This is the chapter entitled, Alberta, from the book,
The Flags of Canada, by Alistair B. Fraser.
This work is copyrighted. All rights reserved.


Chap XI:


(Strong and Free)
Motto of Alberta


After a century of gradually increasing control by the Hudson's Bay Company, the land that was to become Alberta was ceded to Canada in 1870.1 It remained a portion of the North West Territories until, with increasing population engendered by the railways, Alberta was formed in 1905.

Almost immediately an effort was made to provide the new province with appropriate symbols in the form of arms. However the Alberta authorities wished to depict a panoramic scene of wheat fields, prairies, foothills, and the Rockies upon their arms rather than the conventional discrete heraldic devices. This occasioned some delay as they encountered resistance from heraldic advisors in both Canada and Britain. The Herald's argument was that the very raison d'être of arms is identification. Conventional heraldic charges, which depend on shape for identification, are much more effective than panoramic scenes, which depend on internal design.2

In principle the heralds were correct, but the Abertain authorities would not be swayed. Their vision was of arms which practically contained:

a photograph of the entire province. As any traveller who has traversed the province will know, that entering the province from the East in the summer, the first scene to meet the traveller's gaze is the almost limitless wheatfield; as the journey is continued westward and the mountains are approached the wheatfields are left behind, the rougher prairie land is crossed, the foothills are entered, and finally the noble and almost awe-inspiring Rockies are penetrated. These natural features of the province, surmounted by a St. George's Cross very appropriately constitute the Province's Armorial Ensigns.3

The provincial attitude towards their spectacular scenery seems to have been: If you've got it, flaunt it. Well, why not; the province had its way and the arms were granted on May 30 1907. Indeed, if one compares early renditions of the arms with modern ones, a middle ground has been sought as the depiction has become more highly stylized.

Some amusing confusion has been engendered as a result of the fact that Alberta did not become armigerous until nearly a year after all the other provinces had obtained their arms. As is described in the chapter on the ensigns, the practice at the time had been to assemble the symbols of all the provinces to form a composite shield which was then used to represent Canada on everything from flags to bric-a-brac. However, during the winter of 1906 to 1907, what was to be used for the armorially tardy province of Alberta? The problem was solved, at least to the satisfaction of artists and manufacturers, by using the unofficial arms of the land from which Alberta had been calved, the North West Territories.

By 1903, Edward M. Chadwick, a Toronto barrister and amateur armorist, had designed what he called an "écu complet" or complete escutcheon for Canada. It bore devices for each of the seven provinces and two territories, only four of which actually had arms at the time. His device for the North West Territories bore a polar bear in the chief to represent the northern climes, and four wheat sheaves in the base to represent the agriculturally rich prairies. Apparently used outside the province only, these polar-bear arms of Alberta prompted confusion as later authorities found themselves at a loss to explain a why Alberta might have been represented by a polar bear.

The proper arms, when adopted in 1907, began to appear on the composite shield of Canadian Red Ensigns. However, before the 1960s there is no evidence that the arms were ever used on a flag which represented the province, either as an armorial banner, a lieutenant-governor's flag, or an Alberta Red Ensign. Indeed, in January 1964, Ambrose Holowach, the provincial secretary, noted that the government had never even discussed the possibility of a distinctive flag for the province and then opined, "Frankly, I don't think we need one."4

Yet, by this time, the flag that Alberta was ultimately to adopt was already flying in Ottawa. It was one of the many banners bearing the provincial arms on a coloured field which had been flying at the Garden of the Provinces since 1962. Using white, yellow, blue, green, and sometimes red, the background colour for any particular province seems to have been chosen capriciously; blue was used for Alberta.5 As in the earlier case of the polar-bear arms, people outside of Alberta were filling a void by inventing their own symbols to represent the province.

The tide in favour of provincial flags was rising. In June 1964, in the midst of extensive discussion of a national flag, and with Prince Edward Island having just joined the ranks of provinces with flags, Premier Manning revealed he liked the idea of a provincial flag, but felt that it was premature. "Lets not muddy the national flag issue by proposing one yet," he said. On February 15, 1965, the Maple Leaf flag was raised across the country. This released combined imperatives: Keep up with the neighbours; respond to the loss of the Canadian Red Ensign. Opined an editorial on February 20:

Most Canadian provinces now are adopting their own standards. Here in the West, British Columbia has had one for some time. Saskatchewan adopted one last month. Why should this province lag any further behind? By all reasonable measurements, surely, this province is Red Ensign country. For Alberta's provincial flag, why not choose the Red Ensign and add to it, in the lower right, the official crest [sic] of this province?6

Actually, Saskatchewan had only adopted a flag to mark its sixtieth jubilee, but the point was made and three days later on February 23, 1965 Premier Manning allowed that if Members of the Legislative Assembly expressed widespread support for a provincial red ensign, a resolution to make it the provincial flag would be presented to the House. In the ensuing weeks MLA support was mixed owing to Alberta's ethnic diversity,7 and as the Premier noted later, "public response was very disappointing and those who did express views in support had a wide variety of suggestions as to the design."8 The suggestion having been spurned, no further governmental action was taken until the beginning of the Centennial year. On January 17, 1967, the Provincial cabinet approved a banner to be used "in Centennial and other celebrations," but cautiously pointed out that this banner was not to be considered a provincial flag. The flag chosen was just that previously adopted at the Garden of the Provinces, the provincial arms on a dark blue field.

The centennial banner received a warm reception at hands of Albertains and so in April of the following year, Mr. Holowach introduced a bill in the Legislature on behalf of the government which converted the banner into the provincial flag. The legislation passed smoothly and quickly. So it was that a flag used informally to represent Alberta for a half dozen years, became the provincial flag on June 1, 1968.


Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta

The Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta followed the practice of the older provinces and, within a wreath of maple leaves, placed the provincial arms upon the Union Flag. However this practice had yet to be adopted as late as 1956 at which time no flag was used either on His Honour's car or at his residence.9 It is likely that the Union Flag version of the lieutenant governor's flag was adopted about the same time as the provincial flag. Certainly it was in use in the 1970s. Then on September 26, 1981 the Governor General approved the new-pattern flag for the Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta.


Flags of Occasion

The most important flag of occasion is, of course, the flag discussed above: the Centennial flag which graduated to become the provincial flag. Since then, flags have been used to mark important provincial occasions such as the arrival of the North West Mounted Police in 1874 (it became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920). Many parts of the territory had been infiltrated by American whiskey traders and was only effectively brought under Canadian control with the arrival of the NWMP. The flag was patterned after the red and white pennon carried on the march west in 1874, and now used in the RCMP musical ride.

There followed special flags for the Commonwealth Games held in Edmonton in 1978, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the province in 1980, and, of course, the Calgary Winter Olympics of 1988. This latter event spawned a number of special flags, some of which are presented among the federal flags of occasion and some of which are with the commercial flags.


Annual events

The Calgary Stampede has had at least three flags over the years. Shown is the most recent, dating 1980, which shows the Stampede's symbols of a roping cowboy and the CS brand. The flag of Edmonton's Klondike Days has been in use since about 1964 and the Edmonton Northlands Exhibition since about 1978.



Three universities in Alberta have their own flags each of which places their badge in the centre of a plain field. Since 1982, the University of Alberta has used a stylized version of the Alberta arms surmounted by an open book, all on a golden field. The Universities of Calgary and Athabasca place their logotypes on white and green, respectively.



It is likely that Alberta's capital city of Edmonton has the oldest municipal flag in the province. In January of 1966, the Edmonton city council urged Premier Manning to adopt a provincial flag. Manning, having had his red-ensign suggestion rebuffed, temporized. The city council, however, did not have to rely on provincial officials completely and, on December 12, 1966, adopted a design presenting the municipal arms on a Canadian pale with blue bars to either side.10 In 1979, Edmonton marked its 75th anniversary with a cluster of three 75s joined in a rosette on a white field.

One of the most unusual municipal flags to be found in Canada is that of the City of Lethbridge. Looking like a badly remembered version of the flag of the United States, the flag is almost mythic in its implications. In 1873, the North West Mounted Police were formed to wrest control of the prairies from the increasing dominance of American whiskey traders. The most infamous, and symbolically the most important of the trading posts was Fort Woop-Up, located just south of present day Lethbridge at the junction of the St. Mary and Oldman Rivers. On October 9, 1874, in an act which for Canadians is the metaphorical equivalent of driving the money changers from the temple, the flag of fort was struck by Colonel Macleod and his contingent of NWMP.11 The flag which had flown over the fort was probably the house flag of the traders, but its similarity to the American flag was poignant. In 1971, the city of Lethbridge adopted the flag of the vanquished as its municipal flag.12

On October 3, 1983, Calgary adopted a red and white flag bearing a C fused with the city's symbol of a white cowboy Stetson. Most cities in Alberta place a municipal badge, whether arms, seal, or logotype, on their flag. Like Edmonton, Fort McMurray uses its arms on a Canadian pale with puce panels. Vegreville, one of the smallest communities to be represented in this book, celebrates its Ukrainian heritage with an image of a Pysanka Egg. The flags of St. Albert13 and Red Dear14 use diagonal bands of red, white, and blue to display their municipal arms. The resemblance between the design of the flag of Red Deer and that of Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Quebec is striking as both place the national symbol on red at the hoist, the municipal arms on a white diagonal in the centre, and a provincial emblem on blue at the fly.


This is the chapter entitled, Alberta, from the book,
The Flags of Canada, by Alistair B. Fraser.
This work is copyrighted. All rights reserved.



1. In 1778, the first fur-trading post in what is now Alberta was established by Peter Pond of the North West Company. The ensuing competition in the area with the Hudson's Bay Company only ended when the two companies merged in 1821.

2. See the discussion of this issue as it applies to the arms of Alberta in Conrad Swan, Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977), p. 209-12.

3. These remarks were offered by Deputy Provincial Secretary of the day and are found in a file dated March 1910 in the Department of the Provincial Secretary, Edmonton, Alberta.

4. This quotation and the subsequent material on the adoption of the Alberta Flag are based on newspaper clippings supplied by the Alberta Legislative Library. Although the clippings are dated, it is rarely evident whether they came from the Edmonton Journal or the Edmonton Sun. The article mentioning Holowach was entitled, "Alberta Flag Not Being Considered," (January, 10, 1964).

5. Pictures from the early 1960s reveal that on flags sold to the public, Alberta sometimes had a green background.

6. "Red Ensign with Alberta Crest May Become Province's Flag," (February 20, 1965), p. 4.

7. "MLA Warns Ethnic Groups May Detest Provincial Flag," Edmonton Journal (March 2, 1965), p. 3.

8. "Alberta Flag Discussion Set" (January 22, 1966).

9. The source is a letter to Mrs. Kathleen R. McKenzie, Secretary to the Lt. Governor of Saskatchewan, dated July 17, 1963 which provides information on the practices observed by the provinces in 1956.

10. Edmonton's arms were adopted in 1949. The city flag was designed by Mr. Norman Yates, then Associate Professor of fine Arts, University of Alberta. It took two forms: one with the words "City of Edmonton" at the centre bottom, for flying outside the city, and one without, for flying within the city.

11. Actually, although the flag of Fort Woop-Up was real, the striking of it by Macleod was probably also metaphorical. In the face of the approaching police, the American traders had abandoned the fort to protection of a cripple and an aged half-breed woman.

12. The reconstruction of the flag of Fort Woop-Up is based entirely on a photograph taken in 1881, well after the takeover, by George M. Dawson, a geologist with the Canadian government. The original photograph is preserved in the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

13. St. Albert's flag was designed in November 1979 by Pat Spellisey of Show Your Colours Ltd. It was adopted by the city council in February 1980. Variants of the flag contain either nothing in the canton or a blue outline of the St. Albert mission.

14. Red Deer's flag was approved June 6, and dedicated August 26, 1977.


This is the chapter entitled, Alberta, from the book,
The Flags of Canada, by Alistair B. Fraser.
This work is copyrighted. All rights reserved.