Paul Martin: 'The maple leaf is a symbol of duty, valour and pride'

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The Independent Online

Among the global family, Canada is still a relatively young nation. But throughout 2005, our history has been our constant companion - reminding us of our country's accomplishments, urging us to look back and to ponder and to marvel.

And we have celebrated 40 years of being united as a nation under a flag that we could truly call our own. Beneath the fields of France, a system of tunnels from the First World War remains intact. In a storeroom deep underground, you can still see the image of a maple leaf that a young Canadian soldier carved into the wall almost 90 years ago, before the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

The maple leaf is a daily and enduring presence in our lives. But it is especially on Canada Day that we recognise how our flag has come to be so much a part of our history, our nation, and so deeply a part of us. The maple leaf is a symbol of duty and valour, pride and perseverance, ingenuity, diversity and, of course, global hockey supremacy.

More than anything else, it's a symbol of what we as Canadians stand for. That's why we pin it to our lapels and sew it to our backpacks. We do it so we can carry Canada and its ideals with us. Some - including one of my sons - even tattoo it on themselves, which as prime minister I consider to be a tremendous declaration of love of country. As a father I'd prefer he'd sew it on his backpack.

Many of us remember where we were the day the red maple leaf was raised for the first time to the top of the flagpole - in school yards and city squares, outside town halls and people's homes, and of course here on Parliament Hill. We felt a bolt of patriotism. We felt that Canada, then not even a century old, had suddenly grown up.

I come here and I work under that flag. All Parliamentarians do. And each morning, as we look skyward, we are reminded that four decades ago, we as Canadians committed ourselves boldly and irreversibly to the future, to what Canada could become, to achieving a destiny that would be unmistakably and eternally ours alone.

This is our country. This is our day. This is our time.