Canadian Red Ensign

Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign is the former flag of Canada, used officially 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.


The Red Ensign was used as early as 1868 on an informal basis. As prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald promoted its use "by precept and example"Fact|date=February 2008 throughout Canada. From 1892, it was authorized for use on Canadian merchant ships, but it had no official status on land (Canada's "official" flag was the Royal Union Flag until 1946). Despite its lack of official status, the Red Ensign began to be widely used on land as well, 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. A Red Ensign was carried by Canadian soldiers during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

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 (lower right hand corner). 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 September 5, 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 officially 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.


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


Today, two Canadian provincial flags are Red Ensigns, the flag of Ontario and the flag of Manitoba, both of which were introduced when 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 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 of Canada, John Diefenbaker, was especially passionate in his defence of the Red Ensign. In protest of the federal government's decision, Progressive Conservative Party governments in Manitoba and Ontario adopted red ensigns as their provincial flags.

Use today

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 still flown (together with the Maple Leaf) in some Royal Canadian Legion halls, and by many individual Canadians, especially in parts of the country populated by the descendants of United Empire Loyalists. Most people who fly the Canadian Red Ensign today, however, also accept the Maple Leaf flag, and neither the Royal Canadian Legion nor any other traditionalist groups advocate the return of the ensign as Canada's national flag. In recent years, far-right groups in Canada affiliated with Paul Fromm, have attempted to appropriate the Canadian Red Ensign as a symbol of their movement to emphasize what they assert is their adherence to traditional Canadian values. [ [ Canadian Heritage Alliance gallery] ]

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 rededication 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. ["La Presse", July 6, 2007] The dispute clearly shows that the Canadian Red Ensign still remains a politically charged symbol.

In professional wrestling, the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt uses the Red Ensign to represent Canada, although the current design was issued in 1972, long after the Maple Leaf became official.

Canadian blue ensign

The Canadian blue ensign is similar to the red ensign. The flag was formerly 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." [Carr, H. Gresham "Flags of the World" 1961]

In the first half of the 20th century, Blue Ensigns for each province of Canada often appeared in charts of "all the world's flags", but these flags were just fantasies of the artists who drew the charts, and then copied by other artists putting together similar charts. They never existed in real life.Fact|date=February 2008


During the early 1990s an urban myth developed reporting that the American flag was printed on the Canadian two dollar bill. The myth stated that the American flag could be seen flown on the Peace Tower depicted behind Queen Elizabeth II on the bank note. This flag is in fact the modern Maple Leaf flag. However, on the contemporaneous $10 and $50 bills, the Canadian Red Ensign is shown, but in such a small size that it could be confused with the U.S. flag. [cite web|date=2007-02-20|last=Mikkelson|first=David P.|url=|title=Red Ensign Scare|publisher=Urban Legends Reference Pages|accessdate=2007-08-31]

ee also

*British ensigns


External links

* [ Red and Blue Ensigns, Canada] History including chronology
* [ Red Ensign jigsaw puzzle] online game
* [ Red Ensign Flag - Canada] online sales
* [ The Flags of Canada] by Alister B. Fraser
* [ Chronology of the Canadian Red Ensign]
* [ Canada - history of the flag (1867–1870)]
* [ Canada - history of the flag (1870–1873)]
* [ Canada - history of the flag (1873–1892)]
* [ Canada - history of the flag (1892–1907)]
* [ Canada - history of the flag (1907-1921)]
* [ Canada - history of the flag (1921–1957)]
* [ Canada - history of the flag (1957–1965)]
* [ Flags of the Royal Canadian Navy 1910–1965]

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