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Canada - history of the flag (1873-1892)

Last modified: 2017-05-13 by rob raeside
Keywords: canada | red ensign: canada | history: red ensign: canada |
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Unofficial flag, 1873-1892
[Canada - 1873 (unofficial)] image by Clay Moss, 17 September 2014

See also:

The Red Ensign

Chronology of the Canadian Blue and Red Ensigns

original text by Dean Tiegs - 21 December 1997, additions inserted at appropriate places.

Some information from "The Flags of Canada - chapter IV - the Canadian Ensigns" by Alistair B. Fraser.

20 July 1871

[Canada - 1871 (unofficial)] image by Herman De Wael

Confederation of British Columbia. B.C. initially used an unofficial symbol: the royal crest (a crowned lion standing on a crown) with the motto "splendor sine occasu." Sometimes this was flanked by laurel or laurel and oak, and sometimes the letters B and C were to the left and right.
Dean Tiegs - 21 December 1997

According to Fraser, an ensign with a six provinces great seal was never in use. Probably by the time the symbol for BC became settled, the Confederation of Prince Edward Island was already scheduled and manufacturers jumped from a 5-province shield directly to a 7-province one.
Herman De Wael, 20 October 1998

01 July 1873

[Canada - 1871 (unofficial)] image by Clay Moss, 20 October 2014

Confederation of Prince Edward Island. It continued to use the seal design it had used since 1769. Very similar to the present coat of arms, except that the motto "parva sub ingenti" was an integral part of the design and the chief with lion was missing.
Dean Tiegs, 21 December 1997

According to Fraser, flags with 7-provincial seals began to appear in late 1874. A beaver was added, and the seal was placed on a white roundel. Earlier ensign seldom and later ensigns never had a white roundel.
Herman De Wael, 20 October 1998

[Canada - 1871 (unofficial)] image by Clay Moss, 17 September 2014

Based on the surviving seven-province (and indeed five-province—ON, QC, NB, NS, MB) ensigns that I have seen, the maple leaf wreath was green and the beaver brown (i.e., heraldically “proper”).
Michael Halleran, 14 September 2014

The Prince Edward Island badge according to Admiralty and Colonial Office papers, was not approved for use on a flag until 1878. There was a design, with a slightly off-centre crown between the two trees, that made it into print, but probably not into cloth. There was also a suggestion that the garland on the Lt. Govs. version of the flag, should be rose leaves with pink roses, but that was rejected.
D Prothero, 31 December 1997

[Canada - 1871 (unofficial)] image located by Bill Garrison, 3 April 2017

This flag shows the beaver intertwined with the Maple leaves along the bottom of the crest; usually the beaver is depicted alone. This flag came from a strip of bunting used in Winnipeg in 1885 to welcome the return of the troops from the 1885 Riel Rebellion. It measures 16 by 28 inches.
Bill Garrison, 3 April 2017

Blue ensign (speculative)

[Canada - 1871 (unofficial)] image by Clay Moss, 20 October 2014

The blue ensign of 1873, if it did exist.
Clay Moss, 20 October 2014

Seven province blue ensigns did exist, as I recall, from a visit there about 40 years ago, the Glenbow Museum in Calgary has one that was given along with a uniform and medal to the chiefs of First Nations that signed treaties with the Dominion government and there is a large one in Toronto connected with the yacht club dating from the time when the Commander G. G. Spain of the the Department of Marine and Fisheries fisheries protection fleet (which ultimately became both the Canadian Coast Guard and Naval Service of Canada – later RCN) was also commodore of the yacht club.
Michael Halleran, 21 October 2014


First request to the British Admiralty for official permission for merchant vessels to wear the Canadian Red Ensign. The request is accepted at first (?) but rejected in 1875.
Dean Tiegs, 21 December 1997

history continues