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Victoria, Winnipeg rivalry heats up over ‘living flag’

As Victoria prepares for Canada Day, the city’s annual “living flag” celebration returns – along with some friendly rivalry from Winnipeg.

Comprised of 1,500 to 2,500 people, all dressed in red and white and in the form of a Canadian flag, the living flag first appeared on the B.C. legislature lawn in 2006.

The concept was originally pitched by city councillor and former Downtown Victoria Business Association director Charlayne Thornton-Joe, who said the living flag has proven to be one of the most popular events of Canada Day, growing from 325 to 2,500 participants in eight years.

While Victoria may have the claim to the longest running living flag, the record for largest belongs to Winnipeg, which weaved its flag of 3,500 participants last year.

“We were inspired by Victoria [in 2011], so we issued a challenge to them to beat their numbers from the year prior,” said Jason Syvixay, Downtown Winnipeg BIZ managing director.

“It’s that kind of friendly, nation-wide challenge we take a lot of pride in.”

Living flags have since formed across the country, with Ottawa, Calgary, Langley, and Brandon, Man. all constructing their own this year.

Syvixay’s confident his city will still hold the record come Canada Day, and that moving the event to the newly constructed Canadian Museum for Human Rights will draw even larger numbers than last year.

“We’re eager and ready to come out and defend our title again,” Syvixay said. “We’ve done it the last three years and we’ll be able to do it again.”

Victoria’s edge in the competition is the time zone difference, as organizers learn the numbers of eastern cities’ flags before assembling its own.

While Winnipeg may be focussed on numbers, Thornton-Joe pegged reducing the flag’s environmental footprint as a primary focus this year.

Organizers hope participants can be encouraged to bring their own red and white shirts by allowing them to take “prime spots” in the flag by skipping the shirt line, though 1,500 shirts will still be printed, courtesy of Coast Capital Savings.

Though Thornton-Joe doesn’t expect the numbers to be much higher than last year’s, she isn’t too concerned with setting new records.

“As much as we love friendly competition, we’re happy just to see people check it out,” she said.

The living flag will begin assembling at 12:30 p.m. and be finished by 2 p.m. Participation is open to everyone.

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