World’s first national flag applying international colour standards

Fifty years ago, NRC recommended and defined two limit standards for the red colour, which were measured on a General Electric Hardy spectrophotometer.

After unveiling the national flag of Canada in 1965, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson became concerned when he saw that flags fluttered with colours from red to orange to rust after only a few days. Apart from sun, rain and wind exposure, the blame fell to diverse fabrics and unsuitable red dyes.

A federal, interdepartmental team was struck to ensure the flag looked consistent and featured precise proportions, grommets, stitching, fabric and colours. NRC’s unique role was to analyze different dyes on fabric samples to identify the exact red from the 500,000 possibilities visible to the human eye that could meet the demanding requirements for durability. NRC tested and verified that the specified red was also suitably colourfast on nylon taffeta, a Canadian produced fabric, by carrying out field testing at several locations around Ottawa. This project also marked the first time that international colour standards were applied to a national emblem.

The NRC research established the official standard for the national flag of Canada, published in June 1966, fifty years ago this week, guaranteeing manufacturers could produce flags that displayed Canada’s desired brilliant red in an effective and consistent way regardless of the conditions or use.