Apologies for my long absence this past month, dear reader, as my family and I were on an extended road trip through Atlantic Canada, with a return leg through Quebec and Ontario. We saw and learned a lot, and I’m hoping to write some posts about our experience. This one, following a great theme of this blog, will be about… flags!
The provinces of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia comprise “the Maritimes,” and they all feature the same type of flag:
That is, all the Maritime flags are essentially banners of the provincial arms:
The only difference between any of the arms and any of the flags derived from them is the red and white border added to the flag of PEI.
Design-wise, this is a good way to do things. Most provincial flags date from the mid-1960s, around the time that the current Maple Leaf flag replaced the Canadian Red Ensign. Both Ontario and Manitoba adopted provincial Red Ensigns out of spite, but in the Maritimes “banners of arms” prevailed.
Aesthetically, the Red Ensign motif is a little too cluttered, and symbolically it is a relic of the past. Ontario and Manitoba now suffer, rather needlessly, the same problem that Canada itself had in the 1960s!
For the record: the arms of New Brunswick reference its historic shipbuilding industry; the arms of PEI illustrate its motto “the small under the protection of the great” (the large tree represents Canada, and the three small trees PEI’s three counties); and the arms of Nova Scotia reference Scotland twice, with a blue-on-white saltire of St. Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint, and an inescutcheon of Scotland’s royal arms. These date from King James VI’s original settlement efforts in the 1620s but were forgotten by the time of Confederation in 1867, when different arms were devised for the new province. The original arms were rediscovered in the 1920s and were officially readopted in 1929.
An unofficial flag that I did not know about: the flag of Cape Breton Island. Cape Breton lies off the eastern coast of mainland Nova Scotia, and comprises about 20% of the area of the province. It was actually its own colony from 1784 until 1820, with Sydney as its capital. The flag is not very well designed (maps and writing are not good flag elements), but it’s certainly very popular, as I discovered.
The province of Newfoundland – or rather, “Newfoundland and Labrador,” as it has been officially known since 2001 – is somehow not considered part of the Maritimes, but of “Atlantic Canada.” It boasts an abstract flag designed by artist Christopher Pratt in 1980. I was told once that this flag was a project of the government at the time, which would have been Progressive Conservative, and in the 1980s you would fly it if you were PC, or otherwise a supporter of Premier Brian Peckford. But if this situation was ever true, the flag seems to have moved beyond its partisan origins and is now embraced by most everyone. Its symbolism is wide-ranging, with references to water and ice, both halves of the province, Innu and Inuit decorative pendants, the Union Jack, the sacrifice of Newfoundlanders in military service, and the fishing industry (see Wikipedia for more). It also cannot be flown upside-down.
Prior to the advent of Pratt’s flag, the provincial flag was the Union Jack, believe it or not. Newfoundland had been a dominion of the United Kingdom from 1907 until 1934, when it reverted to the status of a crown colony before joining Canadian Confederation in 1949. As a colony, of course, it flew the Union Jack, and they officially readopted this as their provincial flag in 1952. Strangely enough, Liberal Joey Smallwood, the one most responsible for getting Newfoundland to join Canada, was still premier. Was he having regrets? Was this a sop to certain disappointed people?
I do find it interesting how this is a reversal of the usual pattern. You would think, as it was with the national flag, that the Conservatives would be defending the traditional British design, and the Liberals the abstract modern one.
In any event, the Union Jack is still displayed quite a bit in Newfoundland, even officially.
But also appearing quite a bit is the Newfoundland tricolour. Some claim it dates from the 1840s and is essentially a local version of the Irish tricolour, illustrating the same hope for peace between Protestants and Catholics. A Wikipedia editor insists that it represents the “Roman Catholic fraternal organization the Star of the Sea Association (SOSA) established in St. John’s in 1871.” I was told that it emerged out of obscurity in the last thirty years to become universally popular, kind of like Inukshuks and poutine elsewhere in Canada. I was also told that it does not represent any desire for Newfoundland independence; it’s just an alternate, “historic” flag that people have come to embrace.
The “Labrador” part of Newfoundland and Labrador has its own (unofficial) flag, which dates from the early seventies. I saw it here and there. It represents snow, land, and water, with a sprig of black spruce, the provincial tree.
I’m afraid that most cities in Atlantic Canada do not have well designed flags. One exception is Charlottetown, the capital of Prince Edward Island. They did the banner-of-the-arms thing with their 1989 grant from the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Princess Charlotte’s crown appears in a grid pattern, representing the city’s layout.
Otherwise, cities in Atlantic Canada tend to put their entire coats of arms on their flags, as do Saint John, N.B., Fredericton, N.B., and St. John’s, N.L. Such a move tends to introduce both a lot of blank space and a lot of extraneous detail. Keep it simple!
Maritime Francophones, particularly in New Brunswick, are known as “Acadians” and have a distinctive flag, which dates from 1884. It takes the form of a French tricolor, defaced with a gold star, “the Stella Maris, the symbol of Mary, Acadian national symbol and patron of mariners.” The British had assumed control of Acadia in the early eighteenth century, and fears of disloyalty prompted them to expel its inhabitants during the Seven Years’ War. They couldn’t get them all, of course, and later many returned, to form a distinctive community that exists to this day (we stopped in Grand Falls, N.B. – the town was bedecked in Acadian flags, since the Acadian Games had just taken place there). That the Acadians should have adopted the French revolutionary tricolour, when they never lived under that regime, and were clearly quite religious themselves, has always been a bit of a mystery to me.
Outside of Quebec and Acadia, other Francophone communities in Canada have their own flags. That of the “Franco-Terreneuviens” was flying at Cape St. George in Newfoundland.
Another minority group in the Maritimes: the First Nations people known as the Mi’kmaq. I saw the flag of the Mi’kmaq Grand National Council flying here and there, although apparently it is only supposed to be hung vertically. According to Flags of the World, the white represents the purity of creation, the red cross the four cardinal directions, the sun the forces of the day, and the moon the forces of the night. (I guess the five-pointed star denotes the sun here.)
We spotted another Mi’kmaq flag outside Confederation Centre in Charlottetown. In addition to the flag of Canada and all the provincial and territorial flags, the so-called Mi’kmaq National flag flies. It’s not as well designed as the National Council flag, but it’s certainly symbolic. Flags of the World states that the three colours, white, red, and blue, signify the three divine persons, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, and the cross signifies Christ. The letters “NMAT” on the right stand for “Nin Alasotmoinoi Mento Tooe,” which can be translated as “I am a Catholic; you, devil, get out.” The letters on the left read “MIGMAG” (an alternate spelling of Mi’kmaq) “SA” (interlaced – a reference to St. Anne), and “LNOG” (meaning “the people”).
I am a huge fan of the of the fleurdelisé flag of Quebec, easily Canada’s most attractive provincial flag. The odd thing is that the flags in the photo are the wrong dimensions: the official ratio is 2:3, but these ones were made 1:2, the same as the national flag of Canada. For shame! Where’s their independent spirit?!
The City of Quebec has a cool flag too, which was granted in 1988 by the Canadian Heraldic Authority.
Montreal has a good flag. They added the golden pine tree in the middle a couple of years ago.
Finally, to round out the post: a cross of St. George flag flying from Signal Hill, a lookout tower guarding St. John’s harbour. I liked this: I read it as a reference to both Henry VII of England and John Cabot of Genoa, who sailed for Henry and who rediscovered Newfoundland in 1497. (Both England and Genoa used the cross of St. George.)