Historical Flags in Canada

The following flags are only a selection of historical flags from the English and French regimes prior to Confederation as well as Canadian flags post-Confederation.

Fleur-de-lis (1647)

Fleur-de-lis flag (1647)

The fleur-de-lis was a symbol of French sovereignty in Canada from 1534, when Jacques Cartier landed and claimed the New World for France, until the early 1760s, when Canada was ceded to the United Kingdom. Although a number of French military flags were used in Canada during this period, including the white flag of la Marine royale after 1674, the fleur-de-lis held a position of some prominence.

St. George's Cross (1577)

St. George's Cross (1577)

The St. George’s Cross traces its history back to the legend of St. George, who became the patron saint of England in the late Middle Ages.  The red cross associated with St. George came into wide use as a national emblem of England in 1274, during the reign of Edward I.  The earliest recorded use of the St. George’s Cross in Canada is found in a watercolour painting by John White that depicts English explorers skirmishing with Inuit, almost certainly on Baffin Island during Martin Frobisher’s expedition of 1577.

Royal Union Flag (1707 – 1801)

Royal Union Flag (1707-1801)

In the early 1760s, the official British flag was the two-crossed jack or the Royal Union flag (known more commonly as the Union Jack).

Royal Union Flag (1801 - 1965)

Royal Union Flag (1801-1965)

Following the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1801, the diagonal Cross of St. Patrick was incorporated with England's St. George's Cross and Scotland's Cross of St. Andrew. This gave the Royal Union flag its present-day configuration. This flag was used across British North America and in Canada even after Confederation from 1867 until 1965.

Red Ensign (1707)

Canadian Red Ensign Flag (1707)

The Red Ensign, a red flag with the Union Jack in the upper corner, was created in 1707 as the flag of the British Merchant Marine.

Red Ensign (1871-1921)

Red Ensign Flag (1871-1921)

The Red Ensign was commissioned to include a fly bearing the quartered arms of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick 1871. From approximately 1873 – 1921, as new provinces entered Confederation, or they received some mark of identification (sometimes taken from their seal), that mark was incorporated into the shield. By 1921, it was made up of the coats of arms of the nine provinces then in Confederation. It was unofficially used on land and sea as Canada’s flag.

However, it should be noted that the Red Ensign was never officially adopted as a national flag. Until the adoption of the present National flag, the Royal Union Jack was the only official National Flag of Canada.

Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957)

Canadian Red Ensign (1921-1957)

In 1921, this unofficial version of the Canadian Red Ensign was changed by an Order in Council and the composite shield was replaced with the shield from the Royal Arms of Canada, more commonly known as the Canadian Coat of Arms. At the same time, this new version was approved for use on Canadian government buildings abroad.  In 1945 an Order in Council authorized its use on federal buildings within Canada until a new national flag was adopted.

Canadian Red Ensign (1957-1965)

Canadian Red Ensign (1957-1965)

In 1957, the approved artistic interpretation of Canada’s arms changed the maple leaves on the Canadian Red Ensign from green to red.