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Canada - history of the flag (1892-1907)

Last modified: 2024-03-09 by rob raeside
Keywords: canada | red ensign: canada | history: red ensign: canada |
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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.

02 February 1892

The British Admiralty approves the Canadian Red Ensign "to be used on board vessels registered in the Dominion." Widespread use of the flag on land continued, even on the Parliament buildings. I suspect there was no design specified for the shield to appear on the flag, but if there was it was probably the 1868 four-province design. Most flag makers continued making the flag with symbols for all the provinces.
Dean Tiegs, 21 December 1997

Official flag, 1892-1922
[Canada - 1868 (unofficial)] image by Herman De Wael

While it was very true that the various Red Ensigns were unofficial on land, some were very official at sea. This should include on the Great Lakes, and inland waterways, so there were lots of official red ensigns! The text leaves the impression that they were unofficial everywhere. While many of the "popular" designs were not used by the government, some were. It is definite that the Canadian Red Ensign flew over parliament before the Boer War. In fact, that ensign created a stir in Canada when a picture of it over parliament was put on a piece of modern currency. (instead of the new flag)

My impression is that the 4 province ensign was used by the government, and the others by everyone else!
Kevin McNamara, 6 November 1998

Variant design

[Canada - 1868 (unofficial)] image by Marc Pasquin, 31 December 2015

This flag is depicted on a postcard dated 1908. The flag is very similar to the Canadian national flag used between 1898-1922 except for the shape of the shield and the presence of a crown above it.
Marc Pasquin, 31 December 2015

16 September 1896

[Canada - 1896 (unofficial)] image by Herman De Wael

British Columbia adopts a new seal: the vertical reversal of the current arms, but without the ancient crown on the Union Jack. One thing the designers didn't realize was that it could be interpreted as "the sun setting on the British Empire."
Dean Tiegs, 21 December 1997

Unofficial flag, 1896-1901
[Canada - 1896 (unofficial)] image by Herman De Wael

Suspected form of the unofficial flag after 1896.
Herman De Wael - 20 October 1998

This is rather complicated.

  1. BC had no Arms until 31st March 1906.
  2. The badge of BC as used on the defaced Union Jack of the Lieutenant Governor (the "lion on a crown with B and C surrounded by a garland") was derived from the Great Seal of BC and continued in use on the flag until 1906.
  3. The Great Seal of BC was changed from the "lion and crown" to the "setting sun above the Union Jack" in 1896.
  4. When the arms were granted in 1906 the design was a reversal of the 1896 Seal, and had the Union Jack, differenced with an ancient crown, above the setting sun.
  5. The Great Seal was not changed to resemble the Arms until 1911.


  • Colonial Office Flag Book
  • Conrad Swan's "Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty" [swa77]

Notes on above flags:

This might be accurate, though since it is an unofficial flag the point is irrelevant unless it is known that there was a flag of this appearance.

It would seem probable that, even on an unofficial flag, any changes would have either, anticipated the forthcoming alteration to the BC 'quarter', or been delayed until 1906, when the format of the BC 'quarter' would have been "Union Jack defaced with an ancient crown above the setting sun".
David Prothero, 24 October 1998

This listing is in error in my opinion. The date on this flag should be 1873-1901. The flag that is listed as 1896-1901, I believe does not exist. In all my years of collecting I have not seen one Ensign like the one pictured. The old British Columbia crest with the Lion was used right up until 1907. The Sun over the Union Jack was not seen until 1907. So the Listings should be 1873-1901 (with Queen’s Crown on top of the shield) and one with 1901-1907 (with Tutor Crown).
Rudy Mundt, 7 September 2009


As these aberrant ensigns bore a crown, they underwent a change in 1901. During the Victorian era, the Saint Edward's crown (with the depressed arches) had been used, but upon the accession of Edward VII, in 1901, the (Tudor) crown with raised arches was adopted. (Fraser)

[Canada - 1901 (unofficial)] (unofficial) by Herman De Wael

Version of the unofficial flag after 1901, with the Tudor Crown.
Herman De Wael, 22 October 1998

Variant with territorial badges

[Canada - 1905 (unofficial)]  [Canada - 1905 (unofficial)] images provided by Kevin Moore, 6 February 2024 [Click on arms for larger image]

This flag is an interesting pre-1925 Canadian red ensign with a 9-quarters badge depicting 7 provinces (so before 1905) plus two more quarters which he has ascertained represent Northwest Territory (as it was then) and Yukon Territory.

See for detail on the development of provincial arms, including the polar bear/wheatsheaves proposed emblem for NWT and the early Yukon arms (there referred to as Klondyke). A proposal for the Yukon arms, very similar to the modern shield is dated 1903 (, and Alberta and Saskatchewan were created in 1905, so that limits the development of this flag to between those dates.
Rob Raeside, 6 February 2024


Because of strong patriotism for the Empire during the Boer War, the Union Jack replaces the Canadian Red Ensign on the Parliament buildings.
Dean Tiegs, 21 December 1997

10 May 1905

[Canada - 1905 (unofficial)] image by Herman De Wael

A royal warrant grants arms to Manitoba in its present form.
Dean Tiegs, 21 December 1997

30 May 1905

A royal warrant grants arms to Prince Edward Island in their present form.
Dean Tiegs, 21 December 1997

These changes and the creation of two more provinces, were probably too quick in succession for flag manufacturers to start making new versions of the unofficial flag.
Herman De Wael, 22 October 1998

history continues
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