John Matheson

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John Ross Matheson

Member of the Canadian Parliament
for Leeds
In office
May 29, 1961 – June 24, 1968
Preceded byHayden Stanton
Succeeded byDesmond Code
Personal details
Born(1917-11-14)November 14, 1917
Arundel, Quebec, Canada
DiedDecember 27, 2013(2013-12-27) (aged 96)
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Resting placeTBA
Political partyLiberal
Spouse(s)Edith Bickley
RelationsPeter Milliken (Cousin)
Children6 Children
AwardsOC , CD , QC , LL.M. , LL.D.
Military service
Branch/serviceRoyal Canadian Horse Artillery, 1st Canadian Infantry Division, Royal Canadian Artillery

John Ross Matheson, OC CD QC FRHSC (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]

Military career[edit]

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.

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]


A small, local committee in Brockville, Ontario, is claiming that Brockville is "the birthplace of the Canadian Flag" and John Matheson "the father of the flag". Both claims are erroneous, and inspired by an effort to boost tourism dollars; the City of Brockville has since taken down its "birthplace" signs.[7] Dr. George Stanley, Dean of Arts at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, proposed the design for the flag, and the Great Canadian Flag Debate, which led to the adoption of the flag, took place in Ottawa. Matheson himself concluded that Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was the real "father" of the Canadian flag.[8] Matheson received the Honorary degree of Doctor of Military Science from the Royal Military College of Canada on 14 May 1993.[9]


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 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-12-19. Retrieved 2010-06-03.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  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". Archived from the original on 2011-11-02. Retrieved 2011-10-31.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-12-30. Retrieved 2009-12-27.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ Distinguished Service Award Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine, Canadian Association of Former Parliamentarians. Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  7. ^ "Brockville Flag Claim Gone from Signs," Brockville Recorder and Times, 17 March 2015
  8. ^ John Matheson, Canada's Flag: A Search for a Country (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1980), pp. 236-237.
  9. ^

External links[edit]