palm tree which is behind a drum which has two axes protruding from it. The drum is flanked by two trumpets pointing downwards and two cannons and two anchors. There are six flags and six long guns. There is a broken chain on the lawn (symbolizing freedom from slavery). I cannot figure out what the remaining items are. There are several golden balls on the lawn, and there are white flask-like shapes. On one cannon is, perhaps, a mortar and pestle. On the other cannon is something which looks something like a helmet. It’s just time to declutter. Let’s start with that cap.


The flag of the Bahamas is blue and yellow overlapped by a black chevron.

Cuba’s flag would have gone into the stripey category, but the presence of a chevron takes priority. It’s got a white star on its red chevron.


Guatemala’s flag is very pretty, and the coat of arms looks attractive from a distance. Closer inspection brings you up close and personal with some weapons, however, including Remington rifles with bayonets and two swords. Sitting atop a scroll is a bird called a ‘resplendent quetzal.’ Reading about the resplendent quetzal only made me think of more reasons birds should stay off flags. This bird was associated with the snake god, Quetzalcoatl. The female bird often neglects her young. The resplendent quetzal is classified as ‘near threatened.’ Apparently, this bird was known to kill itself when held in captivity, and so somebody (maybe the bird?) decided that it should be a symbol of liberty.

The flag of Barbados is blue and yellow with part of a black trident. The trident is a three-pronged spear, and needs a stick to be of any use. This one is broken, and somebody decided that it should be a symbol of liberty.

And now we come to the Canadian flag. I didn’t know where it would wind up, but here it is, in the middle of the middle category. It’s centered, you could say. And indeed, the Canadian flag has a red maple leaf centered on a white background flanked by two red panels. You can fold the flag by placing the red panels on top of the white area, shutter style, in order to make a square.

It’s a great flag. Did you really think I would say otherwise? Let me count the ways. One: It has no rifles, Remington or otherwise. It has no spears or machetes or axes or clubs or cannons or shields or tridents, broken or otherwise. Two: It has no birds or snakes or dragons or animals of any kind. Three: It has no distorted astrological elements such as smiling suns, excessively pointy crescent moons or red stars. Four: It has a normal rectangular shape with normal proportions. Five: It is horizontally symmetrical, which in itself has two benefits. First, it means that whether it is read from left to right or right to left, or whether you see it from the front or the back, it’s the same. It’s still Canada. Second, symmetry is, in itself, attractive. Six: It cannot easily be mistaken for another flag. Seven: The colours are good. Eight: The red does not represent blood and there are no representations of anything negative. Nine: It is easy enough to draw from memory. Ten: It is transparent, both in the sense that it is not layered with symbolism and in the sense that seeing it from a distance gives you almost everything that you get from seeing it up close. Eleven: The leaf has eleven points.

I remember learning to draw the stylized maple leaf when I was five. It’s an interestingly shaped leaf — well-suited for emblem use, and the tree can be grown from Victoria to Prince Edward Island. I have such a tree in my own yard, and I can say that the red that you see on the flag is not an exaggeration.

Maple Leaf, square format

Mexico’s flag just did not work out. There have been many renditions of this eagle eating a snake while standing on top of a prickly pear cactus which is on a rock which is on a lake. The cactus on the current version looks cartoon-like. The first eagle, from 1821, was too big, but better. That eagle had a crown and wasn’t holding a snake. The cactus, the rock and the water were all better than they are now.

The flag of Saint Vincent and The Grenadines (doesn’t that sound like the name of a band?) is pleasing to look at, and clever in a subtle way. Three diamonds are arranged in the shape of a “v.” The colours are nice.


The flag of Saint Kitts and Nevis has a diagonal black band. These thick diagonal black bands are not a good idea, especially when the background is yellow or red.

Trinidad & Tobago’s flag is no better.


The United States flag is so recognizable that one can hardly objectively analyze it. I can’t imagine the United States having anything else, though we know that the flag has changed many, many times since its initial adoption to show the different number of states. The current version, with 50 stars, dates from 1960. If Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state, then I suppose the United States will have a brand new flag, sort of. This is the problem with basing your flag on your political boundaries. It’s definitely a busy flag, and not at all symmetrical, but I can live with it.


There are four countries whose flags don’t fit.

St. Lucia’s flag is blue with triangles overlapping each other. I see three colours (black, white and yellow) but I don’t know how many triangles I am supposed to count. I suppose I should see them as two, because the triangles represent the two volcanoes, which makes me notice that there are ‘canoes’ in ‘volcanoes,’ but in the interests of full disclosure, I’ll tell you that they’re technically ‘volcanic plugs’ and not volcanoes. At the same time, the thin line of white (arguably a third triangle) and the big triangle of black are supposed to represent two races living harmoniously. The yellow triangle represents sunshine and, at the same time, prosperity. It’s confusing and it doesn’t look good either.

Panama’s flag was designed by the family of Panama’s first leader. The flag features a small red star and a small blue star, which coordinate with the quadrants of the flag that are red and blue. It has a buoyant, almost circus feeling to me. It’s fun to look at.

The flag of Antigua and Barbados has a yellow sun rising in a black sky, which spells failure from the get-go. The intention of the designer was to have a strong “v” shape (victory) and so everything is made to fit into the red V.

Did someone say circus? Grenada’s flag is circus material, for sure. Gold stars are on the wide red perimeter, and then there’s one in the middle inside a red circle. The background is divided into green and yellow, diagonally, and that flame-like thing floating almost randomly on one of the green triangles is a clove of nutmeg.

I bet you didn’t see that coming. I didn’t, but I guess it all comes down to a clove of nutmeg. It makes me think of that William Carlos Williams poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” one of the first poems I loved. It still has a place in my heart. This bud’s for you, Grenada:


The Brown Shelled Nut

so much depends
the lone nutmeg

placed on the bright

without the white