Canadian Red Ensign

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The Canadian Red Ensign from 1957 until 1965

The Canadian Red Ensign is a former flag of Canada, used by the federal government though it was never adopted as official by the Parliament of Canada. It is a British Red Ensign, featuring the Union Flag in the canton, defaced with the shield of the Coat of Arms of Canada.

History[edit]

Canadian Red Ensign 1921–1957
Canadian Red Ensign 1868–1921
Memorial Stained Glass window, Class of 1934, Royal Military College of Canada showing Canadian Red Ensign

The Red Ensign bearing some sort of a Canadian emblem was used by Canadians both on land and at sea beginning as early as 1868 (soon after Confederation) on an informal or extra-legal basis. As Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald "constantly made use of it", promoting it "by precept and example"[1] throughout Canada. In 1892, it was authorized by Admiralty Warrant for use on ships registered in Canada and this was enshrined in the Canada Shipping Act of 1934, yet the flag had no legal status on land (Canada's "official" flag was the Royal Union Flag until 1946). Despite its lack of any official status on land, the Red Ensign with Canadian arms was widely used on land, and flew over the Parliament Buildings until 1904 when it was replaced by the Union Flag. Various versions of the Red Ensign continued to be flown on land and the flag featured prominently in patriotic displays and recruiting efforts during First World War. It can be seen in numerous photographs of Canadian troops, on the prime minister's car, and in victory parades.

The original Canadian Red Ensign had the arms of the four founding provinces on its shield. However, in the late 19th and early 20th century, flag manufacturers would often supplement this design with laurel wreaths and crowns. The design was frequently placed on a white square or circle in the flag's fly (right hand side assuming the flagpole to be on the left). There was no standard design for the Red Ensign until the early 1920s. In 1921, the Government of Canada asked King George V to order a new coat of arms for Canada. The College of Arms thus designed a suitable coat of arms of Canada. The new shield was displayed on the Red Ensign, thus producing a new version the Canadian Red Ensign in 1922. In 1924, the Red Ensign was approved for use on Canadian government buildings outside Canada. The Canadian Red Ensign, through history, tradition and custom was finally formalized on 5 September 1945, when the Governor General of Canada signed an Order-in-Council (P.C. 5888) which stated that "The Red Ensign with the Shield of the Coat of arms in the fly (to be referred to as 'The Canadian Red Ensign') may be flown from buildings owned or occupied by the Canadian federal Government within or without Canada shall be appropriate to fly as a distinctive Canadian flag." So in 1945, the flag was approved for use by government buildings inside Canada as well, and once again flew over Parliament.

The Red Ensign served until 1965 when it was replaced by today's Maple Leaf flag. The flag bore various forms of the shield from the Canadian coat of arms in its fly during the period of its use. The picture (top) shows the official form between 1957 and 1965. From 1921 until 1957, the Canadian Red Ensign was virtually the same, except that the leaves in the coat of arms were green, and there was a slight alteration to the Irish harp (the earlier version having a woman's bust as part of the harp). A blue ensign, also bearing the shield of the Canadian coat of arms, was the jack flown by the Royal Canadian Navy and the ensign of other ships owned by the Canadian government until 1965. From 1865 until Canadian Confederation in 1867, the United Province of Canada could also have used a blue ensign, but there is little evidence such a flag was ever used. In O.R. Jacobi's painting of the new Parliament Buildings in 1866, a Red Ensign flies from the tower of the East Block.

Vimy Ridge Red Ensign[edit]

The Red Ensign carried by the 5th Canadian Infantry Battalion (Western Cavalry) at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917 survives to this day. The battle was the first instance in which all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together as a cohesive formation during the First World War, and as such it is often viewed as a pivotal event in the emergence of Canadian national identity.[2][3]

The Red Ensign flown at Vimy Ridge in 1917 was the pre-1870 version with the arms of Canada's first four provinces. It is unclear why an outdated version of the flag was carried into the battle, although it may have come from the flag locker of the merchant ship that brought the battalion to Europe. After the battle, the flag was donated to the Imperial War Museum in the United Kingdom by Lieutenant Colonel Lorn Paulet Owen Tudor of the 5th Battalion, an Englishman who had emigrated to Canada before the war.[4][5]

The Imperial War Museum refused requests over the years to repatriate the Vimy Ridge Red Ensign to Canada, including a request in 2000 to acquire the flag for the ceremonies surrounding the dedication of Canada's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. David Penn, Keeper of Exhibits and Firearms at the Imperial War Museum, called the flag "our most important First World War Commonwealth artifact".[5][6]

Eventually, after months of negotiations involving the Royal Canadian Legion, the Imperial War Museum agreed to loan the flag to Canada to commemorate the opening of the new Canadian War Museum in Ottawa in 2005. The flag was returned to the United Kingdom in 2008.[4][5][6]

Being over 140 years old, the Vimy Ridge Red Ensign is possibly the oldest Canadian flag in existence.[5]

There is another Red Ensign in existence that was reportedly carried by Canadian troops at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, currently held by the Penticton Museum and Archives in Penticton, British Columbia. It is a simple red ensign, without a coat of arms.[4][5]

Variations[edit]

Before the design of the Red Ensign was standardized in 1921, flag makers made the badge larger each time a new province was added to the Confederation. This led to the creation of several unofficial but widely used flags.

At the opening ceremony of the 1936 Olympic Games, a variant of the 1921–1957 red ensign with the arms inside a white disc was carried by Canadian Olympian and flag bearer James Worrall. However the normal version of the red ensign without the disc was hoisted alongside the other national flags that surrounded the perimeter of the stadium.[7]

Others[edit]

Today, two Canadian provincial flags are Red Ensigns, the flag of Ontario and the flag of Manitoba, both of which were introduced in 1965–66 after the Canadian Red Ensign was replaced by the Maple Leaf flag. The Liberal government of Lester Pearson promised to introduce a new flag to replace the Red Ensign, as a means of promoting national unity and a new Canadian identity, by replacing what was seen as a symbol of the British Empire and colonialism, with one that would be more inclusive of Canadians who are not of British stock, particularly French-Canadians. In 1965, after the Great Flag Debate in Parliament and throughout the country as a whole, the Maple Leaf flag was adopted. Groups such as the Royal Canadian Legion and others who had sympathies with maintaining Canada's links to Britain opposed the new flag as they saw it as a means of loosening that connection. The leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, John Diefenbaker, was especially passionate in his defence of the Red Ensign. In protest of the federal government's decision, Progressive Conservative governments in Manitoba and Ontario adopted red ensigns as their provincial flags.

Use today[edit]

From left to right: the Flag of France, the Maple Leaf Canadian flag, and the Canadian Red Ensign fly at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France.
1921 ensign in Northern Ontario

The Canadian Red Ensign continues to be flown by some Canadians, especially monarchists, other traditionalists, and those who cherish Canada's British heritage. The Canadian Red Ensign is part of the official colour party (together with the Maple Leaf) of the Royal Canadian Legion,[8] and by many individual Canadians, especially in parts of the country populated by the descendants of United Empire Loyalists.[citation needed] A Red Ensign (currently the 1868 version donated by the Royal Canadian Legion) will now be permanently flown alongside the Maple Leaf Flag at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial following its re-dedication in April 2007. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the decision after lobbying by veterans groups and then-Parliamentary Secretary Jason Kenney. Supporters of the decision noted that the Red Ensign was the flag under which the Canadian Army had fought and that numerous other Canadian war memorials and historical sites fly relevant historical flags. Critics, including Liberal senators Marcel Prud'homme and Roméo Dallaire, attacked the move, saying the old flag belongs in a museum, not on a flagpole. "What's happening at Vimy is a dangerous precedent because it could lead to the officialization of all sorts of flags," Prud'homme said.[9]

Canadian Blue Ensign[edit]

Blue Ensign of 1957–1965
Blue Ensign of 1921–1957
Blue Ensign of 1868–1921

The Canadian blue ensign is similar to the red ensign. The flag was used as the jack of the Royal Canadian Navy from its inception until the adoption of the Maple Leaf flag in 1965. The blue ensign was approved by the British Admiralty in 1868 for use by ships owned by the Canadian government. Carr's Flags of the World says "The Blue Ensign is charged with the shield in the fly." and "however, the aforesaid Blue Ensign is worn 'as a Jack' for distinguishing purposes when at anchor, or under way and dressed with masthead flags."[10]

In 1937, the Canadian Government established that the Canadian Blue Ensign ("the Blue Ensign of the Dominion of Canada") would be used as a special ensign by the several Canadian yacht clubs which had prior to then used the British Blue Ensign (either plain or defaced) as their special ensign. This usage lasted until the 1965 introduction of the Maple Leaf flag. Today, some Canadian yacht clubs use the Canadian Blue Ensign to commemorate this usage.

Mis-identification on $2 note[edit]

During the early 1990s an urban myth developed reporting that the American flag was printed on the Canadian two-dollar note. The myth stated that the American flag could be seen flown on the Peace Tower depicted behind Queen Elizabeth II on the banknote. This flag is in fact the modern Maple Leaf flag. However, on the contemporaneous $5, $10 and $50 notes, the Canadian Red Ensign is shown, but in such a small size that it could be confused with the U.S. flag.[11]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ George Stanley, The Flags of Canada
  2. ^ Inglis, Dave (1995). Vimy Ridge: 1917–1992, A Canadian Myth over Seventy Five Years. Burnaby: Simon Fraser University. 
  3. ^ Humphries, Mark Osborne (2007). ""Old Wine in New Bottles": A Comparison of British and Canadian Preparations for the Battle of Arras". In Hayes, Geoffrey; Iarocci, Andrew; Bechthold, Mike. Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. 65–85. ISBN 0-88920-508-6. 
  4. ^ a b c "Flag, Red Ensign, Canadian". Imperial War Museums. Archived from the original on 30 April 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Wattie, Chris (2002). "Britain finally yields, will lend Vimy Ensign". National Post. 
  6. ^ a b "Britain loans Canada Red Ensign carried by Canadians at Vimy Ridge". CBC News. 17 July 2002. Archived from the original on 30 April 2013. Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  7. ^ "1936 Berlin Olympics Opening Ceremony". Youtube. International Olympic Committee. Retrieved Fedruary 12 , 2013. 
  8. ^ Official Legion protocol since 2005
  9. ^ La Presse, 6 July 2007
  10. ^ Carr, H. Gresham Flags of the World 1961
  11. ^ Mikkelson, David P. (20 February 2007). "Red Ensign Scare". Urban Legends Reference Pages. Retrieved 31 August 2007. 

External links[edit]