A documentary by Greg Durrell. Rating unavailable
Design Canada makes a case that graphic imagery has helped one of the world’s largest nations find a recognizable identity. Like hockey and radio, visual iconography has been there to reassure citizens from two major language groups and increasingly multitudinous backgrounds that they somehow belong together.
The modern Canadian flag is key to this, obviously, and the story of how it happened is literally representative of the nation. As occasional tour guide George Stroumboulopoulos points out, it took almost a hundred years after Confederation for the country to even realize it needed its own, Union Jack–less emblem. Under pressure from Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, and over fierce opposition from former PM John Diefenbaker, a multiparty committee looked at various designs, most using some form of maple leaf. Pearson’s own preference was for a hideous pennant with three conjoined leaves, but this gave way, in 1964, to the more familiar single maple with two red fields.
The first version’s rococo leaf was soon stylized to the now-familiar “11-pointer”, as one elderly participant calls it. The CBC logo, with its multiple orbs, was likewise simplified in 1992, mainly so it could be better read in the corner of TV sets—to the continuing consternation of Burton Kramer, who came up with the original in ’74. Other on-screen old-timers include Fritz Gottschalk, the Zurich-born designer who led a sedate charge toward clean lines, open space, and Helvetica-based typography, as seen in signage for the Olympics and more official functions.
There’s also an anti-Swiss movement, arriving like clockwork from Heather Cooper, whose Renaissance-tinged illustrations and playful design brought life to Canadian imagery in the 1980s—most famously in her beaver logo for Roots. Her namesake agency, Burns Cooper, is never mentioned (neither is the enigmatic bandage on her forehead), nor does the film bring up more radical movements, like those encapsulated by Toronto’s Reactor Art + Design, whose illustration-heavy work (especially that of original partner Barbara Klunder) greatly influenced the retro styles popular today.
The doc makes some attempt to sketch out the more inclusive contemporary scene, in terms of gender, ethnicity, and outlook, with Douglas Coupland and some younger voices briefly evident. Filmmaker Greg Durrell, who has himself made graphics for movies and the Olympics, doesn’t try to be definitive; at only 74 minutes, his first feature doesn’t go into overtime about anything. But it’s an appropriately well-ordered intro to a subject almost all Canadians have thought about, even if they had no idea that’s what they were doing.