The maple leaf is the characteristic leaf of the maple tree, and is one of the most widely recognized national symbols of Canada.
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At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the settlements of New France had attained a population of about 18,000. Also by this time, the maple leaf had been adopted as an emblem by the Canadiens along the Saint Lawrence River.
Its popularity with French Canadians continued, and was reinforced when, at the inaugural meeting of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste in 1834, the maple leaf was one of numerous emblems proposed to represent the society. Speaking in its favour, Jacques Viger, the first mayor of Montreal, described the maple as "the king of our forest; ... the symbol of the Canadian people."
The maple leaf slowly caught on as a national symbol: in 1868, it was included in the coat of arms of both Ontario and Quebec, and was added to the Canadian coat of arms in 1921. In 1867, Alexander Muir composed the patriotic "The Maple Leaf Forever," which became an unofficial anthem in English-speaking Canada. From 1876 until 1901, the leaf appeared on all Canadian coins, and remained on the penny after 1901. During the First World War, badges of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were often based on a maple leaf design. The use of the maple leaf as a regimental symbol extended back to the 1800s, and Canadian soldiers in the Second Boer War were distinguished by a maple leaf on their sun helmets.
The maple leaf finally became the central national symbol with the introduction of the Canadian flag (designed by George F. G. Stanley) in 1965, which uses a highly-stylized eleven-pointed maple leaf, referring to no specific species of maple. Earlier official uses of a maple leaf design often used over 30 points and a short stem. The one chosen is a generic maple leaf representing the ten species of maple tree native to Canada—at least one of these species grows natively in every province. The maple leaf is currently used on the Canadian flag, logos of various Canadian based companies and the logos of Canadian sports teams. Examples include Air Canada, the Toronto Maple Leafs NHL franchise and the Toronto FC soccer club.
Since 1979, the Royal Canadian Mint has produced gold, silver, platinum, and palladium bullion coins, which are officially known as Maple Leafs, as geometric maple leaves are stamped on them.
The U.S. city of Carthage, Missouri is nicknamed "America's Maple Leaf City."
The mascot of Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana is the Maple Leaf and the nickname for Goshen College sports teams is the Maple Leafs.
The Maple leaf is also the Coat of Arms of Sammatti, Finland.