Despite Canada’s small population, the Canada flag, which is Red and white with a maple leaf in the middle, is one of the most recognized flags and symbols in the world.
Canada flags come in all shapes and sizes. From little pins worn on a jacket to massive flags being flown outside a business or a home, there are many Canadian flags to choose from. However, there are also 13 provincial and territorial flags that represent the local symbols of each place.
In this article, we’ll talk about the different Canada flags, including their history and how they came to be, as well as diving into the other popular flags spread out amongst this vast country.
History of the Canadian Flag
Way back before Canada was even a country, the flag that was used was simply the British Union Jack flag. But as time went on, Britain wanted to create different flags for each of its colonies so that it could tell them apart. So, it developed a different version of its own Union Jack, creating various ensigns, which were red or blue flags with a little Union Jack in the top left corner along with a unique symbol in the bottom right. Canada’s version was a Red Ensign with the Union Jack and the Canadian Coat of Arms. Red and white also became the official colours of Canada because of King George V in 1921. Red was chosen from Saint George’s Cross and white was chosen from the French Royal Emblem.
As the years went on, however, and Canada grew more politically independent from Britain, the Red Ensign became increasingly controversial. Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who served from 1963-1968 and has also worked as an international diplomat, was particularly offended by it and decided to make the creation of a new flag free from British symbolism a top priority for his administration. However, it wasn’t just because of the British influence. One of the great conflicts in the 1950s was the Suez Crisis of 1956 over in Egypt. Pearson was actually a significant broker during that time and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work during that crisis. However, it was during this time that Pearson had issues dealing with the Egyptian government and our peacekeeping forces due to the Union Jack symbol on the flag.
Long story short, the mere suggestion of a new Canadian flag ignited one of the longest parliamentary debates in Canadian history. Who would have thought that a Canada flag would be such a contentious debate? Older, conservative Canadians said the Red Ensign was the flag that Canadians fought and died under during two world wars, and one that reflected Canada’s historic ties to Britain and current ties to the monarchy. Obviously, those arguments didn’t prevail and Canada got its new flag, but only after lots of debate. In September of 1964, a new all-party committee was formed, comprised of seven liberals, five conservatives, one new democrat, one Social Crediter, and one Socreter. After considering thousands of designs, it came down to two: the Pearson Pennant and the current design, which was designed by George Stanley and is based on the flag of the Royal Military College of Canada. In the end, the Single Leaf design was chosen with a unanimous 14 to 0 vote.
Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, proclaimed the new flag on January 28, 1965, and it made its first official appearance on February 15, 1965, which is now celebrated annually as National Flag of Canada Day. The Red Ensign was lowered at the stroke of noon and the new maple leaf flag was raised. The crowd sang “O Canada” followed by “God Save the Queen”. The Speaker of the Senate, said: “The flag is the symbol of the nation’s unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief, or opinion.”
Believe it or not, there was still opposition to the change, and Stanley’s life was even threatened for having “assassinated the flag”. So, yes, there were just as many crazy people back then as well.
Interestingly, the Union Jack retains official status as one of the Canada flags to this day, though it’s now quite rarely seen. This was Pearson’s compromise with traditionalists; according to law, the Union Jack — known in Canada as the Royal Union Flag — can still be flown once in a while as a “symbol of membership in the Commonwealth and allegiance to the Crown.”
Canada Flags: The Maple Leaf
The National Flag of Canada (often referred to as the Canadian flag or the Maple Leaf) consists of a large red maple leaf on a white field, with two red bars on either side. It has a ratio of 1:2:1 with an 11-point red maple leaf in the middle. It is the first flag to have been adopted by both houses of Parliament and officially proclaimed by the Canadian monarch as the country’s official national flag.
The maple leaf Canada flag represents the unity of the country as the maple leaf is one of Canada’s best-known national emblems and red and white are Canada’s official colours. Most government buildings, schools, and large businesses will fly a Canadian flag on a flagpole outside their entrance, while it is also quite common to see households installing smaller flags outside their homes as well. In addition, many people will wear clothing that has the Canadian flag in some way, whether it’s a t-shirt, hat, or luggage tag. When someone important to Canada dies, or the country (or the world) experiences a high-profile tragedy, it’s standard etiquette to fly the flag at half-mast or lower it halfway down the pole.
Many different flags created for use by Canadian officials, government bodies, and military forces contain the maple leaf motif in some fashion, either by having the Canadian flag charged in the canton or by including maple leaves in the design. The Canadian flag also appears on the government’s wordmark.
Why the Maple Leaf?
Despite the fact that the Maple Leaf doesn’t grow in all of Canada, the symbol has actually been used as a Canadian emblem since the 18th century. In 1868, It was first used as a national symbol when it appeared on the coat of arms of both Ontario and Quebec. It’s also important to note that although Western cities like Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton are now a major part of Canada, they didn’t exist in those times.
The maple leaf even became a part of some songs. In 1867, Alexander Muir composed the patriotic song “The Maple Leaf Forever”, which became an unofficial anthem in English-speaking Canada. Years later, from 1876 to 1901, the leaf also appeared on Canadian coins and actually remained on the penny all the way until it was discontinued in 2013. The maple leaf was also added to the Canadian coat of arms in 1921. Even during the First and Second World Wars, the badges worn by the Canadian Forces were often based on a maple leaf design and would even adorn the tombstones of fallen soldiers.
Fun Fact: The number of points on the leaf has no real special significance. However, the number and arrangement of the points were chosen after wind tunnel tests showed the current design to be the least blurry of the various designs when tested under high-wind conditions. So, basically, we just wanted to make sure people could see it properly.
For more fun facts, check out our article on 200 fun facts about Canada.
Canadian Provincial Flags in Canada
Every province of Canada has its own Canada flags as well. These feature important local symbols. These provincial Canada flags are also very recent and many were designed after holding contests during the 60s and 70s when many provinces were getting ready to celebrate their centennial anniversaries. Before this was done, many of these flags were similar to the one before the Maple Leaf flag was created, with ensign-style flags featuring only the provincial coat of arms in the corner.
Created in 1968, the Alberta flag has a simple design featuring the provincial coat of arms shield on a blue background. The provincial shield features a red St. George’s Cross on a white background, blue skies over a range of snow-capped mountains with green hills, prairie land, and a wheat field in front.
British Columbia Flag
Created in 1960, this flag is based upon the shield of the provincial arms of British Columbia. At the top of the flag is a rendition of the Royal Union Flag with a crown in the centre, and with a setting sun below, representing the location of the province of British Columbia at the western end of Canada. We’ve also heard that it’s supposed to represent how “the sun never sets on the British Empire.”
Made official in 1968, the Yukon flag was created by a contest winner. It is green, white, and blue with the coat of arms of Yukon at the centre above a wreath of fireweed, the territorial flower.
From top to bottom, you’ll find a Malamute sled dog, a common work dog found in the Yukon, as well as a cross of St. George for England with a roundel featuring a pattern of vair (fur). Below that are two wavy lines representing Yukon’s rivers on a blue background, followed by two red triangles representing Yukon’s mountains. The goal circles within the triangles represent the Yukon’s great mineral resources.
Northwest Territories Flag
Chosen as their first official flag in 1969, this is another flag created by a contest winner.
The flag features two blue panels on each side, which represent the many rivers and lakes. In the middle is a white stripe taking up half the width of the flag, which represents the snow and ice. In the middle is the shield from the coat of arms of the Northwest Territories.
The Coat of Arms shield features a white section with a blue wavy line that represents both the Arctic Ocean and the Northwest Passage. A diagonal line, representing the tree line, divides the lower portion into a green and red section with green symbolizing the trees and red symbolizing the tundra. The gold bars in the green section represent the abundant minerals whereas the white fox in the red section represents the abundant furs that once fed the prosperity of the region.
Designed as part of a province-wide contest in 1969, the provincial flag of Saskatchewan features two main colours, yellow and green, which represent the grain fields in the south and the vast forests in the north. The Western red lily, which is the provincial flower, can be found on the right side of the flag.
In the upper left corner is the provincial coat of arms shield, which features a lion passant or leopard, which is a royal symbol of England. The three gold sheaves of wheat, or garbs, represent the province’s agriculture.
As you can probably tell, Manitoba and Ontario are the only two provinces that never partook in the flag re-designing fad that swept the rest of Canada back in the 60s. Both still use the generic Red Ensigns featuring the British flag in the upper left corner and the province’s shield to the right.
Manitoba’s coat of arms features their provincial animal, the buffalo, at the bottom with the cross of St. George at the top.
Just like Manitoba, Ontario retains the generic Red Ensign with the British flag in the upper left corner and the provincial shield to the right.
The shield of arms consists of three gold maple leaves on a green background with the St. George’s cross at the top, representing a historic connection with Britain in Upper Canada.
Created in 1948, Quebec was actually the first province to create its own distinctive flag, which should come as no surprise considering their nationalistic sentiment. It consists of a white cross on a blue background, with four white fleurs-de-lis.
The fleur-de-lis has been used in the heraldry of numerous European nations but is particularly associated with France, especially during its monarchical period. Both this and the cross are meant to evoke memories of the medieval banners of royal France.
New Brunswick Flag
Adopted in 1965, this flag consists of a golden lion passant on a red field in the upper third and a gold field defaced with a sailing ship on top of blue and white wavy lines in the bottom two-thirds.
You’ll notice this same lion on the Saskatchewan and PEI flag, which is British heraldic symbolism. The blue and white wavy lines obviously feature the ocean and the sailing ship represents the province’s historic status as a major centre of Maritime trade and ship-building.
Prince Edward Island Flag
Adopted in 1964, the flag of Prince Edward Island is modelled after their provincial arms. The upper third of the flag features the English heraldic lion, which appeared both on the coat of arms of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, for whom the province is named, and on that of King Edward VII.
Below that are three small oak saplings representing the three counties of PEI (Prince, Queens, and Kings) and one big oak tree that represents Great Britain. This symbolism is also reflected in the provincial motto, Parva sub ingenti, which translates to “the small under the protection of the great”. Below that are alternating bands of red and white, the official colours of Canada.
Nova Scotia Flag
Adopted in 1929, the flag of Nova Scotia is quite different from the other provinces as it consists of a blue saltire on a white field defaced with the royal arms of Scotland. It is an inverted version of the Scottish flag with the Cross of St. Andrew, and the provincial coat of arms in the middle.
The coat of arms of Nova Scotia is the oldest provincial achievement of arms in Canada and the oldest British coat of arms in use outside Great Britain. The lion symbol is actually the symbol for the Royal Arms of Scotland.
Newfoundland & Labrador Flag
As the last province to join the confederation of Canada, this flag is also the newest flag of any province.
Designed in 1980, the blue colour represents the waters of the sea, lakes, and rivers whereas the white represents snow and ice. The red represents human efforts and the gold colour symbolizes the confidence that the people of Newfoundland and Labrador have in themselves and for the future. In addition to the colours, the flag’s design was inspired by etchings on Beothuk and Innu decorative pendants and also offers a nod to the Union Jack, as a reminder of historic connections with the British Isles.
The two red triangles represent the two areas of the province, Labrador and Newfoundland, whereas the gold arrow points towards a “brighter future”. To add even more symbolism, when the flag is shown vertically, the gold arrow becomes a sword to honour the sacrifices of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in military service while the red triangles and the gold arrow form a trident, symbolizing the province’s association with the fisheries and other resources of and under the sea.
Both the flag and the territory of Nunavut were formed in 1999, making it Canada’s newest territory. Both the flag and the territory of Nunavut were formed in 1999, making it Canada’s newest territory.
The flag was created by a local artist and consists of gold and white fields divided vertically by a red inuksuk with a blue star in the upper right corner. The blue and gold colours represent the “riches of land, sea, and sky”, while the red colour is used to represent Canada as a whole. The inuksuk, which sits in the middle of the flag, is a traditional stone monument used to guide travellers and to mark sacred sites. In the upper right corner is the blue star, which represents the North Star (Niqirtsituk), an important object due to its key role as a navigational beacon while also symbolically representing the wisdom and leadership of community elders.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about Canada flags? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add it to the list!
For more information on Canada, check out these articles below: