History Repeating Itself: Recollections of the 1967 Centennial Logo Contest

Fifty years ago the government of Canada conducted a fruitless contest for Canada’s centennial celebrations identity. GDC Fellow Stuart Ash recounts those heady days and why today’s 150th anniversary spec contest needs to be stopped in its tracks!

Much like what has been proposed for the Canadian 150th anniversary identity, in the years prior to 1967 the Canadian Government conducted a design competition for the creation of the Centennial logo. There was little, if any, background briefing as to what would constitute an appropriate design solution. As a consequence, this approach did not yield an acceptable design. The submissions were banal, predictable or clichéd.

As a result of the inability to use the fruits of the contest, in 1963 the federal government approached the typesetting firm of Cooper & Beatty that was led by design director Anthony Mann. Having recently graduated from the Ontario College of Art, I was apprenticing at Cooper & Beatty. At Anthony Mann’s direction we affiliated with the internationally recognized Ottawa design firm Paul Arthur & Associates.

The very first step in the process of design development was the creation of the strategic brief, written by us and approved by the Centennial Commission (the “client”). This document proved invaluable as it identified in detail the strategic requirements, the elements that would be appropriate and epitomized Canada, and that the symbol could include a maple leaf and 11 elements representing the ten provinces and the Northwest Territories or other elements such as beavers or Mounties. The brief specified that the symbol was to be celebratory, easily applied, and for it to be appropriate for school children to easily construct it. This brief formed the basis of the creative design explorations conducted by the creative staff of the two offices — the resident designers at Paul Arthur & Associates at the time being Gerhard Doerrie, Fritz Gottschalk with Anthony Mann and myself from Cooper & Beatty.

The design team developed numerous design options based upon this approved brief and the idea of including a maple leaf in the design solutions was but only one of the possible elements considered. Anthony Mann and I then prepared a comprehensive presentation which featured two potential solutions—a symbol designed by Gerhard Doerrie and one designed by myself.

The content of each symbol concept featured a stylized maple leaf as the primary element and 11 elements representing the 10 provinces and the North West Territories — the accepted structure of the country at the time. The concepts were then presented to the Centennial Commission, and subsequently presented to the Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. The selected “Centennial Symbol” was my solution constructed from 11 equilateral triangles forming a maple leaf. (I would like to point out that this was quite likely the first time a maple leaf was identified and accepted by Government as the feature element representing Canada as the current flag design had not yet been introduced.)

I ended up moving to Ottawa to the office of Paul Arthur & Associates who were tasked with the implementation of the identity. I wrote and created the identity manual controlling the symbols guidelines and graphic use and all formal applications. The manual essentially illustrated how the symbol could be geometrical constructed using the most rudimentary tools available to any school classroom. The simplicity of its construction and ease of its application was the primary reason for its acceptance and resulted in its wide use and implementation.

At the time I collected photography of its extensive use by all Canadians: it was planted in flowerbeds; it was stenciled into concrete sidewalks; and I even recall it being tattooed and cut into people’s hair. The applications were extensive to say the least!

As a further honour, in 1968 I was awarded the Canadian Centennial Medal for the design of the Centennial identity program, recognition of the wide acceptance and impact that the identity had on the success of Canada’s 100th birthday celebrations.

Which brings us forward to today. Fifty years ago a logo contest did not yield the desired results and the project was then properly tendered to Cooper & Beatty and Paul Arthur & Associates. I believe that the approach by the Government to our sesquicentennial in 2017 does not address Canada’s stature and sophistication as being a world-class society and global leader. Canada has come a long way since those early years in the 1960s where design was merely considered an “applied art.” Through the efforts of a large and talented design community we have evolved into a highly skilled and specialized profession.

Business has come to utilize design as a strategic tool in leveraging market share and global brand recognition resulting in trademarks becoming multi-million dollar valuations. Therefore, for the Government to ignore the potential of this current opportunity of showcasing Canada — creating a globally recognized brand that celebrates Canada’s current stature as a world-class society and one of the premiere countries — is truly a missed opportunity.

The strategic goal should be to “celebrate amongst all Canadians showcasing Canada being glorious and free,” providing a globally recognized brand that celebrates the occasion of the sesquicentennial to Canadians while also providing the opportunity to promote the country internationally.

Stuart Ash, AGI, FGDC