This is the chapter on The Rise of Provincial Flags from the book,
From Immergence to Emergence
Indeed, on the Pacific coast there appeared to be a marked resistance to the use of any local flags. In late 1868 the Admiralty authorized colonial governments to place a distinctive badge on the blue ensign flown on their government vessels. In colonial British Columbia, there was no rush even to design such a badge. When given the opportunity, B.C. demurred to offer any distinction between itself and the Empire; the colonial officials had no wish to further excite the hot blood of those Americans with manifest destiny flowing through their veins.2
All colonies did not share these concerns. In 1776, Nova Scotia was one of the two American colonies which abundantly demonstrated its loyalty by not jumping the fence (although, the presence of the Royal Navy in Halifax may have influenced this fealty). In 1858, its position clear, and its land awash in Loyalists, Nova Scotians apparently made the first informal use of their armorial banner as a flag of the colony.3
Quebec, the other colony which remained loyal (the British Army was based in Québec), was ultimately to demonstrate a richer diversity of idiosyncratic flags than any other province. However, as a colony and as the province of Lower Canada, it seems that the Red Ensign held sway on government buildings; what was flown elsewhere is another story.
Even Newfoundland, which bobbed in and out of colonial status before joining Canada in 1949, steadfastly maintained the official use of the British flags on land. This was notwithstanding its distinctive red and blue ensigns used at sea, and its popular unofficial flag (the pink, white, and green) on land.
With the coming of Confederation, the provinces did not rush to officially mark their identities with flags. Indeed, with the exception of Nova Scotia, which continued the occasional use of its armorial banner, and Quebec, where many popular flags competed in a fervent vitality, the provinces were generally content to continue with one of the versions of the Red Ensign, or, with the coming of the twentieth century, the Union Flag.
The twentieth century was well under way before any province other than Nova Scotia or Quebec felt even the occasional informal need for a flag of its own. (Newfoundland is left aside for it was not a province at the time.) It is not clear whether Quebec used a flag such as the Carillon-Sacré-Coeur for quasi-official purposes early in the century, but it, and others, continued to have widespread use among the public.
Among the other provinces, certainly one of the earliest that is known to have informally made use of a distinctive provincial flag is British Columbia. Not long after the province was granted arms in 1906, B.C. House in London made use of the provincial armorial banner, probably for the Coronation of George V in 1911. Then in the mid-1920s, the B.C. government ordered some B.C. Red Ensigns to represent them at a trade mission in California. It may well be that other provinces did comparable things, but of these I am unaware.
During WW II, the centralization of power in Ottawa was an expedient which had considerably reduced both the power and visibility of provincial governments. The story of the establishment of official provincial flags thus begins only after the war, when, as Finlay and Sprague put it, "the sleeping dogs of provincial power were awakening from their wartime slumber. After an extremely short period of yawning and stretching, they soon began to bark and also to bite."
Not surprisingly, the province most anxious to distinguish itself, Quebec, was also the first province to officially adopt a provincial flag. While the flag itself grew smoothly out of Quebec's long tradition of hoisting informal flags, the timing of the adoption, 1948, spoke mainly to the province's frustration with the lingering imperial sentiment elsewhere in the country. Having been spurned in its attempt to persuade the 1946 Parliamentary Flag Committee to adopt a flag that spoke only of Canada, Quebec responded by adopting its own national flag.4
The next province to have an official flag was Newfoundland. In 1931 it had officially adopted the Union Flag and so, when Newfoundland entered Confederation in 1949, it brought with it what now became the provincial flag. The inability of this flag to unambiguously speak of Newfoundland was soon made abundantly clear, as the rest of the country largely refused to treat it as a provincial flag. It took a while to solve this problem, but finally after another thirty-one years, Newfoundland rebutted by producing what is undoubtedly the most unusual provincial flag of all.
For a dozen years these two provincial flags stood as isolated precursors to Canada's great decade of the flags. The sixties saw not only the country, but all remaining provinces and territories (excepting Nova Scotia), adopt a flag. Although a particular event, such as a provincial jubilee or a royal visit, might trigger the adoption, the driving force was the new cultural and economic visibility of not only the provinces, but the nation as a whole. Whereas Canadians had been awash in the economic and cultural hegemony of both Britain and the United States, they now clearly strove to distinguish themselves at home and abroad. Richard Gwyn comments:
The same nationalism that, in 1965, finally made it acceptable for Canadians to raise their first national and unambiguously Canadian flag, made it acceptable to have provincial flags. Ironically, although some of these provincial flags were inspired by this new sense of identity, some were reactions against it.
In 1960, British Columbia lead off Canada's great decade of flags by adopting its armorial banner as its provincial flag. It was a good choice even though it was done on the rebound from a widely criticized piece of provincial legislation that would have given the job to a pedestrian jubilee flag. There were now four provinces with either official or informal flags: Quebec, Newfoundland, British Columbia, and Nova Scotia. Popular sentiment refused to wait for the other eight provinces and territories to catch up. The rising sense of provincial identity and the rising respectability of displaying this identity upon flags prompted the creation of informal flags for all, including, surprisingly enough, the provinces that already had formal flags.
It all seems to have started at the Garden of the Provinces in Ottawa. In 1962, the triangular region between the west ends of Wellington and Sparks Streets was up for discussion. With Confederation Square and the National War Memorial at the east end, the Parliament buildings and the Supreme Court along the central portion, it was felt that something appropriate should be found for the west end of Wellington just in front of Christ Church Cathedral.
Although all the provinces did not have flags at the time, they did all have arms. During the 1939 Royal Visit, Ottawa had been festooned with hanging banners which bore the shields of the provinces on a white field. Why not do a similar thing for the Garden of the Provinces, only this time use flags. Ignored was the fact that four provinces had already made it abundantly clear that they had a flag by which each wished to be identified. No matter, Ottawa knew best. Consequently flags were ordered which displayed the shield of each province upon a coloured field: red for Nova Scotia and Manitoba; green for Prince Edward Island; white for Quebec, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick; yellow for Ontario, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, and dark blue for British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland, although the background sometimes seemed to change on whim.6 Oddly, these pseudo-provincial flags continued to be flown into the early seventies, although, by then, every province and territory (except Nova Scotia) had an official provincial flag.
In the early sixties these informal provincial flags filled an important need and they began to spring up in many places. On tall masts they flew at the dedication of the Memorial Fountain at Summerside, Prince Edward Island, in August, 1964. Ironically, although P.E.I. had itself just adopted a fine provincial flag in time to be used for the celebrations surrounding the centenary of the Charlottetown Conference, it was the informal flag that was used in Summerside.7 Sets of the flags were used by groups that ranged from highschool bands, to department stores, to government facilities such as the Toronto International Airport. While the use at this federal airport was reasonable in the early sixties, the fact these flags continued to be flown into the mid-seventies showed a remarkable insensitivity to the stated preferences of the provinces.8
With Prince Edward Island having adopted a provincial flag in 1964, New Brunswick could look around and see provincial flags flying in its three neighbouring provinces. In 1965, less than two weeks after the new national flag came into being, New Brunswick proclaimed its provincial flag.
If these provinces were following in Quebec's footsteps and newly asserting a proud sense of individual identity, the next two provinces yearned to remain immersed in the old imperial order. In a reactionary move to the loss of the Canadian Red Ensign at the national level, Ontario and Manitoba each adopted a provincial red ensign in May of 1965 and 1966 respectively.
In 1968, Alberta left the shrinking pool of provinces without flags and opted to formally accept the provincial shield on a blue field that had been assigned to it by the custodians of the Garden of the Provinces in Ottawa. While the choice produced quite an effective flag, subsequent changes in the flags of the lieutenant-governors have rendered Alberta's flag somewhat less distinctive.
The adoption of the Maple Leaf flag in 1965 had created a new form of flag design: the Canadian pale, a square central panel within a one by two flag. This distinctive pattern was to appear in many Canadian flags from that time on, but two of the earliest to adopt it were the Yukon Territory in late 1967 and the Northwest Territories in early 1969.
To close out Canada's great decade of flags, Saskatchewan adopted a provincial flag in 1969. Actually, Saskatchewan had been using a striking flag for the previous four years, ever since it had been hoisted in 1965 to celebrate sixty years as a province. Use of this flag had then been extended to mark Saskatchewan's participation in the Canadian centennial of 1967 and during the centennial, it was widely used throughout the country as if it were the provincial flag. However, as B.C. had discovered in 1960, what was good enough for a flag of occasion, was not necessarily good enough for a provincial flag. A contest was called and Saskatchewan had a provincial flag a few months before the end of the '60s.
It was a glorious decade, the sleeping dogs had awoken and were now barking out their presence. A provincial flag might appear anywhere, not just on its own turf, but also in distant provinces or other lands were it had been carried by wandering provincial patriots. It might appear anywhere, that is, if it was not the flag of Newfoundland. As Newfoundland's flag, the Union Flag was shunned by the rest of the country, not because it was disliked, but because the last thing people thought of when they saw it was Newfoundland. People would identify it with Canada's British connection, the Commonwealth, the Governor General or the lieutenant-governors, but never Newfoundland. Actually, the Governor General had not used it since 1931, and shortly after 1980 when Newfoundland solved the problem by adopting a new flag, most lieutenant-governors ceased using it also.
From Heraldry to provincial flags
All Canadian provinces and territories are armigerous (they bear arms) and most make extensive use of their arms. These arms are not mere decoration, they symbolically represent the authority vested in the Lieutenant-Governor (acting on behalf of the provincial government).9 Under the Canadian constitution, the provinces do not exercise complete control of their territory and so, in the language of heraldry, the arms provinces bear are those of quasi-sovereign authority. Nevertheless, as a symbol of the authority that is vested in the Lieutenant-Governor, the arms are borne both on his flag and the legislative seal of the province.
When the arms of a province were granted, they were frequently accompanied by an statement authorizing their use upon banners or flags. Any flag bearing the provincial arms is, as are the arms themselves, a symbol of provincial authority. It is not automatically a provincial flag, in the sense that a provincial flag, like a national flag, is one authorized by the vice-regal representative (on behalf of the government) to be flown by members of the public.
A clear distinction is to be made between any flag bearing the provincial arms, and the provincial flag, itself. In short, the granting of arms gives provincial authorities the right to use the arms alone or on flags to signify their authority. It is up to the province to transfer that right, if it so wishes and in whatever form it wishes, to the public. Eight provinces have specifically done this by authorizing a provincial flag which contains the shield of their arms. Newfoundland chose not to incorporate its arms into a provincial flag. Nova Scotia, where there is a long tradition of informal public use of the province's armorial banner, seems content to leave the arrangement unconsummated.
The distinction between a flag born of provincial arms and the provincial flag itself, can be made clearer by drawing an analogy with the arms and flag of the country. The National Flag of Canada is not, and never was a banner of the national arms. Such a banner, referred to earlier as the Standard of Canada, is only used to represent the highest Canadian authority. It officially represented Canadian at the Coronations of King George VI in 1937, and of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Further, it forms the basis of the Queen's personal flag for Canada, the flag representing sovereign authority for the Nation. During the endless decades of turmoil over the choice of a national flag, a banner of the national arms was never even considered, and it certainly was not the flag chosen.
Although, a flag bearing the provincial arms is not ab initio the provincial flag, nevertheless, arms are often incorporated into the provincial flag, and they are always incorporated into the Lieutenant-Governor's flag. As a result, the story of provincial arms is an inescapable part of the story of the flags. The establishment of provincial or territorial arms took some three and a half centuries. Then, even after arms were granted, it was often 50 to 100 years before a flag was based upon them. When using arms to form a provincial flag, two major designs were followed: the armorial banner, and the armigerous flag.
The armorial banner is the method preferred by heraldic purists, undoubtedly because it normally produces the more striking and aesthetically satisfying results. It is accomplished by taking the shield of the arms and spreading it over the rectangular field of the flag. Four provinces use their armorial banner as a provincial flag.
As the shield of the arms has a height that is roughly the same as the width, the motif it bears is designed so as to be pleasing when displayed in this shape. Not surprisingly therefore, an armorial banner is usually most handsome when displayed in a nearly square format. Consequently, the provinces which use armorial banners as their provincial flags chose shapes which were much closer to being square than the 1:2 height-to-width ratio of the National Flag. They range from the 3:4 ratio (1.33) of the Nova Scotia flag to the 3:5 ratio (1.67) of the British Columbia flag. In between are Prince Edward Island at 2:3 (1.5) and New Brunswick at 5:8 (1.6).
Unfortunately, both flag manufacturers and the federal government like to homogenize flags, supposedly in the name of economy and equality, but nevertheless in defiance of stated provincial preferences. It is surprisingly difficult to obtain these provincial flags in anything but the distorted 1:2 ratio. This state of affairs may have come about by a simplistic reading of the General rules for flying and displaying the Canadian flag and other flags in Canada, published by the Secretary of State. This publication notes appropriately that "flags flown together should be approximately the same size and flown from separate staffs at the same height."10 Although this rule easily encompasses the courteous flying of provincial flags in their proper shapes, it would appear that linguistic subtlety is not a forte of those who must translate the guideline into a purchase order for the actual flags. The word size is read as if it meant shape, which, after all, is not the same thing; the word "approximately" is just ignored. This is all reminiscent of the earlier Ottawa-knows-best insensitivity to provincial preferences at the time when the informal provincial flags were displayed even though proper provincial flags were available.
An armigerous flag is one that contains a portion of the arms, usually the shield, as an element on the flag. All of the remaining provinces and territories, excepting Quebec and Newfoundland, use their shield, sometimes on a plain field, as Alberta does, sometimes on an ensign, as Manitoba does, and sometimes on a Canadian pale, as the Northwest Territories does. While it is not a universal characteristic of an armigerous flag, Canadian practice is to design these flags with a height to length ratio of 1:2. Whether Quebec's provincial flag is an armigerous flag or not depends on interpretation. Certainly a dominant motif, the fleur-de-lis, also appears prominently in its arms. The flag of Newfoundland is neither armorial nor armigerous, but was designed in imitation of the Union Flag which had previously served as the provincial flag.
Provincial government is carried out in the name of the Crown; the Lieutenant-Governor of the province serves as the Crown's representative for the province in a manner parallel to the way in which the Governor General serves as the Crown's representative for Canada.11 As was noted earlier, just as Canada has flags for both itself and its head of state, so too, each province has flags for both itself and its lieutenant-governor. The flag of each lieutenant-governor uses the provincial arms as a badge, though it was not always so. The territories do not have a lieutenant-governor and the federal commissioner does not have a flag.
As the personal standard of the representative of the Crown, a lieutenant-governor's flag takes precedent within his province. It would occupy a position of greater honour than either the national or provincial flag.
The inception of these vice-regal flags has been discussed in the chapter on the head of state. Colonial governors would normally fly the Union Flag except on Royal anniversaries at which time the Royal Standard would be hoisted. However, a problem arose when a governor was at sea; the Union Flag flown on the mast of a ship was the personal flag of an admiral. In 1869, the Lords of the Admiralty attempted to eliminate the possibility of confusion by insisting that "Governors of all ranks" could only fly a Union Flag while at sea only if it had been defaced with arms or a badge.
In responding to this memorandum, the Canadian privy council submitted designs not only for the Governor General, but also for the lieutenant-governors of the first four provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The designs to be place upon the Union Flag received approval on July 16, 1870 and showed the
Although only approved for the first four provinces, this pattern would set the standard for most provinces until the early 1980s when, inspired by the changes in the flag of the Governor General, the Union Flag would be dropped in favour of a plain blue field.
As the defaced Union Flag was only intended to be flown aboard ship, at first most lieutenant-governors apparently continued to fly the plain Union Flag at their official residences. Indeed, in Saskatchewan, where the opportunities to fly a lieutenant-governor's flag aboard ship are severely limited, the plain Union Flag was the only one used until 1981.
Not all provinces waited until joining Confederation to acquire a vice-regal flag. The governors of the maritime colonies of British Columbia and Newfoundland placed their badges upon Union Flags. It is reasonable to suspect that the Governor of Prince Edward Island did likewise, but of this I know nothing.
The badges placed on the Union Jack did not always contain the arms of the colony or province. Newfoundland, which had forgotten about its arms until after WW I, used two different badges, the second of which was based on its great seal. If Prince Edward Island used a vice-regal flag before 1905 when it was granted arms, it too would have been based on the great seal of the province. In 1870, British Columbia adopted a badge based upon the crest of the Royal Arms because its seal would have formed an inappropriate badge. Nova Scotia, although using a badge based upon its arms, was in the anomalous position of having two sets of arms from 1868 until 1929. The arms granted in 1868 were used on the badge until they were rescinded in 1929 in favour of the ancient arms.
Although the Union Flag usually formed the background for the lieutenant-governor's badge until the early 1980s, this was not a universal practice. The earliest deviants appear to have been British Columbia and Ontario, both of which used car flags with a blue field for a while immediately after WW II. Quebec followed and has been using the blue field since 1952. The oddest variation on the theme, though, is that offered by Ontario which, from 1959 to 1965, used its badge on the base of a Canadian Red Ensign. In the fifties, the Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia chose to fly the armorial banner of Nova Scotia at Government House rather than either his personal flag or the Union Flag. Although this differed from the practice of other provinces, it was an appropriate way to mark his authority.
In 1981 the flag for the Governor General was changed and a new pattern was chosen for all lieutenant-governors. Designed by Mr. Bruce Beatty, of the staff of Government House in Ottawa, it was approved by the Queen for all provinces wishing to use it:
The Crown, which had been explicitly excluded in the earlier design, was now included to symbolize the dignity of the lieutenant-governor as the Sovereign's representative in the province. Most provinces have now switched to this pattern.
Municipal and Regional Flags
There was a blossoming of municipal and regional flags in the latter portion of the twentieth century. The new acceptability of hoisting one's identity had been fostered by the adoption of the national and provincial flags in 1960s. Certainly, there are cities and regions which had adopted flags well before this time-Ottawa in 1901, Saguenay in 1938-but, these, and a handful of others, are the exceptions.13
Often, the design of the flags adopted some of the same approaches found in the provincial flags. Thus, there are both armorial and armigerous flags, but municipalities seem to prefer the latter, sometimes doing nothing more than placing the city's arms in the centre of a white field. Beyond that, two new design motives may to be found on such flags: the city's seal or its logotype. The placement of a seal in the centre of the flag is the technique pioneered south of the border where it has been successfully employed to produce a bevy of virtually indistinguishable state flags. The logotype, a more recent design element on flags, suffers not so much from indistinguishability as it does from an inappropriateness of format.
What characterizes most, but fortunately not all, of the flags which merely place arms, a seal, or a logotype somewhere on the flag is that they look like what they are: an afterthought. They do not give the appearance of having been specifically designed so as to produce a beautiful and representative flag of the city. Rather, they look as though something which clearly had a very different function was slapped incongruously on a sheet of white nylon and floated over the city hall. Instead of improving the design, some cities have tried to eliminate the lack of distinguishability by writing their name upon the flag. Unfortunately, the flag is just further depreciated.
This is not to say that there are not some outstandingly beautiful municipal flags in Canada, there are. Certainly, a nonexclusive list of the lovelies would have to include those of Scarborough, Québec, Orillia, Peterborough, and Richmond, B.C. There are others, which might have a somewhat lesser claim to beauty, but which are either so appropriate, interesting, or both that they have to be on anybody's list of favourites. These include Lethbridge, Moose Jaw, Dawson Creek, Thunder Bay and a defunct flag, the pre-1987 flag of Ottawa.
These flags, and a good many others across the country are a delight to see flying. For the others, one can only hope that they will gradually be transformed through the good offices of the Canadian Heraldic Authority.
When a book sets out to list the provinces, an order must be chosen. A perusal of the works of some other authors who have faced the problem reveals a marvelous lack of agreement. The official order of priority is that determined by the order of entry into Confederation. The problem of priority among the first four provinces is determined by making Ontario first, a state of affairs that makes perfect sense if you happen to be from Ontario.
There are books that present the provinces in order from east to west (including an atlas, no less) and others that go from west to east. One book uses alphabetical order while another presents them in the "order in which one notes the first continuous European settlement," but acknowledges that the choice was arbitrary. A suggested choice for this book was the order in which the provincial flags were adopted. While a compelling idea, what does one do with Nova Scotia: is it first for having the oldest informal usage, or last for never having gotten around to adopting the flag?
Most of these ideas seemed just too cute and self-serving. The order chosen must satisfy a simple test. If a person were to open the book to the chapter on Saskatchewan, say, where would the chapter on Manitoba be expected: clearly it should lie to the east, that is to the right, or later in the book. Canada is a largely linear country; for the browser's convenience, the book follows geography and marchs from British Columbia to Newfoundland. As usual, the territories will get short shrift and end up last. Even proponents of alphabetization are wont to place them at the end.
This is the chapter on The Rise of Provincial Flags from the book,
1. J.L. Finlay and D.N. Sprague, The Structure of Canadian History, 2nd edition, (Scarborough: Prentice-Hall, 1984), p. 392.
2. Michael F.H. Halleran, "The Coat of Arms of the Quondam Colony," Heraldry in Canada, (in press).
3. Report of the Public Archives of Nova Scotia (1942), p. 29. The oft touted, early maritime use of flag will be discussed in the Nova Scotia chapter.
4. Jean-Guy Labarre, Non au Drapeau Canadien (Montréal: Éditions Actualité, 1962), pp. 51-53.
5. Richard Gwyn, The 49th Paradox: Canada in North America, (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985). Republished (Don Mills: Totem Books, 1986), p. 57.
6. The Ottawa Citizen Weekend Magazine, 14, 35 (1964 August 29), p. 16.
7. Colour variants sighted have been red for B.C. and the Federal arms, light blue for Nova Scotia, and green for Alberta.
8. In the mid-seventies, the Toronto International Airport was using a white rather than a coloured field for all provinces. See p. 194 of Paul O'Neill, "The Story of Newfoundland's Native Flag," The Flag Bulletin, XV, 6 (1976), pp. 184-198.
9. A good discussion of this point can be found in Conrad Swan's, chapter, "Arms of dominion and sovereignty and of public authority," in Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977), pp. 3-13.
10. Secretary of State, General rules for flying and displaying the Canadian Flag and other flags in Canada, (Ottawa: Minister of supply and Services Canada, 1984), rule 8.
11. Norman J. Ruff, "Provincial Government," The Canadian Encyclopedia (Edmonton: Hurtig, 1985), pp. 1499-1501.
12. Copy of a "Report of a Committee of the Honorable the Privy Council, approved by His Excellency the Governor General in Council on the 28 February 1870."
13. It may be that red ensigns, mimicking the Canadian Red Ensign, were used for some cities early in the twentieth century. The (incorrect) assumption at the time was that any administrative entity was automatically entitled to place its badge (often assumed arms) on the fly of a red ensign. In the first decade of the century, printers in Britain, Toronto, and Montréal marketed postcards bearing such municipal ensigns for Québec, Montréal, Kingston, Toronto, and Vancouver.
This is the chapter on The Rise of Provincial Flags from the book,