If you look at any ship in the Royal Canadian Navy today, you will see a bright red Maple Leaf proudly displayed on the funnel or helicopter hangar.
This has become a unique tradition in the RCN and can be traced back to 1918 when several RCN Drifters (CD Class) used for minesweeping had placed a green Maple Leaf on their funnels to distinguish their Canadian ships amongst the Commonwealth.
During WWII, Canada had built the third largest navy in the world, with over 400 ships and 100,000 sailors the RCN was no longer an offshoot of the Royal Navy. The RCN was developing its own personality and growing in a direction unique from the RN. New customs and traditions were being born everyday.
Wearing similar uniforms and operating ships designed by the Royal Navy, Canadian sailors looked to distinguish themselves from the RN. Many Canadian ships began to display the Maple Leaf on their funnels, a true, simple symbol of Canada.
Initially the maple leaf was just as varied as the many ships in service and the personalities of the sailors her sailed in them. Some displayed a single leaf, others in clusters of 3 or more. Some placed the number of their escort group in the centre of the leaf, colours were primarily red or green.
There is one story of the recognition of the Maple Leaf during the Normandy Invasion. HMCS TRENTONIAN was off JUNO Beach when a large troopship came to anchor next to them. The soldiers were lining the ships rails waiting to disembark for the beachhead. When they spotted the green Maple Leaf on TRENTONIAN’s funnel they collectively began to cheer and call out to the corvette, The Trentonian’s returned the cheers and calls. When they realized the soldiers were a French Canadian Regiment the cheers turned to friendly jeers between the corvette and the soldiers in the troop ship.
The soldiers began to disembark into the waiting landing craft and in short order, lined up and began their race into the beachhead. As the soldiers of the French Canadian Regiment were sped inshore, the entire crew of TRENTONIAN called out in three cheers for their Canadian brothers heading to the beaches.
With the Maple Leaf spreading throughout the RCN, Naval Headquarters issued an order in September 1944 that all RCN ships to display a single green maple leaf on the funnel of the ships, standardizing what had become a new tradition.
Briefly following World War II, the maple leaf on the funnel disappeared. On 9 December 1949 the RCN officially adopted the practice of placing a single red Maple Leaf on the after most funnel or superstructure of all RCN ships. This tradition continues to today.
A Canadian warship is easily recognized around the world by the bright red Maple Leaf proudly displayed on her. A unique Royal Canadian Navy tradition, born during the First World War, revived during the Battle of the Atlantic in WWII and has become a living testament by our Canadian Sailors to honour the sacrifice and memory of the veterans that have served before them.