Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
June 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


History of Flags in Canada


[This text was written in the 1930's and was published in 1948; for the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Flags. During the French régime in Canada, there does not appear to have been any French national flag in the modern sense of the term. The "Banner of France", which was composed of fleur-de-lys on a blue field, came nearest to being a national flag, since it was carried before the king when he marched to battle, and thus in some sense symbolized the kingdom of France. There is evidence that this flag was occasionally flown in Canada during the early period of exploration; but as a rule it was flown even in France only when the king was present. During the later period of French rule, it would seem that the emblem of France in Canada was a flag showing the fleur-de-lys on a white ground. There were, however, 68 flags authorized for various services by Louis XIV in 1661; and a number of these were doubtless used in New France.


By the Peace of Paris in 1763, the fleur-de-lys gave place in Canada to the Union Jack. But this was not the Union Jack as we know it to-day: it was the Union Jack of Queen Anne, composed only of the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew. It was not until the union of Great Britain with Ireland in 1801 that the cross of St. Patrick was added. Not only, however, was the Union Jack flown alone as the national flag of the British Empire, but it has also been used in the upper quarter, or "dexter canton", next the staff, in several distinctive flags. One of these is the white ensign, flown only by ships of the Royal Navy, and composed of the large red cross of St. George on a white ground, with the Union Jack in the dexter canton. Another is the blue ensign, a blue flag with the Union Jack in the dexter canton, flown only by ships in the navies of British colonies and of the Royal Naval Reserve. A third is the red ensign, a red flag with the Union Jack in the dexter canton, flown by all British merchantmen. Until 1892 this last flag was the marine flag used by Canadians; but in that year the Admiralty, at the request of the Canadian government, permitted the badge of the arms of Canada to be inserted in the fly of the red ensign, as well as in the blue, and all citizens of Canada were empowered to use this flag.


An impression has grown up that this red ensign, with the arms of Canada on the fly, is the national flag of Canada. This, however, is not strictly true. The red ensign is essentially a marine flag, and cannot properly be flown on land. The insertion of the arms of Canada in the fly was merely for the purpose of enabling ships to discover easily the national identity of a Canadian merchant ship. For use on land, the Union Jack is still the national flag of all Canadians. There have been repeated proposals from various quarters that Canada should have a distinctive national flag of its own, as the Irish Free State has; but so far none of these proposals has resulted in action.


Among the French Canadians, the tricolor of France has become, despite some opposition, a sort of national flag. It was introduced into Canada after the Crimean War, and has come to be widely used at celebrations of the Society of St. Jean Baptiste, the patron saint of French Canada, as well as on other occasions.


See A. G. Doughty, Le drapeau de la Nouvelle France (Trans. Roy . Soc. Can., 1926), B. Cumberland, The story of the Union Jack: How it grew, and what it is, particularly in its connection with the history of Canada (Toronto, 1897; 3rd ed., 1909), Sir J. Pope, The flag of Canada (pamphlet, Ottawa, 1908), Le drapeau national des Canadians fran çais (Quebec, 1904), and W. J. Wright, Our flag, what it means (Brockville, Ontario, 1904).

[In 1948, the fleur-de-lys was made the official flag of Québec by the Duplessis government. A copy of the flag is represented at the top of each page of the Quebec History site. It is now universally used as the symbol of the province and displayed proudly on all patriotic occasions. In 1965, following a long and acrimonious debate in the House of Commons, one in which the Quebec members stood unanimously in favour of it, the Maple Leaf was adopted as Canada's official flag and symbol. It now stands as a unifying symbol of the country. It is worn proudly by Canadians traveling throughout the world and displayed on many public buildings thoughout the country, although less frequently in Quebec.]


Canadian Flag

 Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed. The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., pp. 350-351. 

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College