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The Story of the Canadian Flag

Updated on July 2, 2015

Flag Evolution: St. George to Union Jack


Out of Rome...

The first flag to be flown in Canada was the Cross of St. George. It was delivered to the new land, the shores of what is now Newfoundland by John Cabot in 1497. The flag of the Cross of St. George is a red cross placed on a white background. George was a venerated crusader during the military crusades across Europe to Israel in a force attempt to gain access to holy relics and sites in 1095 to 1291- a 200 year campaign.

The Crusades were initiated by the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Urban II, based in Rome, Italy, encompassed many massacres where crusaders raided and pillaged across many countries in bloodshed. George protected esteemed crusade leaders on their quest to conquer Jerusalem and was later sainted as St.George the warrior saint. The red cross became associated with St. George, the would be slayer hero, near the end of the Crusades. The red cross, however, was also associated with the Knights Templar who were a wealthy Order endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church as well. They were the most skilled fighting units during the Crusades.

The flag of St. George is flown in countries where descendants of Rome royalty reside, descendants of the pre-reformation Roman Empire. British royalty are certainly descendants of Rome according to royal genealogies, therefore, the Union Jack flag bears the Roman Cross of St. George. Saint George rose to the position of "patron saint of England" in a process beginning in 1348. Churches belonging to the Church of England fly the Cross of St. George flag. Many other countries affected by the massacres and conquering of the crusades fly these red crosses as their national flags and some organizations have adopted the ensign.

The British Union Jack Flag, the red and blue red cross on a white background is based upon the flag of St. George.The British Union Jack Flag was the national flag of Canada up until 1964 when Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson called a committee to resolve the debate on a new flag to symbolize the solidarity of Canada. We can imagine there was never a call for a new flag prior to this leadership because the original British Party of Canada (the Conservative Party of Canada), held particular loyalties to royalty and Britain. It would seem the Liberal leadership, that believes in separation from hierarchies, would initiate a new flag for Canada.

The Flag of the Royal Military College of Canada


A Blending of Traditions....

The design of the new Canadian flag was heavily influenced by the Union Jack and the Royal Military College Flag. One of the most widely used flags along with the Union Jack was the Royal Military College of Canada Flag (see right). The official college flag is a design which also still flies today with bold bars of red on the outside and the college crest in the center. Its origins are uncertain, but it has been used since the end of the First World War, and was flown for important ceremonies like graduation and reunions. It has also flown from the clock tower at the college and on the flag pole on Point Frederick since 1960. Notice on the flag, a Knight's Templar arm presents a maple leaf to the Crown signifying the royalty of England.

The Canadian Flag bears a white background with two red bars and a red maple leaf affixed in the center. By proclaiming the Royal Arms of Canada, King George V in 1921 established red and white the official colours of Canada; the former came from St. George's cross and the latter from the French royal emblem.These colours became entrenched as the national colors of Canada in 1962- therefore, influencing the design and colors of the new Canadian flag.

Out of three choices, the maple leaf design based on the flag of the Royal Military College of Canada was selected designed by George Stanley. The flag made its first official appearance on February 15, 1965; the date is now celebrated annually as National Flag Day of Canada.


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    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 18 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      The background I'd heard to the St George story was that he was a Turk martyred as a Christian. It's all the same to me, I'd always thought we should have a native-born saint like Alban, or Oswald (7th Century king of Northumbria tortured to death by Penda at Maserfield, Shropshire).

      The Canadian flag's got an interesting pedigree, I have to allow.

      Ours - aside from Georgie - is full of 'foreigners', Andrew was a Greek and Patrick was a Welshman. David, the only native-born Briton adopted as a saint by his own countrymen hasn't got a cross in the Union flag.

      Funny old world we live in, eh?

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 22 months ago from Australia

      A fascinating history - the story of flags tell much about a country, and especially about her politics. Thanks for sharing.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 24 months ago from the short journey

      Early congratulations on National Flag Day of Canada and thanks for the details. We've been as far as Sept-Îles and met many lovely people during the trip.