Canadian Flagpole at Regatta Point

The Canadian Flagpole was located in a prominent position on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin at Regatta Point, Barrine Drive, Parkes. Its erection in 1957 lead to the eventual development of a significant central park in Canberra, now known as Commonwealth Park.

Update 13 November 2020

Initial inspection by engineers earlier this year recommended that the flagpole be lifted out of its position and laid flat on the ground for formal inspection. The lift timing was marred by COVID-19 in regards to accessing specialists and specialist equipment. 

A heavy hailstorm in January 2020 damaged the flagpole. In early November, engineers identified that the flagpole had significant rot, posing an immediate safety issue to all passers by and the flagpole was felled on the morning of 13 November 2020. 

The flagpole was sectioned off into 8 metre sections and is currently being held. Discussions continue with the High Commission of Canada and the National Capital Authority, on behalf of the Commonwealth, in regards to any future replacement and use of any section of the felled flagpole. 

The Canadian Flagpole was a significant symbol of friendship between Canada and Australia, and with the sudden felling of the flagpole, both parties are keen to find a suitable alternative, and it may take some time to reach an agreement on this.

Felled Canadian Flagpole

Felled Canadian Flagpole

History

In 1955 the Hon C.D. Howe, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, offered the large flagpole to the Australian Government as a memento of his visit. The two year operation to erect the flagpole was closely followed by the press (see attached old press stories) and created great public interest. Considerable technical difficulties had to be overcome before the pole could be brought safely across the Pacific Ocean from Canada, overland from Sydney to Canberra, treated and erected on 29 August 1957. A previous offer, decades earlier, had been declined ‘…owing to the impossibility of transporting it from Sydney’.

Travel from British Columbia, Canada
to the Australian National Capital

In November 1955, a 40.2 metres single green spar of Douglas Fir, logged from a forest in British Columbia and weighing 7.1 tonnes, arrived in Sydney with its bark still attached. After being submerged in Sydney Harbour for several days for quarantine reasons, it was transported by train to Canberra straddling the length of three railway trucks, arriving on 24 November. Subsequently, under the watchful eye of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Commonwealth Forestry and Timber Bureau, and the Department of Works, the pole was trimmed to 39 metres, debarked and shaped. It was encased in felt and kept constantly damp by water sprays. Eventually it was transferred to a 42.7 metres polythene plastic film bath, where it lay for three weeks in a special mix of chemicals to ensure protection of the timber.

Transfer of the treated pole by truck and trolley from Canberra's railway station to the site at Regatta Point proved to be a dramatic event, the trolley at the tail end veering from side to side and occasionally off the road. A crane followed to lift the trolley back on the road. The erection went smoothly, the pole being set into a concrete pit three metres deep, leaving the remaining 36 metres unsupported above the ground. Those working on the preparation and erection of the pole over the two years became so attached to it, they nicknamed it ‘Polly’.

His Excellency T.W.L. MacDermot, High Commissioner for Canada, handed the pole over on 20 November 1957 to the Hon Allen Fairhall, Australian Government Minister for the Interior and Works.

Canadian Flagpole_Canberra Times, Friday 25 November 1955
Canberra Times, Friday 25 November 1955
With thanks to Trove

Canadian Flagpole_CT Thursday 21 November 1957
Canberra Times, Thursday 21 November 1957
With thanks to Trove

On the 1 July, a special flag-raising ceremony took place each year (up to and including 2020) to celebrate Canada’s National Day. The Canadian Flagpole was also a focal point of celebration annually on Australia Day.

Commemorative plaque at the base of the Canadian Flagpole

The Commemorative plaque was at the base of the Canadian Flagpole highlighting the relationship between the two countries.

Further Reading

John Gray, Commonwealth Park, Canberra A Review of its History 1913–1993.
A Research Report to the ACT Heritage Council, October 1994.