Flying Colours in Canada

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



Flags of the CGS

Dannebrog, the Danish flag.

Dannebrog, the Danish flag.

The British Columbia Provincial flag.

BC Provincial flag.

The earlier Honorable East India Company Flag.

The Honorable East India Company Flag.

The 1801 Royal Union Flag.

The 1801 Royal Union Flag.

The 1921 Canadian official Red Ensign.

The 1921 official Red Ensign.



Other Flags

The original unofficial Canadian Red Ensign from 1868.

The original unofficial Canadian Red
 Ensign from 1868.

An interesting Ensign from 1896. Note the demi-sun over the Union Flag.

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.

The last official Ensign in 1957.

An example of a 9 province ensign.

An example of a 9 province ensign.

British Columbia colonial flag.

BC colonial flag.

The 2002 Govenor General's Flag. Note that the lion's tongue, and particularly the traditional claws, have been removed.

The Govenor General's Flag.

The Canadian Red Ensigh from WW1. The most Canadian flag.

The Canadian Red Ensign from WW1.

Honorable East India Company ships in 1685.

Honorable East India Company ships in 1685.

St. George's Cross, the flag of England.

St. George's Cross, the flag of England.

Canada's first official flag from 1870. This was for naval use only.

Canada's first official flag.

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.

An early 16th Century shipping flag.


The coats of arms of Canada and the Provinces - a palate of real Canadian colours.

The coats of arms of Canada and the
  Provinces. A palate of real Canadian colours.