By Peter Saunders
The recent celebrations of Canada’s 150th anniversary involved all types of new, short-term signs and graphics across the country, but perhaps most iconic in nature was the boost in business for the select few manufacturers approved by the federal government to create official Canada 150 flags, featuring a national competition-winning design by Ariana Cuvin, a student at Ontario’s University of Waterloo.
One of the companies chosen was The Flag Store, based in Barrie and Thornton, Ont., which quickly became overwhelmed with orders for the new flags.
“We were surprised by how the demand took off,” says Cecilia Burke, president and CEO. “It seems Canadians are becoming more patriotic and want to fly more flags from their homes and businesses.”
For the more than 50-year-old company, demand has come both from loyal, long-time customers who already trust the durability of its products and from new customers who are just finding out about them.
“That’s all thanks to the Internet,” says Cecilia. “We’re marketing our brand through social media. And many of our orders today are online, coming in from all across the country.”
A timely opportunity
The Flag Store was founded in 1966 by Gordon Burke, Cecilia’s father. In the wake of the 1965 debut of Canada’s own maple leaf flag design, he spotted a timely opportunity to capture a growing market. He moved his family to Thornton in 1967, where his business specialized in sewing flags with an appliqué technique.
“This was back when acid dyes were often used on flags, but they weren’t very ultraviolet-resistant (UV-resistant),” says Cecilia. “So, our appliqué flags, with the patterns actually sewn on, both looked nicer and lasted longer.”
“We grew up in the flag business,” says her brother Paul, who now owns Flagsource Canada, a spinoff business also based in Barrie, “and some of us have stayed in it, but branched off into separate firms.”
One of The Flag Store’s big breaks came when famous Canadian author Pierre Berton, who lived in Kleinburg, Ont., mentioned the business on CBC’s Front Page Challenge in 1970. He singled it out for praise because its Canadian flags actually looked red, rather than pink, over time.
That level of durability remains popular today. The company makes several hundred flags a year for Jamaica, for example, not only because the design of that country’s flag involves multiple layers of material, but also because the wind load experienced on Caribbean islands calls for heavier-duty flag construction than many other applications would need.