You may have seen it flying at City Hall, outside of a school or arena in the city, but have you ever stopped to wonder where Toronto’s flag came from, and what it represents?
In August of 1974, Toronto City Council appointed a committee to design the city a new flag to better represent the changing face of Toronto. The City was modernizing rapidly – inspiring projects like First Canadian Place and CN Tower (construction began in 1973) were reshaping the skyline, and the city’s population doubled between 1951 and 1971.
The City of Toronto Flag Design Committee decided to host a competition and distributed design kits through Toronto library branches, schools, and government offices. The Committee offered a $500 Canada Savings Bond for a winning design and received more than 700 entries from citizens ranging in age from 6 to 90.
Post announcing the Design Toronto’s’ Flag competition. Photo courtesy of BlogTO.
Chosen from among 700 entries, the winning design came from 3rd year George Brown College student Rene DeSantis – his design depicts the two towers of Toronto City Hall outlined in white, with a red maple leaf in place of City Council’s chambers, where decisions impacting the daily lives of Torontonians are made. The blue represents the sky above city council as well as the waters of Lake Ontario.
Toronto’s flag designer Rene DeSantis (foreground) speaking with students and faculty from George Brown College’s Graphic Design department, circa 1974.
In 1997, plans were underway to amalgamate the former cities of Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York, York and Toronto, and the Borough of East York into the new City of Toronto. City leaders decided that a new flag should be designed to represent the coming together of these 6 former municipalities, and a second contest was launched. 161 entries were received, but Council failed to approve any for official use.
With City Council unable to find a suitable design, Rene DeSantis suggested that his design should be retained, and at a November 1999 council meeting, Deputy Mayor Ootes called on the audience in the council chambers to vote on retaining the design – his motion was met with loud applause from the gallery, and Council passed the motion with a vote of 31-14. The City of Toronto’s “new” flag had been found.
Rene DeSantis (Right) with Mayor Mel Lastman (centre left) in 1999.