“Mission Accomplished… Really Accomplished”

New Brunswickers will long remember the date Jan. 06, 2005, marking as it did, the death of Hon. Louis J. Robichaud, premier from 1960 to 1970. His distinguished career was well documented in this newspaper by staff reporters Katie Tower and Joan LeBlanc. Because of this, it is not my intent to trespass on ground already covered. However, on looking over my schedule of columns for February, I noted that I had, much earlier, penciled in: 40th Anniversary of N.B. Flag, as a potential topic for this week.

I then realized that there was still time for a few additional comments concerning Mr. Robichaud’s career, and its transforming effect on the province. The adoption of New Brunswick’s provincial flag was yet another achievement of the Robichaud years. It took place in 1965, midway during his term and was very much in keeping with the vision that propelled Louis J. Robichaud forward.

Older readers will recall that Canadian politics was dominated during the early 1960s by the famous or infamous national flag controversy. Parliamentary debate was tied in knots for weeks on end, causing one commentator to call it the Great Canadian Flag Flap. Finally, and only after invoking closure, was the objective achieved in late 1964.

The distinctive Maple Leaf flag was raised for the first time on Feb. 15, 1965. Its fortieth anniversary was marked yesterday, on a day that has been designated National Flag Day. Also of interest, is the fact that the New Brunswick provincial flag was officially proclaimed a mere nine days later, on Feb. 24, 1965. The near coincidence of these events should not go unnoticed. Both call for recognition in New Brunswick on National Flag Day.

The two flags that date from 1965 differ in one important aspect. The Canadian Maple Leaf flag was first outlined from scratch on a table napkin at the Royal Military College in Kingston during a meeting attended by Dr. George F.G. Stanley (1907–2002), then Dean of Arts at RMC, and J.R. Matheson, MP for Leeds and confidant of Prime Minister L.B. Pearson.

Following this meeting, at Mathesons request, Dr. Stanley forwarded a four page memorandum outlining the rationale for the flag, accompanied by a sketch of what was eventually to become the new Canadian flag. Fortunately for posterity, the original copy of this historic document was accidentally uncovered in 2002 by Glenn Wright, a researcher at the National Archives. It had been misfiled!

As the majority of readers will know, Dr. Stanley, a longtime member of faculty at Mount Allison, later served with distinction, as New Brunswicks lieutenant governor from 1982 to 1987.

The design of the provincial flag of New Brunswick is a very different story as it combines various aspects of provincial heraldry. The flag design may be traced to the Coat of Arms originally granted the province by Queen Victoria on May 26, 1868.

Across the top there is a gold lion on a red field. This symbol goes back to Sept. 10, 1784 and the creation of the province of New Brunswick. The gold lion honours the royal house of Brunswick the source of the provincess name. (King George III was a member of the House of Brunswick.) The remainder of the flag depicts a stylized galley with oars in the water. It represents New Brunswicks place during the Golden Age of Sail.

Occasionally various organizations and individuals have suggested the addition of symbols to the flag in order to reflect the contemporary racial diversity of the province. What is not realized, is that this diversity was recognized on the occasion of the provinces bicentennial. On Sept. 25, 1984 during a royal visit to New Brunswick, Queen Elizabeth II officially authorized the addition of several features to the Coat of Arms. These honour the various ethnic groups within the province.

The next time you drive across the frontier to Nova Scotia, look for the distinctive red and gold New Brunswick flag as it flies proudly above the Missaguash Marsh. You cannot miss it, as in every season, the wind is always blowing!

To return the career of Louis J. Robichaud. During the 1960s we were living in London, Ontario; thus my impressions of the Robichaud years were largely gleaned from outside. However, I did meet him once. It was during the summer of 1960, just a few weeks after he took office.

The occasion was one of the Pugwash Conferences organized by Cyrus Eaton, the Canadian/American billionaire-industrialist. At the time, I was a member of a committee struck by Mr. Eaton to assist with local organizational details for the conferences. The previous 1959 Conference had attracted international attention and not a little controversy, as it dealt with the threat of chemical and biological warfare.

This era was the height of McCarthyism in the United States and Mr. Eaton was vilified and called a Communist for daring to invite distinguished members of the Soviet Academy of Scientists to the conference. The irrational opposition which he endured merely convinced Eaton, like Robichaud, a man of vision, passion and courage, that he was on the right track.

The theme of the 1960 Conference was the role that Education might play in advancing international peace. This was a topic close to Mr. Eaton and he never forgot his roots in rural Nova Scotia and the need for upgrading education. It was this background that led him to invite the four Atlantic Canadian premiers to the Conference. His hope was that rubbing shoulders with internationally renowned scientists and educators might have some impact.

Regrettably the only premier to accept the invitation was New Brunswicks newly elected Louis J. Robichaud. Mr. Eaton gave him a place of honour at the conference and requested that he bring greetings on behalf of the people of Atlantic Canada. That Premier Robichaud rose to the occasion would be an understatement. Although he spoke extemporaneously (in both official languages) for a mere ten minutes or so, he captivated his international audience. In congratulating Mr. Eaton on his choice of theme, Robichaud reminisced about his personal stuggle for education and assured the conference that reform in this field would be a priority for his new administration.

I remember little else about the occasion, except that Mr. Eaton made one prophetic comment: I am convinced that one day, this young politican will make a difference. It was to come true, much sooner than anyone might have then imagined.

During the Robichaud eulogies, one CBC documentary ended with a clip from a 2004 interview. Mr. Robichaud was asked if he had any parting thoughts. He smiled and replied Mission accomplished really accomplished.