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


Chap XII:


We propose to do full honour to a flag that carries so much tradition with it.1
Premier Duff Roblin (1965)
(in referring to the adoption of a
red ensign as the provincial flag)


Before Manitoba entered Confederation, the major flags which were used over its present territory were the Union Flag and the Red Ensign. This latter flag in the form of the Hudson's Bay Company Ensign was for many years a frequent sight at H.B.C. forts. Also seen, particularly at Fort Garry, was the H.B.C. Governor's flag. The flags of the Hudson's Bay Company, and its rival, the North West Company, will be discussed in the chapter on the house flags of commercial organizations.

There also appears to have been considerable use of flags by the Métis. Some of these flags are discussed in the chapter on the flags of native nations. Nevertheless it is worth commenting on the flag of Louis Riel's Provisional Government. In the words of Alexander Begg, a storekeeper who observed the event:

On Friday last the 10th instant [December 10, 1869] the French went through the ceremony of hoisting the flag of their Provisional Government. About four o'clock in the afternoon a number of armed men assembled in the court yard of Fort Garry and were addressed by Mr. Riel who called upon them to support the new flag until their rights as free born subjects of Queen Victoria were respected. ... After Mr. Riel's address, the flag (the design of which is the fleur de lis and shamrock combined) was hoisted and a salute fired by the men in the fort at the same time the brass band from St. Boniface struck up some lively tunes. ... The Shamrock on the flag looks significant, but on enquiry I find that it is merely in compliment to Mr. O'Donogue, an Irishman who had greatly assisted Mr. Riel in the present undertaking.2

On August 24, 1870, the expedition under Colonel G.J. Wolseley raised the Union Flag at Fort Garry3 and ended Riel's tenure. Up until that time, observers described a profusion of different versions of the flag of the provisional government. All had a white field, but some bore a harp, some extra fleurs-de-lis, some crosses, some a golden border, and some bore what was to become the symbol of the province: the buffalo.4

Manitoba's symbol, the buffalo, gained official status in 1870 shortly after the new province was formed on July 15, 1870. There was an immediate legislative need for a great seal, so, at a meeting of the Privy Council in Ottawa on August 2, a design was chosen: within a ring was placed a shield with a crown in the centre of St. George's cross in the chief, and a buffalo with its head turned to the viewer in the base.5 Recalling the beast that once roamed the Manitoba prairies and woods in such great numbers, the buffalo was a good choice.

The design looked just like arms and it was quickly treated as such. It was joined to the arms of the first four provinces to make the informal badge to represent the country on the aberrant Canadian Red Ensigns. The rendition on these flags is often that of a bucking buffalo.

In 1903, provincial officials sought to have the device from the seal properly authorized as the arms of the province. With minor changes, this was accomplished on May 10, 1905. The St. George's cross was retained in the chief, although the crown was dropped; a side view of a much more regal buffalo is presented standing on a rock in the base.

While Manitoba now could use an armorial banner, we are not aware of any occasion on which it was ever used. The twentieth century had arrived and with it the imperial sentiment which promoted the flying of the Union Flag. For years Manitoba flew the Union Flag as its official flag.6

The Union Flag was mandated to fly on provincial schools right up until the summer of 1964, when, in the midst of the Great Flag Debate, the Manitoba Legislature abruptly changed horses and required schools to henceforth fly the Canadian Red Ensign. This was clearly intended as statement in support of the Ensign as a national flag, but the move was quickly denounced as not only petty but expensive. At an estimated cost of $10,000 for the province, some 1,500 Red Ensigns would have to be purchased for the beginning of the school year in September.7 Yet it was widely anticipated that Canada would have a new flag by the end of the year, which would, of course, then replace the Red Ensign and present children with the confusion of three different, supposedly national, flags within a period of about ten months.8

By the end of the year, when it was clear that the Canadian Red Ensign would not become the national flag of Canada, Manitoba began to consider a suitable provincial flag. The choice, a red ensign bearing the arms of Manitoba on the fly, was passed by an act of the Legislature on May 11, 1965. However, this flag bore the Union Flag, a royal badge, in the canton, so permission to use it had to be sought from the Queen. Royal assent was given in October, and the government chose May 12, 1966 as the day to have the flag come into effect.

On Thursday May 12, the Provincial Flag of Manitoba was raised in 2000 separate ceremonies throughout the province, and 130,000 hand flags were distributed to school children. Premier Duff Roblin had set the stage by noting that Manitobans are "first and foremost" Canadian citizens, and that the new Canadian flag-"the most important emblem of Canada's nationhood"-will be steadfastly honoured and cherished. With the creation of such a national flag, he said, it enables Manitoba, on its part, to preserve the traditions and affection for the historic Ensign.9


The Lieutenant-Governor

It is unclear whether the lieutenant-governor used a badge bearing the buffalo on a Union Flag before arms were granted in 1905. It seems much more likely that he would have just used a plain Union Flag. Before the beginning of the twentieth century, the Union Flag was rarely used by private citizens and so it readily served to distinguish officials. The flag with the badge on it was intended for use at sea, and while Manitoba certainly borders on the ocean now, it did not do so in the nineteenth century, leaving the lieutenant governor with scant need for such a flag. Finally, even for a half century after Manitoba received arms, it appears that the only use of the lieutenant-governor's flag was as a small one on automobiles. In 1956, although the special car flag was used, it was the plain Union Flag which was flown on Government House.10

In September of 1965, Richard Bowles was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba. A flag collector and enthusiast, he was in demand to give popular talks on flags.11 His honour promptly extended the use of his flag to Government House, where it continued to be used up until 1984.12 On May 11 of that year, the Governor General approved the use of the new pattern for the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba.13


Flags of Occasion

Special flags to mark provincial occasions seem to be of fairly recent vintage. In 1967, a special flag was used to mark the Pan American Games for which Winnipeg was the host in that centennial year. Then in 1970, Manitoba's centennial was marked by a blue and white flag bearing a buffalo and the figure, 100.

While anniversaries of commercial companies do not normally rank as special occasions for a province, in the case of the Hudson's Bay Company the bond with Manitoba has been so great as to merit mention. In May 1920, the H.B.C. held a 250th anniversary Pageant at Lower Fort Garry. Although a special flag was not used, the HB.C. ensign that was used on that occasion is now preserved at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. For the 300th anniversary in May 1970, the H.B.C. used an ingenious flag in which 1670 and 1970 were combined into a composite date. One of these flags, which was used in different colours, is illustrated under the discussion of The Bay, itself.


None of the universities in Manitoba has a flag.14


Municipal flags

In 1974, Manitoba's capital city of Winnipeg marked its own centennial with a flag which placed its centennial symbol on a Canadian pale. The lateral rectangles were blue and golden. The following year the City Council adopted a municipal flag to which it transferred the same colours. The city arms on a white roundel were placed on a diagonally divided field. The blue represented the city's clear skies and the yellow, the golden wheat fields.15

In contrast to the comparably sized province to the west, there are very few municipal flags in Manitoba. Two recent additions are the flags of Brandon and Dauphin. The flag of the city of Dauphin, adopted in 1988, is perhaps the only official flag in Canada to bear a map. (The flag used informally to represent Cape Breton Island displays of flag of the island.) Dauphin's flag is also unusual, but not unique, in making prominent use of the beaver.


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



1. "Queen approves Manitoba Flag," an information sheet from the Department of the Provincial Secretary, (October 8, 1965).

2. Begg, Alexander, "The Red River Troubles," The Globe (December 17, 1869).

3. Huyshe, G.L., The Red River Expedition (London: Macmillan, 1871), p. 194-6.

4. Racette, Calvin, Flags of the Métis (Regina: Gabriel Dumont Institute, 1987), p. 9­19.

5. Swan, Conrad, Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977), p. 195-6.

6. Craig, Irene, Flags and Formalities (Toronto: Gage, 1958), p. 47.

7. "Common Sense," Winnipeg Free Press (June 11, 1964).

8. "Schools Will Buy 86 Red Ensigns," Winnipeg Free Press (July 22, 1964).

9. "Simultaneous hoisting for provincial flag," an information sheet from the Department of the Provincial Secretary, (April 29, 1966).

10. 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.

11. Personal communication from Kathleen Brown, Protocol Officer for the Province of Manitoba.

12. "McKeag's flag flies," Tribune (February 27, 1971). Towards the end of Bowles' tenure the lieutenant-governor's flag wore out and was replaced by a plain Union Flag, but McKeag restored the flag in 1971.

13. The Canadian Gazette Part I (February 9, 1985).

14. The universities were polled in fall of 1986.

15. The Winnipeg City flag was registered under the Trade Marks Act and published in the Trade Marks Journal (April 7, 1976).


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