The maple leaf is the characteristic leaf of the maple tree, and is one of the most widely recognized national symbols of Canada.
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.