Matt Hryhorsky
Feb 3, 2016 · 5 min read

You’re probably thinking “what the…Toronto has a flag?”, and yep, it sure does. Surprised me too. I’ve been living in this city for the better part of 10 years, and I’ve never seen it. Maybe I’ve never noticed it, but we have a flag that we as Torontonians are supposed to rally behind and identify with, and yet, it’s kind of underwhelming. So we set out to re-design it.

This all came about when a good friend recommended Roman Mars’ fabulous TED Talk on “The worst city flags you’ve never noticed”. In it, he gives examples of some pretty horrific flag designs, but he also gives amazing examples of flags that define the identity of a city so well that elements of its design are embraced whole-heartedly, like Amsterdam’s. The people of Amsterdam love their flag so much that it appears everywhere from coffee cups to store windows to stickers on bikes. After discovering what our existing flag looked like, and knowing that I’ve never really seen it anywhere, I thought it was time Toronto had one we could all get behind.

The Existing Flag

Toronto’s existing flag. Sorry 1974, but this flag just doesn’t get us anymore.

The flag above was originally designed by Rene De Santis, a 21-year-old George Brown College student whose concept won a 1974 competition held by the Old City of Toronto Flag Design Committee (thanks Wikipedia). The design follows some of the basic rules of good flag design, and I think Rene did a great job for 1974’s version of Toronto, but if in Roman’s words “it takes a city to raise a flag” then it begs the question — does this represent the city I know and love? Does a literal representation of City Hall, accompanied by a maple leaf to represent the Council Chamber fill me with inspiration and make me feel proud to be a member of such a vibrant, diverse, extraordinary city? My answer was a resounding “Nope”.

An initiative for the Filament design team this year is a monthly challenge to get us out of our comfort zone, and work together to solve a problem we wouldn’t normally encounter in our day-to-day work. January’s challenge was to watch Roman’s talk and then design a concept for Toronto’s new flag (with rationale of course). Here’s what we came up with:

Trevor Davson’s Concept

In general I wanted something that was dynamic and easily recognizable as representative of Toronto and Canada. Toronto is a global city so it’s flag should be memorable both within and outside of the city and country.

CN Tower
A strong and memorable symbol for Toronto. Everyone within Canada and around the world associates the CN Tower with Toronto. The old flag had the city hall on it (sort of) and that’s not super recognizable outside of Toronto. Toronto is a global city and should have a symbol that speaks to that.

Red Maple Leaf
Representative of Canada, but it’s not front and center.

White Maple leaf within the red one
Subtly referencing Ontario’s white trillium.

Three blue lines (down the centre of the CN Tower and on its sides)
Represent the three major rivers that flow through Toronto into Lake Ontario (Don River, Rouge River, Humber River)

Oval Shape
Represents Lake Ontario

Stripes of blue in the background
Waves for the lake.
Dynamic, energetic background — Toronto is a vibrant, dynamic city — didn’t want a single colour in the background.
The stripes also represent Toronto’s diversity — not one uniform colour, instead many different ones to represent the city’s diverse, multicultural make up. (“Diversity, Our Strength” is the city’s motto)

Kenzie Ryder’s Concept

This flag has multiple levels of meaning. I was initially inspired by the three rivers in Toronto: the Don, the Humber and the Rouge, which all flow into Lake Ontario. The three blue bars on the left flowing together into the blue mass on the right represent these rivers and the lake.

The negative space created by the three rivers in the design form an equals sign, the common symbol for equality — an important part of the culture of the City. As Torontonians, we pride ourselves on how ethnically diverse our city is. Toronto is widely recognized as one of the most multicultural cities in the world, which is highlighted on our coat of arms that says “Diversity Our Strength.” The two white bars can also represent the roughly 50/50 split between residents of Toronto born in Canada and outside Canada, which is pretty amazing.

Lindsay Trevors’ Concept

The flag is inspired by Toronto’s most famous landmark, the CN Tower. The focal point of the design was inspired from a simplified envisioning of the tower from a bird’s eye view, creating a circle. The circle also represents togetherness and solidarity.

This is an allusion to our city’s motto, “Diversity, Our Strength”, implying that diversity is what unifies Toronto and what makes it a wholly beautiful city. The split of blue represents lake Ontario which Toronto rests along while the white is referenced from the Canadian flag.

And here’s my concept.

If a city flag is about the people of Toronto, then for me, one of the biggest gathering places we have is Nathan Phillips Square, and by extension, City Hall. It’s in this place that we gather to skate, see concerts, shop at farmer’s markets, greet the new year, appreciate artwork, and even have our lunches on a sunny day.

Even though the CN tower is a well-known landmark, Torontonians don’t spend a lot of time there. It’s really cool, but it’s primarily for tourists. Real Toronto is defined by the diverse cross-section of people living here, and the network of amazing art galleries, restaurants, museums, community centres, music venues, and gathering spaces that we explore. This abstracted aerial view of City Hall isn’t just a nod to the second most recognizable Toronto landmark, but it’s something that symbolizes the way we come together, the way we embrace everyone who visits, or decides to call this place their home, and the way that we’re leaving ourselves open to change. It’s a strong symbol of what we are, and ultimately, what we hope to be.

The Filament team will be voting for their favourites this week, but we’d love your feedback as well. Which one do you like? We’d love to know why in the comments too!

After the challenge, I discovered that my concept is quite close to a design submitted back in 1974. Great minds Gibson Gaye, great minds…

By Filament

Real talk from Filament — an award-winning digital agency in Toronto. We’re curious, persistent, courageous and collaborative. We’re nerds. We’re thinkers. We’re doers. We make smart awesome products for smart awesome people.

Thanks to Trevor Davson and Kenzie Ryder

Matt Hryhorsky

Written by

UX Lead, International Growth at @Shopify

By Filament

Real talk from Filament — an award-winning digital agency in Toronto. We’re curious, persistent, courageous and collaborative. We’re nerds. We’re thinkers. We’re doers. We make smart awesome products for smart awesome people.

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