The Branding of Canada


What does it take to brand a country? When it comes to setting up shop on the international scene, surely there must be a few design details that will help make the country a noticeable nation. According to a recent article in Monocle magazine, there are six components that need to be in place for a successfully branded country: a good flag, a well-designed passport, versatile banknotes, a relevant typeface, recognizable stamps and streamlined road signs.

At Elbowruminations, we’re taking these six tips from Monocle, and attempting to discover how our fair nation of Canada is faring in the area of national branding.

1. The Flag

The Canadian Flag, originally designed by George Stanley

A country’s flag is its full-time ambassador, standing on guard for thee, thou and them all across the world. How does the Canuck flag help increase the country’s brand presence? Canada’s familiar red-and-white banner is instantly recognizable for its simplicity and distinct centerpiece: the regal Canadian maple leaf.

What might be of more interest to readers of this site, however, is that the man behind the design of the flag was born in Calgary, Alberta, and was not even a graphic designer. Although his name bears many credentials (He has “Colonel the Honourable Doctor” in front of his name, and four sets of initials after it), George Stanley was a layperson when it came to design. His chief belief for the flag motif was that it should be simple enough to be drawn by children, and neutral enough to not cause political strife. Our current flag was instituted in 1965 by Prime Minster Lester B. Pearson, and has been flapping fiercely ever since.

2. The Passport

The Canadian Passport

Expect your passport to be checked at the door of every nation you visit. Handing this portable personal dossier over to the customs agent is as much about keeping the peace as it is about promoting the bearer’s homeland. Whether your interaction with the agent is five minutes or five hours long, the look and feel of that passport, combined with the guard’s perception of how you behave, help to shape the international understanding of your country each time you cross a border.

Canada’s passport is a reserved navy blue, featuring the nation’s Royal Arms on the front. Stately and official in appearance, this booklet presents Canada as being of a noble heritage. Making no apologies for its relative youthfulness, Canada instead establishes itself as a respectable nation among its peers.

3. The Money

Canadian Money…and maybe some Canadian Tire money, too.

Canadian banknotes are commonly giggled at by visiting Americans, who comment on our “funny money.” Nonetheless, the vibrant suite of bills helps demonstrate Canada as a country that values community, aesthetics and history. Each bill in the current “Canadian Journey” series feature snippets from Canadian literature, and illustrations that were directed by Jorge Peral of the Canadian Bank Note Company.

These all-cotton notes have been circulating through Canadian cash registers since 2001. Tourists and travelers will be familiar with the unique texture and the appealing colour palettes, which boldly introduce Canada is an innovative, contemporary nation.

4. The Typeface

Canada’s Wordmark — Baskerville with Flaggage

So far, this seems to be the only area of nation branding in which Canada isn’t shining. Canada doesn’t claim a specific typeface as its own, nor does it rely on a consistent collection of fonts for all its publications.

However, Canada does own one of the most well-used and well-known wordmarks of developed nations. Set in the font Baskerville, the word “Canada” is adorned with a simple Canadian flag, relying on the stem of the D as its flagpole. The logo is backed by a comprehensive set of graphic standards that ensures it remains intact and impactful in every application.

5. The Stamps

Canadian stamps, a parade of passe postage

Canada’s recent introduction of the PERMANENT™ Stamp – a stamp that is always worth the going rate, no matter what you paid for it originally – might have helped bring the nation up to speed on current postal trends, but it really doesn’t give us much more to say about the design sides of things.

Regular-issue Canadian stamps are non-offensive, and appropriately official in appearance. Portraits, flowers, flags and landscapes are common scenery on the stamps – not pushing any boundaries, and not ruffling any feathers. Besides the occasional commemorative editions that switch things up a bit, Canadian stamps could best be described as “professionally generic.”

6. The Road Signs

Canada’s green highway signage

Since 2004, Canada has been updating its green highway signs to feature a new font called Clearview. This font is the first federally-approved font system for road guides. Clearview has an interesting story, and is the result of a great deal of research and experimentation concerning readability and clarity. The subtle changes have already taken place all across BC, the Yukon, and a few other Canadian municipalities including Toronto.

Within Canada’s National Parks, the familiar green road signs disappear and are instead replaced by a collection of woodsy-feeling ones. Bark-brown and sunshine-yellow, these signs are set in the now-classic Helvetica, and feature tightly-controlled icons that do a great job pointing tourists in the right direction. The tight design of these signs is controlled thanks to an extensive signage program and manual, developed by Parks Canada in the mid-seventies. Both sets of Canada’s roadside greeters do a great job leading the way in wayfinding.

In Conclusion…

From start to finish, all of Canada’s branded materials work together to create a consistent, classy image of the country. Canadians can take pride that their government avoids kitsch and clichés in its design work, and instead presents a durable image of a progressive nation.

  • Robert J. Harper

    I would like to comment on your description of George Stanley and his creation of the Candian Flag. Col Stanley gave his input relating the design of Our Canadian Flag. He was Not the creator of our Canadian Flag. There was a committee of dedicated hardworking individuals, both Parliamentry and heraldist designers and others dating back to 1896 who’s input have been well documented over the years.The one person most responsible for bringing our Flag to fruition is The Honourable John Ross Matheson who lived in Brockville Ontario at the time on the Great Flag Debate of 1964.