Today I thought I would do a trivia post on flags in Canada, how they actually were designed and what they represent. So we will be looking at 13 flags in all – the ten provinces and three territories.
I have only been to four provinces – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Prince Edward Island. I would love to make it out west someday, especially to British Columbia.
For ease of following along, we will do them alphabetically with provinces first followed by the three territories.
Provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
Territories: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Yukon.
The flag of Alberta’s design was authorized by the provincial legislature and adopted June 1, 1968. It is a shield centred on an ultramarine blue background. Situated above the shield is the St. George’s Cross on a white background which represents King George III and symbolizes British heritage. Official provincial colours, deep yellow (gold) and blue were adopted in 1984 and are referred to as “Alberta blue” and “Alberta gold.”
Fun fact: The Calgary Flames (professional ice hockey team in the National Hockey League) use the flag as a shoulder patch logo on their home and away uniforms.
The colourful flag of British Columbia is based upon the shield of the provincial arms of British Columbia and was designed by an Anglican priest, Canon Arthur John Beansland of Victoria. At the top is a rendition of the Royal Union Flag, defaced in the centre by a crown and with a setting sun below which represents the location of British Columbia at the western end of Canada.
The four wavy white and three wavy blue lines symbolize the province’s location between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. The Union flag represents the province’s British heritage and the crown represents British Columbia becoming a crown colony with a responsible government.
Fun fact: The version of the flag that appears on British Columbia license plates is incorrect; it features the setting sun overlapping the Union Flag instead of the waves.
The flag of Manitoba is a variation of the Red Ensign which bears the shield of the provincial coat of arms. The flag was approved by the passage of a bill in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly on May 11, 1965, and was officially proclaimed on May 12, 1966. The decision to adopt the flag was made after the federal government decided to replace the Red Ensign with the Maple Leaf flag and this was quite controversial at the time.
Fun fact: The Free Press in 2001 decided to hold a contest to design a new flag after a public survey announced the provincial flag as the ugliest in the nation. The winner was a stylish blue buffalo set against a golden sun – just in case the province ever decides to replace its banner. The artist was a 44-year-old unemployed multimedia designer who beat out five prominent Manitoba artists and graphic designers.
The flag of New Brunswick consists of a golden lion passant on a red field in the upper third and a gold field defaced with a lymphad (single-masted ship used primarily in Scottish heraldry, propelled by oars and has three flags and a basket. It comes from the Scottish Gaelic long fhada (longship). It was adopted in 1965.
Fun Fact: While designing the provincial flag a long-standing error in the arms themselves needed to be corrected. A heraldic rule insists an item on a shield, called a charge, should face to the shield’s left as seen by an observer. This is particularly important on an armorial banner where it requires the charges to face the hoist. Mayhem would occur if an army advanced upon an enemy and a dragon, lion or ship displayed on the banner was apparently in retreat because it was heading toward the fly. Up until 1965, the lymphad’s representations were headed the wrong way. This was corrected on the arms and properly represented on the provincial flag.
The flag of Newfoundland/Labrador was designed by Christopher Pratt, a Newfoundland artist. It was introduced and approved by the House of Assembly of the province of Newfoundland on May 28, 1980.
The blue represents the sea, the white represents snow and ice of winter, the red represents the effort and struggle of Newfoundlanders and the gold represents the confidence Newfoundlanders have in themselves and the future.
Fun fact: The old flag of Newfoundland was the Union Flag which was legally adopted in 1931 and was used until confederation with Canada in 1949. Then, it was readopted as the official flag in 1952 and used until 1980.
The flag of Nova Scotia (where I was born) was created in 1858 and is a banner of the coat of arms of this province which was granted to the Scottish colony by King Charles 1 in 1625. It is a blue saltire (also called Saint Andrew’s Cross) on a white field and is the reversal of the flag of Scotland.
Nova Scotia was one of the few British colonies to be granted its own coat of arms and the flag is the only one of the original Canadian provinces dating before confederation.
Fun fact: An 11-year-old girl researching a project realized that no one had recognized the flag officially in 155 years despite continuous usage of the flag to represent Nova Scotia since 1958. In May 2013, under the Provincial Flag Act, the flag was recognized by the provincial government of Nova Scotia.
The flag of Ontario is a defaced Red Ensign, with the Royal Union Flag in the canton and the Ontario shield of arms in the fly. The flag was introduced in 1965, in the wake of lengthy debates on changing the Canadian Red Ensign, which had been the national flag of Canada since 1867, with a unique Canadian flag.
The red in the flag denotes the British Admiralty. The shield of the coat of arms is centred in the half farthest from the staff.
Fun fact: The liberal MPP from Etobicoke Centre, Yvan Baker, put forward a bill to have an Ontario Flag Day. This bill received royal assent on June 4, 2015, and May 21, every year, is declared Ontario Flag Day.
The flag of Prince Edward Island, adopted March 24, 1964, is a banner modelled after the provincial arms; the three sides away from the mast are bordered by alternating bands of red and white. The upper third part features the English heraldic lion which also appeared on the coat of arms of Prince Edward (Duke of Kent for whom the province is named) and King Edward the VII.
The lower two-thirds show an island on which are three oak saplings (on the left) which represents the three counties of PEI (Prince, Queens and Kings) under the protection of a great oak tree that represents Great Britain.
Fun fact: The large oak tree and the three small oak saplings symbolizes the provincial motto “Parva sub ingenti” (the small under the protection of the great).
Adopted March 9, 1950, the flag of Quebec is a modern version of the old French-Canadian flag known as the Fleurdelyse.
The white cross (ancient royal flags of France) on a blue field (symbolizing Heaven) is a reminder of an ancient French military banner honouring the Virgin Mary, and the four fleur-de-lys flowers (purity) are symbolic of France.
Fun fact: The flag of Quebec was the first provincial flag officially adopted in Canada and there is an annual flag day held on January 21 of each year.
The flag of Saskatchewan, adopted on September 22, 1969, features the armorial bearings (coat of arms) in the upper quarter nearest the staff, with the floral emblem, the western red lily (Lilium philadelphicum), in the fly. The upper green half represents the northern forest lands of Saskatchewan and the gold lower half symbolizes the southern (prairies wheat-fields).
Fun fact: The current flag was the result of a province-wide competition where over 4000 entries were submitted. Anthony Drake of Hodgeville, Saskatchewan, designed the winning entry.
The flag of the Northwest Territories is a subnational flag of the Northwest Territories of Canada and was adopted in 1969 by the NWT Legislative Assembly.
It features a blue field on which is a white stripe (a Canadian pale – centre band of a vertical triband flag ) that takes up half the width of the flag, with the shield from the coat of arms at its centre. The wavy blue line dividing the white section of the shield represents the Arctic Ocean and the Northwest Passage. The two blue panels represent the Northwest Territories waters and the white represents snow and ice.
The tree line is represented by a diagonal line and divides the lower portion into a green and red section; the green symbolizes the trees and the red the tundra. The gold bars in the green section and the white fox in the red section represent the minerals and furs upon which the Northwest Territories’ history and prosperity are based.
Fun fact: Here again, we have another flag that was chosen as a result of a contest. A committee reviewed the entries from a Canada-wide contest and the winner from Margaret, Manitoba was Robert Bessant.
On April 1, 1999, along with the territory of Nunavut, the official flag was adopted. It features a red inuksuk (a traditional Inuit land marker) and a blue star which represents Niqirtsuituq (the North Star), and the leadership of elders in the community.
The colours blue and gold represent the riches of land, sea and sky and red is used to represent Canada. The inuksuk divides the flag and is a stone monument to guide travelers and mark sacred sites.
A group was put together led by Chief Herald of Canada, to learn about the local culture. The group then asked for submissions from across Canada to assist in designing the flag. Out of 800 submissions, 10 finalists and five draft designs, local artist Andrew Qappik drafted the final version.
Fun fact: Since its adoption, the flag has been criticized for having ‘too many’ colours such as the gold and white as the background field and the black outline around the inuksuk.