John Matheson

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This article is about the Canadian lawyer, judge and politician. For the Scottish bishop, see John Matheson (bishop). For the merchant and politician in Prince Edward Island, see John Archibald Matheson.
John Ross Matheson
Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Leeds
In office
May 29, 1961 – June 24, 1968
Preceded by Hayden Stanton
Succeeded by Desmond Code
Personal details
Born (1917-11-14)November 14, 1917
Arundel, Quebec,
Died December 27, 2013(2013-12-27) (aged 96)
Kingston, Ontario
Political party Liberal Party of Canada
Spouse(s) Edith Bickley
Relations Peter Milliken (Cousin)
Children 6 Children
Military service
Allegiance Canada
Service/branch Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, 1st Canadian Infantry Division, Royal Canadian Artillery, Freemasonry
Rank Colonel
Awards OC , CD , QC , LL.M. , LL.D.

John Ross Matheson, OC CD QC (November 14, 1917 – December 27, 2013) was a Canadian lawyer, judge, and politician who helped develop both the maple leaf flag and the Order of Canada.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Arundel, Quebec, the son of the Reverend Dr. A. Dawson Matheson and his wife Gertrude (née McCuaig). H17417 Matheson underwent training at the Royal Military College of Canada in 1936.[1] Matheson graduated from Queen's University in 1940, winning the prestigious Tricolour Award in that year for distinguished achievement.[2]


Matheson served as an officer with the 1st Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, 1st Canadian Infantry Division in Italy during World War II where he was wounded. He held honorary militia appointments with the 30th Field Artillery Regiment, Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery from 1972 to 1982. He later retired with the rank of Colonel.

Family and legal career[edit]

After the war, Matheson met Edith Bickley, a radiologist's assistant, in St. Anne de Bellevue Hospital in Montreal, Quebec. He said they would never have met if she hadn’t been such a curious nurse. The couple married and eventually had six children. He received a Bachelor of Laws degree from Osgoode Hall Law School, a Master of Arts degree from Mount Allison University, and a Master of Laws degree from the University of Western Ontario. He was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1948 and was created a Queen's Counsel in 1967. He practiced law with the firm of Matheson, Henderson & Hart in Brockville, Ontario. A member of the United Church of Canada, Matheson resided in Kingston, Ontario until his death in December 2013.

Political career[edit]

He was first elected as a Liberal in the Ontario riding of Leeds in a by-election in 1961. He was re-elected in 1962, 1963, and 1965. He was defeated by 4 votes in 1968.

Flag day plaque @ Royal Military College of Canada

Matheson was a leading member of the multi-party parliamentary committee whose mandate was to select a new flag design. It was Dr. George F.G. Stanley's idea that the new flag should be red and white, and that it should feature the single maple leaf. Matheson wrote a book, Canada's Flag: A Search for a Country, about the creation of the new flag.[3] (This book began as Matheson's master's thesis, supervised by Dr. George Stanley at Mount Allison University.) "Near this Parade Square, in March 1964, while viewing the College Flag atop Mackenzie Building, Col the Hon. G.F.G Stanley, then Dean of Arts RMC, first suggested to Col. the Hon. J.R. Matheson, then MP for Leeds, that the RMC College Flag should form the basis of the National Flag. The two collaborated on a design which was ultimately approved by Parliament and by Royal Proclamation adopted as the National Flag of Canada as of the 15th of February 1965."[4]

Matheson also played an important role in the creation of the Order of Canada, which was designed by Bruce W. Beatty.

In 1968, he was appointed a judge of the Judicial District of Ottawa-Carleton. In 1984, he was appointed a judge of the County Court of Lanark. In 1985, he was appointed a judge of the District Court of Ontario. From 1990 to 1992, he was a justice of the Ontario Court of Justice (General Division).

Matheson was portrayed by Peter MacNeill in a Heritage Minute television commercial about his involvement in the Flag committee.[5]


Brockvillian JRM - The Father of Our Canadian Flag

John Ross Matheson MP Leeds County and resident of Brockville Ontario, was asked by Lester B. Pearson in 1961 to discreetly pursue research and investigate the design and creation of a National Flag for Canada, he was the person most responsible for the daily operation of the Parliamentary Flag Committee(Project Manager)he was personally requested to Chair this committee by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. Mr. Matheson informed the Prime Minister he could do far greater work as the Project Manager than he could as the Chairman of the Committee (Herman Batten was appointed). He spent many hours from 1961 through 1964 on this project working from his North Augusta Rd. home as well as on Parliament Hill. NO other individual in this country worked as long or with more determination to bring a National Flag to Canadians.

Colonel George F.G. Stanley was a significant contributor in the design of the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag. His vision brought together all the key components of the new flag design. There were over 2,100 submissions to the Official Flag Committee which had some form of Maple Leaf incorporated in the design. The Maple Leaf Flag had been suggested by Edward M. Chadwick in 1896 as well as Sir Eugene Fiset in 1918. Our Official Colours Red and White were given to Canada in 1921 by King George V. There were 15 members on the Parliamentary Flag Committee (Colonel Stanley was not part of this committee because he was not a member of Parliament; in fact, he was forbidden by his superiors at RMC from appearing in person before the Flag Committee). John Ross Matheson was responsible for getting the Stanley design onto the final selection board in the Flag Committee Room. The Stanley design was based upon a verbal discussion between John Ross Matheson and Colonel Stanley at RMC in Kingston Ontario. The suggestion was followed by Stanley's formal detailed memorandum[7] to John Matheson on the history of Canada's emblems, in which he warned that any new flag "must avoid the use of national or racial symbols that are of a divisive nature" and that it would be "clearly inadvisable" to create a flag that carried either a Union Jack or a Fleur-de-lis.

The final design of our Canadian Maple Leaf Flag has been documented in detailed Government records as having the Stanley suggestion as the basis, with Jacques Saint-Cyr (it has been alleged that Saint-Cyr's stylized eleven-point maple leaf was lifted from a copyrighted design owned by a Canadian craft shop in Ottawa[8]), Dr. Gunter Wyszcki and George Bist contributing to the stylized maple leaf, the official colours and the proportional sizing to adhere to the Heraldic and Historical values required to make our Canadian Maple Leaf Flag representative of Canadian Heritage. There was NOT one person who created the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag there were many contributors involved.

John Ross Matheson is often referred to as “The Father of Our Flag” not because he takes credit for the design or creation of our flag but, because of his dedication and determination to bring it to fruition. His tireless efforts culminated in the Official Flag Committee members voting unanimously 14-0 to accept the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag design on October 22, 1964. Followed up by a dedicated lobby campaign during the House of Commons filibuster, which saw several Members of Parliament from different Political Parties lend support to this Flag Committee recommendation, this support came to the forefront in a historic vote on December 15, 1964 at 2:00 AM when Parliament voted 168-73 to adopt the Canadian Maple Leaf as Canada’s very own Flag. (Matheson wrote to Stanley immediately after the successful vote: "Your proposed flag has just now been approved by the Commons 163 to 78. Congratulations. I believe it is an excellent flag that will serve Canada well."[9]) This was then sent to the Senate of Canada and adopted as Law on Dec 17 1964 and received Royal Proclamation on January 28, 1965. The first Canadian Maple Leaf Flag was raised on Parliament Hill on February 15, 1965. All of this work was done in the challenging working atmosphere of an all party committee and a minority Government. It is a remarkable achievement to say the very least. The Great Flag Debate was over.!!!!

John Ross Matheson truly believes the Flag brought a feeling of unity to Canada in 1965 which has continued to this day.

“The “Father of Our Flag” was our Member of Parliament for Leeds County, and Citizen of Brockville, Ontario during every aspect of the Official Flag Committee work as well as Parliament’s Great Flag Debate. In John Ross Matheson’s own words “many hours were spent in the study of my family home on North Augusta Rd working on the Flag project”. The people of Brockville are very proud of John Ross Matheson’s accomplishments and want to recognize his legacy.

For all of the above reasons the “50 Years of Our Flag” committee as well as thousands of people who have commented since the City of Brockville has agreed to support our project, Brockville Ontario can legitimately claim to be “ THE BIRTHPLACE OF OUR CANADIAN MAPLE LEAF FLAG”. We believe this title is respectful and well deserved. All levels of government are working on bills to officially recognize Brockville is the birthplace of the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag. Municipal, Provincial and Federal levels of government have all embraced these initiatives of the 50 Years of Our Flag Committee.


The John Matheson Sword is awarded annually to the Preparatory Year cadet at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean who achieved the highest results in all four components of the College’s program, namely Academics, Leadership, Athletics and Bilingualism.


  1. ^ Great Gunners Royal Canadian Artillery Museum
  2. ^ John Ross Matheson - Serving His Country at Home and Abroad
  3. ^ Matheson, J.R. Canada's Flag: A Search for a Country, Mika Publishing Company, Belleville, Ontario, Canada, 1986
  4. ^ "Canadian Heritage Flags". Retrieved 2011-10-31. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Distinguished Service Award, Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  7. ^ Full text of George Stanley's Flag Memorandum
  8. ^ "The Eleven Point Maple Leaf". Canada's Four Corners. Retrieved March 9, 2012. 
  9. ^ John Matheson's postcard to George Stanley, 15 December 1964, 2:00 AM, announcing the House of Commons' approval of Stanley's design for the new Canadian Flag

External links[edit]