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An amazing journey: Designer returns to province for 50th anniversary of Saskatchewan flag

Anthony Drake won a contest to choose Saskatchewan’s flag back in 1969. His story and travels since are anything but ordinary
When Anthony Drake submitted his 13 designs to a committee to choose Saskatchewan’s official flag back in 1969, he had little idea of the ceremony and celebration that would come 47 years later.

And that his 21-day tour through the province back in 2016 would only be a bit of what he would experience on the flag’s golden jubilee in 2019.

Drake, 78, and his wife Joan made the trip from East Yorkshire, England for a host of events to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the flag this month, including a stop in Moose Jaw to check out the Saskatchewan Air Show and a visit to the Bentley retirement home for a special presentation on how the flag was put together and chosen.

First, a bit about that.

Drake, then a 28-year-old teacher in Hodgeville, heard of a contest to design Saskatchewan’s first official flag. Having a background that included training in art, Drake put his skills to good use and began assembling various designs to attempt to win the judges’ favour – and the $1,000 first prize that came with it, worth close to $7,000 today.

“So I thought of different ways of doing a flag, I could have done it in paint or coloured pens, anything, and none of that made any sense, it was a mess,” Drake said during an interview following his Bentley visit. “So I thought ‘make it simple’ and I bought a set of coloured sheets, in what I thought was appropriate colours. So I did 13 of those, by cutting out two simple sheets and the shield and flower and putting them together.”

Drake would find himself with plenty of competition. A total of 4,025 entries were submitted from all over the province, all sent to a judging panel that would choose the standard that would represent the province in perpetuity.

And sure enough, Drake’s design came back as the winner, with two of his flags making the final 10.

Thing is, Anthony and Joan had already returned home by the time the contest winner was announced. And that meant he wasn’t on hand for the first raising of the flag on Sept. 22, 1969.

Such is life, time moves on. And that it did for Drake, for 47 years.

Until one day his phone rang. Joan answered, and Gail Hapanowicz was on the line.

Welcome back

Gail and Mirek Hapanowicz decided that after living in Calgary for 37 years, it was time for a change.

That change brought them to Hodgeville, Saskatchewan, where they bought the old high school and created an inn bed and breakfast. It was during their time in the town of around 150 people they found out the Saskatchewan flag had been designed in the community all those years ago.

And with that, they had a mission.

“We started looking for him,” said Hapanowicz, who now runs the Saskatchewan Flag Foundation. “It took me a year and a half, and during that time ‘the’ Drake, the rap artist, was touring and all I could find was stuff about him, while this Drake wasn’t on social media… After a while I finally found somebody who knew somebody who knew Tony, and they had his phone number.”

Hapanowicz made the call with some trepidation – she had no idea how Drake would react, whether or not he wanted to be bothered with something from so long ago or if he’d be remotely interested in talking about it all.

“So I winged it, I called, his wife answered and asked who it was, I said it was Gail from Canada from Hodgeville and I wanted to talk about the flag,” Hapanowicz said. “He came on and it was like we were friends for 100 years and it’s just taken off from there.”

Step one was getting Drake a flag to sign and send back. That’s where the first of a series of interesting coincidences took place.
Hapanowicz went straight to the top and contacted the Premier’s office to see if they had flags available. They didn’t and suggested contacting their MLA. That office didn’t have any flags either, but…

“Their office assistant went to school in Hodgeville,” Hapanowicz said with a laugh. “She said she was going to find a flag for me and she did. I took that flag and I sent to Anthony.”

Drake was supposed to simply sign the standard and send it back. As it turns out, that little project from ’69 still carried a great deal of meaning to its designer and he was all in when it came to supporting Hapanowicz’s venture.

“He wrote two verses on there and sent it back to me,” she said. “It gets lost in the mail for seven weeks, but it finally arrived, and now we have it mounted in a big frame in our school.

“Then he sent us memorabilia, things he had saved for 47 years, things he just had. Like the invitation to the unveiling of the flag and a picture of the committee that chose it, all sorts of interesting things.”

That was a good start.

Now there was one thing left – Drake had to come back to Saskatchewan.

The first visit

Plans were made, and Anthony and Joan made their return to Canada and the small province they’d left so many years ago in 2016, the 47th anniversary of the flag-raising.

And oh what a trip it turned out to be.

The Hapanowiczs had created a 21-day tour of the province that included a host of stops all over Saskatchewan and even had a camera crew from SaskTel Max tagging along to create a documentary of the visit.

“I’d never done anything like this before, we have no funding or volunteers or anything like that, I just pick up the phone,” Gail explained. “And everybody was interested in being part of this, so it turned in a huge tour.”

The first major highlight came in Swift Current. The military cadet corps happened to be holding a review the day Drake was visiting and chose him to be the reviewing officer, a rare honour for a civilian. It also turned out to be one of the most touching moments of the entire trip.
“That was the best, I was surprised they did it, and I’d never done anything like that before,” Drake said.

Not only did he receive the full military honours such a position commands, including the march-past and salute, it also marked the first time Drake had seen the Saskatchewan flag raised.

“I still cry even now thinking about that,” Hapanowicz said of the ceremony.

Then there was the stop in the Saskatchewan Legislature.
It was business as usual for the province’s MLAs and Premier Brad Wall, with the Saskatchewan flag group hanging out in the gallery and taking in the regular goings-on. Then it all took a turn for the surreal.

“They were doing their usual meeting and then Brad Wall started talking about the flag,” Drake said with a tone of amazement. “And it was everything about it, he was giving information like it was magic.”

Not only did Wall recognize Drake in the gallery, he also presented him with a special framed flag that included an inscription honouring Anthony for his contribution to the province.

“I didn’t think it was possible for something like that to happen to ordinary people like us, being recognized like that,” Anthony said.

The 50th

The entire trip saw Drake pick up so much memorabilia that, well, let him explain.

“It is incredible,” he said. “I keep thinking ‘is this really happening’ and it’s because there are lots of things that have been given to me, it’s almost a mini-museum that people can walk through and see. It’s been so interesting and a lot of fun, too.”

The entire first experience back in Canada got the gears rolling a bit, and this time, it was Anthony’s turn to call Gail.

“They called last year and said ‘hey, I’m coming out to visit you next year’ and that’s when he said ‘what are you going to do bigger than last time?’,” Hapanowicz said, drawing laughs from the group listening in on the interview. “So we had our work cut out for us.”

Drake’s 50th-anniversary tour has been an epic one in its own right.

In addition to even more stops around the province, they were guests of the Saskatchewan Roughriders this past weekend, where Drake was presented with a #50 jersey with his nameplate on the back. Then there was the stop at the Saskatchewan Air Show, and tons of meet-and-greets, one of which will take him to the Lieutenant Governor’s office next week.

The journey has also taken the entourage back to Hodgeville on both occasions, which presented itself with a unique opportunity.

“The interesting thing is both times we’ve been back we’ve been able to visit the house we lived in and able to actually sit where he designed the flag 50 years ago,” said Joan. “So that’s pretty amazing.”

“And the house hasn’t even changed that much,” Anthony added.

The committee and the coincidences

One part of the visit that was especially important this time around was trying to find members of the committee who judged the flag contest. Hapanowicz’s research found all had passed away, except for one.

And that one just happened to be Percy Schmeiser.

Yes, that Percy Schmeiser, famed for his battle with Monsanto.

“So I gave him a call and said ‘this is nothing about Monsanto or GMOs, it’s all about the flag’ and we ended up talking for about an hour and we decided we were going to meet,” Hapanowicz said. “So that was a great moment, we had a member of the original committee who was at the first flag raising and with Anthony since they’d never met.”

Schmeiser, 88, had a special moment in store for the group when they stopped by his home – he went to his desk and pulled out an original flag, one from the first set given to the selection committee.

“It was still in his desk 50 years later,” Drake said. “It was nice that it meant that much to him.”

The connections to the selection committee didn’t end there. In fact, there was one so random that it almost seemed like it was out of a story.

“We were at a dinner back home in England and we started talking to this chap,” explained Joan. “He had just got back from Canada and he’d been a delegate at some conference. And where abouts in Canada had he been? He said ‘Saskatchewan’. Oh, okay, where in Saskatchewan? He said ‘you’ve never head about it, it’s a place called Ponteix’ and we said ‘we actually lived there for a year’.”

The best part?

“And then we found out that his cousin had lived in Pontiex and she had married a farmer, and that farmer was one of the people on that committee,” Joan said with a laugh. “You couldn’t even make that up.”

A Royal honour

Through the entire journey, Hapanowicz has kept a wishlist of things the Foundation would like to do in order to honour Drake and create a deep and lasting legacy for his contribution to the province.

One of those involved none other than the Queen herself.

“There were a bunch of other things, most of them are checked off, but the biggest one was asking the Queen to recognize him for designing a flag for a Commonwealth province,” Hapanowicz said.

You already know where this is going.

Hapanowicz wrote to the Queen’s office, and one day a letter from England arrived at their home in Hodgeville, complete with the HRM seal. Inside was a response from the Queen thanking Gail for sharing Anthony’s achievement and recognizing Drake for his work.

“It meant a lot to see that and it was really nice to see him recognized by the Queen for what he did,” Hapanowicz said. “It’s pretty special.”
That letter, like so many other pieces of memorabilia, hangs framed in the school today.

It was 50 years ago that Anthony Drake decided to throw some heavy-duty construction paper and a few designs together to try and win a contest. Now, he’s a major part of Saskatchewan’s history, and thanks to the Saskatchewan Flag Foundation’s efforts, far more well known now than even a couple years ago.

“I don’t think there are many people in the world who have had this strange variety of living a long time and not doing much and then all of a sudden, boom, all sorts of things start happening,” Drake said with a laugh.

“It’s all been pretty incredible.”

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