Flying Saturday June 13, 2009.

In the UK, today, June 13, it is the official birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (she was actually born 21 April 1926). I flew the Union Jack some days ago, so I was looking today for something with an indirect connection with Her Majesty.

June 13 is also the anniversary of the great fire of Vancouver, British Columbia, and so I have chosen my British Columbia flag to fly today.

In Canada the Queen's official birthday is actually celebrated by Victoria Day in May. After the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, an Act was passed by the Parliament of Canada (as subsequently amended in 1952) establishing the legal holiday on the Monday preceding May 25.

The Flag of British Columbia, the sixth province to formally join Canada in 1871, is based upon the shield of the provincial arms of British Columbia. At the top of the flag is a rendition of the Union Flag, defaced in the centre by a crown, representing the province's origins as a British colony, with a setting sun below.

The Queen

Queen Elizabeth is the queen regnant of sixteen independent states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. All together, these countries have a combined population, including dependencies, of over 129 million. She holds each crown separately and equally in a shared monarchy, and carries out duties in and on behalf of all the states of which she is sovereign. She is also Head of the Commonwealth, Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Duke of Normandy, Lord of Mann, and Paramount Chief of Fiji. In theory her powers are vast; however, in practice, and in accordance with convention, she rarely intervenes in political matters.

The official birthday, traditionally held on a Saturday in early June in the UK, is marked by the Trooping of the colour in London, Horse Guards Parade.

The Massed Bands on Horseguards for Trooping the Colour 2006.


The Great Vancouver Fire was a conflagration that destroyed most of the newly-incorporated city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on 13 June 1886. The fire began as a brush fire to clear land that was spread out of control by a strong gale. Dozens of lives were claimed by the fire and the only structures not destroyed were a stone building in the West End, the Hastings Mill Store, and a few structures on the banks of False Creek. An estimated $1.3 million was lost in destroyed property, but within four days, new buildings began to appear. The city was rebuilt with modern water, electricity and streetcar systems.

The flag of Vancouver

The Canadian Flag

The current flag of Canada is the Maple Leaf, and l'UnifoliƩ (French for "the one-leafed"), a red flag with a white square in its centre, featuring a stylized 11-pointed red maple leaf. Its adoption in 1965 marked the first time a national flag had been officially adopted in Canada to replace the Union Flag.

The Maple Leaf, the official Canadian lag since 1965

The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign had been unofficially used since the 1860s and was approved by a 1945 Order-in-Council for use "wherever place or occasion may make it desirable to fly a distinctive Canadian flag".

By strange coincidence, whilst I was drafting this blog a few days in advance, a fellow blogger, Brett Payne of of Tauranga, New Zealand , author of the Photo-Sleuth blog and Photographers & Photographic Studios in Derbyshire, England , sent a photograph of his ancestors partying in the woods, with a request that I identify the flags on the right.

I immediately spotted the British Columbia “setting sun” and, as he told me they had at one time been in Winnipeg, and already being familiar with the Canadian Red Ensigns, I set about both trying to identify the provincial shields on the crest, and match this with a known version of the unofficial flags that had been used for so long.

The task has proved more difficult that at first it appeared. There are many versions of the Red Ensign as Canada came together from the various additions to the original Canada of the Constitution Act, 1867, which brought about a Confederation of one Dominion under the name of Canada consisting of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. As further territorial bodies joined, so their shields were added to the unofficial Red Ensigns. It seems probable to me that there could be a limitless versions of an unofficial flag as graphic designers at local flag producers may have interpreted change as they felt right, which might well have given prominence to their own province. I may well be shot down with that suggestion.

Another point is that the available images of flags generally seen on the Internet are images produced recently in digital graphic form, as opposed to images of original "approved" designs, actual flags or other accurate published material. So all flag images seen on the Internet have to be taken as simply "representative" of design, colour and ratio., and looked at with a pinch of salt.

Below are some of the Canadian Red Ensigns. I have intentionally put dates with question marks as I suspect that there are differences of opinion as to exact dates. In some flags there are versions both without and with the adornments of the crown and maple leaf garland that were found on the great seal.

(Four provinces, 1867-1871?)

(5 Provinces, 1873+?)

(7 Provinces, 1873+?)

(7 Provinces, 1896+? ; BC varies to prior 7 province version after it adopted a new coat of arms)

(7 Provinces, 1901?; The Victoria crown is replaced by the Edward crown following her death)

(9 Provinces, 1905+ ?)

(9 Provinces, 1905+ ?)


(1957-1965) The Maple leaves were changed to red. The 1921 proclamation specified that the leaves be "proper," i.e., in their natural colour, but this was ambiguous because maple leaves can be green, yellow, or red. Artists had previously drawn them green, but on this date the secretary of state announced that they should henceforth be red.

This last flag above I spotted on Ebay today, some further artistic licence perhaps? Possibly circa 1871 to 1873 as it has BC (1871) but not Prince Edward Island (1873). I don't think the seller has appreciated its age, it will be interesting to see if the collectors miss it ! I doubt it !

This flag appears to me to make more chronological sense, as it has BC, which became a province in 1871, and not Prince Edward Island (1873). The earlier 5 Province flag image shown above shows Prince Edward Island but not BC. I wonder if that earlier image is an error by whoever compiled it and posted it on the Internet??

I appear to have set myself the task of working out which Ensign appears in the Brett Payne's old photograph , and I am afraid the results are unlikely to be ready for this blog. One of the authorities on the history of the Red Ensigns is Alistair B Fraser, a British Columbia resident and Emeritus Professor of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, and author of The Flags of Canada. I am hoping that Mr Fraser keeps an eye on his good name with Google Alerts or similar, and will spot this blog and leave his valued opinion before, if ever, I solve it myself.


  1. That is the post-1905 Canadian flag with nine provinces represented on the shield. This variant of the flag served until 1921-22 when the post-war (official) Shield of Arms replaced the (semi-official) evolving shield that had been used since the 1860s.

  2. Pretty interesting use of a single element of an historical source to determine its origin and provenance.
    Check out my flag site (if you get it to load in time) where I have a section on Canadian red ensigns on the home page- www.imperialflags.blogspot.com