Here is an essay on flying flags which was inspired by my moving into a 1911 pioneer general store. I decided to start an annual schedule and thus begin my own tradition of marking time with colours.
COLOUR AND TRADITION When I first encountered the Coalmont General Store it had the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag proudly flying. I found that really delightful and decided to continue the tradition. I love flags. However, because of personal difficulties with certain colours and images I was unable to keep the Maple Leaf. I therefore went looking for others which not only pleased me, but perhaps also had better historical relevance to both me and the location. Being both an artist and a history buff I probably espouse an unusual perspective and that is what is explained in the following text. I have picked five flags to raise at particular times of the year. These are chosen for their look, history, and personal meaning. Please note however, that both the Royal Union Flag and Canadian Red Ensign are historically correct and are raised at historically correct times. As well as being the most appropriate, they are also up the longest and are flying throughout the tourist season. Many flags have been flown in Canada and many more have relevance to our culture and personal lives. Here in the "Canadian South West" we could certainly fly either the Stars and Stripes or the Fleur-de-lis with some relevance. Perhaps even a Spanish flag has some historical connection though there are many other cultures, notably Northern European and Oriental, which seem more pertinent. The natives here, although not particularly flag fliers, should also be remembered. However, in the context of traditional flag flying, the flags and occations which I have chosen are the ones with the most relevance to my own life and culture here in Coalmont and the flying of colours, even without the historical connections, is a pleasant bit of pageantry at all times. Winter Solstice For Winter Solstice I like to fly the Danish flag, "Dannebrog", which is probably the world's oldest national flag. As well as representing my own heritage, it somehow seems to remind of the Pagan connection with that time of year. "Jul", in Danish, means both Christmas and wheel. Over here we have yuletide which is, perhaps, the completion of the wheel of the seasons. In many cultures Winter Solstice is the natural annual marker between past and present, a time to look both backward and forward. To me this flag represents the European side of our heritage. Chinese New Year Our British Columbia provincial flag did not exist before 1960 so it is not historically good for Coalmont, but the symbolism is fitting. In the evening light it can look positively delightful. The demi-sun refers to the west where the sun sets and points us to the Orient. The waves, which represent the Pacific ocean, remind me of the people who have crossed it to get here. The foundation of this province is based in great part on the labour of the Chinese. I therefor think it is fitting to raise the provincial flag on Chinese New Year. This date, however, varies from year to year. The calculation is complicated and appears to vary from January 22 to February 19. Chinese New Year will then dictate how long the Danish flag is up. I like that particular vexillological interaction between east and west and diverse immigrant groups. Old New Year Whatever you call it, and whether celebrated by the likes of vernal equinox, Old New Year, or All Fools' Day, spring is an important time which I like to mark. In keeping with the idea of honouring antiquity, I have chosen to use the early Ensign of the Honourable East India Company. As a flag, it is connected mainly with England and India so is well rooted in Canada's past. Ironically, perhaps humorously, the stripes also carry so much ancient reference to heretics, devils, fools, and clowns that it could easily represent the Catholic Carnival or similar rite of spring. I delight in both the outrageous symbolism and the refreshing antique look. When John Cabot reached North American shores in 1497, he was flying the St. George's Cross which is a red cross on a white field. Even before the 12th century this became the flag of England and remains so today. It is what you see in the canton of the Honorable East India Company flag which I have chosen. In the west, the striped flags probably go back before Henry VII and could be found in almost any colour, even the Tudor livery colours of green and white. The plain red and white striped flag, however, has a history in shipping which, certainly as a marine jack, survived until the end of the 19th century when it was still used in India by, among others, the Bombay marine. During the late 16th century and early 17th, European ships would carry the red and white striped flag with their national colours in the canton. The number of stripes was not fixed, but has varied from 7 to 15. This ensign came to be the flag of commerce and was adopted as the HEIC flag sometime after 1660, although in 1611, when the company financed Henry Hudson for his voyage to Canada he may have already flown these colours. After 1707 the cross was replaced with the Royal Union device. From fools and clowns to madmen and devils, stripes have also been a symbol of that which lies outside the established beliefs. Later they became used for prisoners and servants. By the 18th century what had been the medieval symbolism of the heretic started to become associated with freedom. Red stripes even started to be used by people wishing to protest their control by the English. In the US, a version was adopted by the Sons of Freedom and that appears to have influenced the modern Stars and Stripes. The red stripes were familiar all over the world, although they no doubt conveyed mixed feelings. The HEIC was a British imperialist corporation which operated for over 250 years, nevertheless the flag is that of early English shipping in particular, and freedom in general. To me, it hints at teas and spices from exotic lands and, just as it must have looked most grand on a 17th century sailing ship, now looks nice on an old pioneering general store. Especially so on All Fools' Day. Victoria Day Queen Victoria's birthday is on the 24th of May. This date has been used to celebrate birthdays by other monarchs as well. In Canada it has been a holiday since 1845. The Royal Union Flag has a long history in Canada and has been flown by government, including on the Parliament Buildings, and individuals throughout history. Its official use here dates to 1763 and in late 1964, after 200 years of continuous use, it was made an official flag in Canada as a statement of our heritage. A few months later (Feb.1965) the current Maple Leaf was proclaimed into law as the national flag so we now have two flags with official status. In 1912, when the Coalmont General Store was built, about 70 percent of the province's population was British. On important holidays, certainly on Victoria Day, many of them would have flown the "Union Jack". This flag looks great in the spring light and gives me a feeling of the time when this building was young. Perhaps Isaac McTavish, the original proprietor, would have liked it too. Dominion Day Red ensigns first appeared around 1620. This is the flag which Canadians took up and informally used with different badges in the fly. As a national flag, and the best choice for this building, I prefer some version of the original 1868 Canadian Ensign with the four province great seal of Canada. That is what was flown by our troops during WW1. An example from Vimmy Ridge can be found in the Imperial War Museum. I suspect the 75,000 Canadian soldiers who lost their lives in France during WW1 would be much insulted by the maple leaf flag of today. Thousands more fought, and died, under the Canadian Red Ensign in both that and other wars, including the second world war. This is the flag with which I became connected when I came to Canada in 1957. As an immigrant, it became my new flag and it's image and associated culture got added to mine. To me it is the real Canadian flag whereas the red Maple Leaf represents the corporate image of the Liberal Party of Canada. Of the commercial versions of the Red Ensign available today, I choose the 1921 edition with the green maple leaves since it is the one which I first encountered in my youth and it took a few years for the 1957 version with the red leaves to supersede it. In fact I seem to recall that most of the flags which I saw in books and on the walls at school had older badges on them. Either way, in Coalmont's heyday the leaves would not have been red. Canadian Flags Except for government buildings, I consider it historically correct to fly earlier versions of flags. People do not, or cannot, always buy new flags. Besides, the freedom we have to fly whatever flag one wishes, should be exercised. Some of the earlier unofficial versions are historically intriguing and could be a good choice to match an exact time period. For sheer historical fun I would like to fly an 1892 seven province badge, with the quaint faux pax of the sun setting on the British Empire, from before the adoption of the new BC seal in 1896. The old crown with the depressed arches is another delightful vexillological detail. In 1912 that flag would have been only 16 years old and it is entirely possible that someone would have still been using it. Over the years there were many national flags with different badges, some with a gold or green laurel, some with the Tudor crown, some (prior to 1901) with the Saint Edward's crown. In addition to a few official versions, there were many unofficial variations with from 4 to 9 provinces represented in the badge. Clearly there is a tradition of unofficial variation, or what might perhaps be called "folk heraldry". Even the first Red Ensign to fly over the Canadian Parliament buildings was unofficial. These flags seem to me to embody more of the Canadian spirit because they arose spontaneously. They have the kinds of colours which I grew up associating with Canada. Since this palate of red and green and yellow colours was used by many generations of Canadians, I suspect that I'm not the only one who has associated them with Canada. Until 1965 Canada, like many other countries, did not have an original and official country flag. To this day, even the Royal Union Flag is not the official flag of the United Kingdom and only by convention has served as such. Here in Canada, although there were some rules for official flag flying, the choice of a flag to represent the nation was also just by convention. There is a certain egalitarian sense to that method and I think it better represents the Canadian way. Colours are very important to me. There is a common commercial variant of the BC flag where the blue is a shade too dark for my liking. I can live with either but the original medium blue is better. I think the manufacturers are incorrectly using the same blue as in the Union Flag, but that has an historical reason for being darker which is not valid for our Provincial flag. The reds in many flags feel warm and scarlet but the red maple leaf on a white background caused difficulty for me, and I find it visually irritating. It is not an image I could have in my home. The psychological effects are all too often ignored when making colour choices and I would urge others to consider this too. Personal sensitivities aside, and regardless of the politics attached, a purely red and white national flag simply does not honour our country's colour heritage. Maybe the people making the decisions, despite possibly great expertise in some areas, did not always look at colours and normally had other things on their minds and so were in fact not really qualified to make colour decisions. I will probably never know. It certainly does look like they had other priorities. Our Colours Although George V proclaimed the Canadian colours as red and white in 1921, the inclusion of greens and yellows in our Canadian heraldry is a very important part of our colour identity. My own aversion to many blues aside, one must not forget the considerable amount of blueness which has normally been associated with all things official here. The Scottish Saltire goes back to the 10th century and, as reflected in the Union colours, is an early beginning here. Canada's first official flag, which was for use at sea, was the Blue Ensign and that has generally been the official flag for all government vessels. In fact for most of its history the official flags of the navy, and later on also the RCAF, have been a Blue Ensign. Our colonial flag was blue, and the Govenor General's still is. Despite all the words meant to show the relevance of the red and white, that idea simply did not exist in the real world of the actual Canadian image. In my personal impression of our national look since 1957, and from what I can see in historical pictures and objects, there was a much richer palate which, in 1965, was thrown out. The Maple Leaf Flag did not add to our culture, it diminished it. The loss of that national identity is regrettable. Some change is inevitable, and good, but the move towards "corporate style" coldness, the disrespect of our history and the people who made it, as well as the burying of our heritage, is not good for us as humans. Colours play an important part in our psychology, and connectedness is better for all. The very best, however, is when we each show our own true colours. Ole Juul 2006-12-26 ----------------------===+===-------------------------
Dannebrog, the Danish flag.
The British Columbia Provincial flag.
The earlier Honorable East India Company Flag.
The 1801 Royal Union Flag.
The 1921 Canadian official Red Ensign.
The original unofficial Canadian Red Ensign from 1868.
An interesting Ensign from 1896. Note the demi-sun over the Union Flag.
The last official Canadian Ensign of 1957. The harp was changed to the Irish harp at the bequest of the Queen. Also, the maple leaves were changed to red. That is correct, as the heraldic specification calls for "natural" colours. However the change to a single border around the lion is an error.
An example of a 9 province ensign.
British Columbia colonial flag.
The 2002 Govenor General's Flag. Note that the lion's tongue, and particularly the traditional claws, have been removed.
The Canadian Red Ensigh from WW1. The most Canadian flag.
Honorable East India Company ships in 1685.
St. George's Cross, the flag of England.
Canada's first official flag from 1870. This was for naval use only.
An early 16th Century shipping flag. These came in different colours and, unless used as a jack, usually had the relevant national flag in the canton.
The coats of arms of Canada and the Provinces - a palate of
real Canadian colours.