There exist 150 species of maple tree worldwide, ten of which grow in Canada, where it has played an important economic role for a long time: it is useful for its food properties (that had already been discovered by the native Americans), but also for its wood, that can serve for many different purposes. The maple leaf very soon became a symbol of Canada, but how did it all happen?
Its first use as a symbol goes back to 1700, when gatherings were held in which Scottish, English and Irish immigrants would wear their national plant to be recognized. Those who didn’t feel the bond to their homeland or wanted to be considered as Canadians began to wear the maple leaf. Throught the 18th and 19th centuries, the use of the leaf as an emblem became more and more widespread: you could encounter it in many societies and on the coat of arms of Ontario and Quebec. From 1876 onwards, the leaf appeared on all Canadian coins until 1901 where it remained only on the penny.
The most important step, however, occurred when the maple leaf was used as a symbol for the new national flag. The desire to design a new flag appeared around 1925, but the project wasn’t reflected on very seriously until 1964. In that year a great debate arose in the government because the design of the previous flag began to create problems (it actually showed too strong a link with Great Britain). Prime Minister Pearson gathered a committee, who eventually chose the actual red (the official colour of English speaking Canadians) and white (the official colour of French speaking Canadians) flag with a maple leaf. Its first official use occurred on February 15th the next year, that is now annually celebrated as Flag Day.
In 1867, Alexander Muir wrote a song in honour of the emblem, Maple Leaf Forever, which became a sort of unofficial anthem of Canada: here follows the link to the related wikipedia article with the complete lyrics as well as an mp3 version of the song (in the section: external links) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Maple_Leaf_Forever
Sylvie and Elise