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


Chap XVII:


(the small under the protection of the great)
Motto of Prince Edward Island


In 1769 the land, then known as St. John's Island, became a separate colony and promptly received a great seal bearing a representation of a large oak spreading over three saplings. Underneath, the inscription, parva sub ingenti, bore testimony to the motif: the island lay under the protection of the giant oak of Britain. Since that time the three saplings have been regarded as representing the three counties of Kings, Queens, and Prince, and the oaks, big and little, have become the mark of Prince Edward Island, as it was renamed in 1799.1

The province joined Confederation on July 1, 1873 and could now reinterpret the motto as referring to the protection of Canada. Almost immediately, the oaks and the motto from the great seal began to be used to represent the new province upon the fly of many aberrant Canadian Ensigns. Yet, although the motif was not the arms of the province, it was so widely regarded as such that when P.E.I. actually was granted arms on May 30, 1905, the oaks formed an integral part. However, one of the royal lions of England was added at the top of the arms.

On March 24, 1964, in time to mark the centennial of the Charlottetown Conference of September 1, 1864, an act of the Legislature converted the armorial banner of Prince Edward Island into its provincial flag and so made it available for the use of all.2 The flag arrived almost without public notice and passed the Legislature unanimously.3

If the shield of the P.E.I. arms had been just spread over a rectangular field, it would have presented a large white field at the bottom of the flag. To enclose this, a band or fringe of alternating rectangles of red and white was added which extend around the bottom, fly, and top. The mandated proportions of two by three make a far more effective flag than the distorted ratio of one by two in which one often sees it flying.

As far as is known, this is the only provincial flag ever to have been used, formally or informally within the province. However, there was another flag that gained that epithet in the 1870s shortly after P.E.I. entered Confederation. It is discussed below.


The Lieutenant Governor

As Prince Edward Island did not enter Confederation on July 1, 1867, it was neither assigned arms with the original four provinces in 1868, nor assigned a flag for its lieutenant governor in 1870. The most reasonable course would have been for the lieutenant governor to adopt the same pattern as the first four provinces and place the P.E.I. badge of the oak trees in the centre of the Union Flag. There is some evidence that this was done, but it is not unambiguous.

On September 2, 1874, a little more than a year after P.E.I. entered Confederation, the Canadian Secretary of State wrote to Lieutenant-Governor R. Hodgson to urge his government to adopt a flag. In his part of the correspondence, Hodgson describes it as a provincial flag, but this was probably a misnomer for there was no reason for the Secretary of State to seek a flag for the province, and every reason for him to seek a flag for the Lieutenant-Governor of the province.4 Indeed, the Secretary of State was really quite anxious to get the flag issue settled and when nothing had been done by December he wrote again pressing the point.5 Whereupon, the government of Prince Edward Island acted and on February 15, 1875 adopted

The Union Jack; in the centre a wreath, formed of the Rose, the Thistle, and the Shamrock, surrounding the arms of the Province, viz., a large and small oak Tree, with the motto 'Parva sub ingenti.' Above the wreath is placed the crown.6

This flag was clearly in the pattern of a lieutenant-governor's flag, and we can guess that it served that function for the rest of the century. It differed slightly from the pattern of the first four provinces in not using a wreath of maple leaves and in adding the crown, which at that time was supposedly reserved in Canada for use by the Governor General. It is quite likely that the flag chosen in 1875 did not adopt the identical pattern of the other provinces because it had already been in use since shortly after 1869 when the governors of all colonies were requested to have one. (Notice the presumption in 1875 that the oaks formed the arms of the province.)

With the granting of arms to Prince Edward Island on May 30, 1905, the badge on the flag of the lieutenant-governor would have been altered to reflect the new shield, but when the province dropped the crown and adopted the wreath of maple leaves is unclear for the change seems to have been made informally. In the mid-1950s it is reported that the lieutenant-governor's flag was used both at his residence and on his car.7 Finally, on November 18, 1981, the Governor General approved the use of the modern pattern.8



Both the capital city of Charlottetown, and the city of Summerside, create the municipal flag by placing their municipal badges in the center of a plain field. Charlottetown, which adopted its flag in 1980 uses its seal on a grey field, while Summerside places its arms on a blue field.


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



1. Swan, Conrad, Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977), p. 141-2.

2. The act contained a provision which enables the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council to limit the use if necessary.

3. "Blossoming After A 100-year Drought," Toronto Globe (May 30, 1964).

4. Dispatches of the Lieutenant-Governor to the Secretary of State in the Public Archives of Prince Edward Island: Accession No. R.G. 1, Item No. Vol 80.

5. Letter from the Secretary of State in Ottawa No. 2088 on 1190, December 10, 1874. Found in P.E.I. Public Archives Heritage Foundation Collection Ref: HF 80.30.4.

6. Executive Council Minutes of January 6, 1875, in the Public Archives of Prince Edward Island.

7. 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.

8. The Canada Gazette Part 1 (February 9, 1985), p. 915.


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