Canadian Red Ensign

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The Canadian Red Ensign, this design was used from 1957 until 1965.
The Canadian Red Ensign, this design was used from 1957 until 1965.

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



Flag used (1921-1957)
Flag used (1921-1957)

The Red Ensign was used as early as 1868 on an informal basis. From 1892 it became the official flag for use on Canadian merchant ships, though the official national flag on land was the Union Flag. 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. The original Canadian Red Ensign had the arms of the four original provinces on its shield. In 1922, the shield of the Coat of Arms of Canada replaced the provincial arms. In 1924, the Red Ensign was approved for use on Canadian government buildings outside Canada, and 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. 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 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.


The Flag of Ontario uses a Red Ensign design
The Flag of Ontario uses a Red Ensign design

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, John George Diefenbaker, was especially passionate in his defence of the Red Ensign. In protest of the federal government's decision, Tory 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, particularly monarchists, other traditionalists and those who cherish Canada's British heritage. Conservative commentator Mark Steyn has derided the Maple Leaf flag, remarking that 'unhappy nations change their flags' and 'at least the Red Ensign had the guts to be a boring flag, not a propaganda symbol'.

However, in subsequent decades, the Maple Leaf flag has been widely accepted as the national flag. Ironically, it is perhaps least popular in Quebec, not because of any nostalgia for the Red Ensign, but because it has become a symbol of Canadian federalism and is thus rejected by Quebec nationalists.

Today, the Canadian Red Ensign can still be seen in some Royal Canadian Legion halls, where it is still popular with veterans, although the Maple Leaf flag is flown as well. It is also flown by many individual Canadians, particularly 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, many far-right and neo-Nazi groups in Canada, particularly those 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. Fromm's groups, as well as other white supremacist groups such as the Canadian Heritage Alliance, advocate the re-adoption of the ensign as Canada's national flag. Most supporters of the Canadian Red Ensign, however, reject attempts by white supremacists to co-opt the symbol and decry attempts to associate the Canadian Red Ensign with racist views.

See also

External links

List of Canadian flags
National: CanadaRoyal StandardGovernor GeneralRed Ensign
Provinces: AlbertaBritish ColumbiaManitobaNew BrunswickNewfoundland and LabradorNova ScotiaOntarioPrince Edward IslandQuebecSaskatchewan
Territories: Northwest TerritoriesNunavutYukon Territory
Cities: MontrealOttawaTorontoWinnipeg
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