Happy Discovery Day, Newfoundland

Yesterday was the Discovery Day holiday for 2016 in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, marking the (possible) discovery of Newfoundland by John Cabot on 24 June 1497. (It’s not clear where Cabot actually landed, whether on Newfoundland or the North American mainland, though in 1997 Canada and the UK decreed that it was Cape Bonavista in Newfoundland.)

In honor of the holiday, here is an anthem to the pink, white, and green tricolor of Newfoundland, written by Archbishop Michael Howley in 1902.  (This was part of efforts at that time to establish the tricolor, a flag originating in the Catholic community of St. John’s, as the flag of the island — an official status it has never had.)


The Flag of Newfoundland

The pink, the rose of England shows.
The green St. Patrick’s emblem, bright
While in between, the spotless sheen of
St. Andrew’s Cross displays the white.

Then hail; the pink, the white, the green.
Our patriot flag’ long may it stand.
Our sirelands twine, their emblems trine,
To form the flag of Newfoundland!

Fling out the flag, o’er creek and cragg.
Pink, white and green, so fair, so grand.
Long may it sway o’er bight and bay,
Around the shores of Newfoundland!

What’er betide, our “Ocean Bride”
That nestles ‘midst Atlantic’s foam
Still far and wide, we’ll raise with pride
Our native flag, o’er hearth and home.

Should e’er the hand of fate demand
Some future change in our career:
We ne’er will yield: on flood or field
The flag we honor and revere!

Fling out the flag, o’er creek and cragg.
Pink, white and green, so fair, so grand.
Long may it sway, o’er bight and bay.
Around the shores of Newfoundland!


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

The province of New Brunswick has a fine heraldic flag, depicting a ship (a three-flagged, single-masted, oared galley called a  lymphad, as traditional in Scottish heraldry) beneath a  fantastically elongated golden lion passant (a symbol of the Canadian monarchy, and of German Brunswick) .

What’s wrong with this picture? You might point out that lymphads have never been used in the Maritime Provinces, and that monstrous gold lions are seldom seen in apocalyptic red and yellow skies over Moncton. And you would be right. But that’s not what bothers me about this flag. I rather like the psychedelic heraldic imagery. Heraldic artists are entitled to artistic license.

What bothers me is that the direction in which the wind is depicted blowing on the flag is always the opposite of the way the actual wind is blowing when the flag is flying.  (And since heraldic flags are “printed through” so that the reverse is the mirror image of the obverse, it doesn’t matter if you happen to be looking at the back of the flag — the real and imaginary winds are always opposed.)

Why didn’t the heraldic designer of this flag (Alan B. Beddoe, O.B.E., (R.C.N.V.) Rtd.) fix this apparent problem by having the ship head the opposite way: away from instead of towards the hoist? (Hoist is the flag terminology for the edge of the flag attached to the flagpole.)

The New Brunswick flag with the lymphad turned around.

Well, in addition to now somewhat awkwardly presenting an apparent chance encounter of an aerial lion headed to the left with a ship headed to the right, this would violate the heraldic principle that the direction of honor is away from the sinister (to the observer’s right) and towards the dexter (to the observer’s left).  Turning the ship around would suggest it was, like Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, bravely running away, not forward.

Sir Robin and minstrels.

Heraldry aside, when a flag is flying from a flag pole it has an implied direction of motion that is into the wind — and opposite to the actual motion the flag would have it it were to become detached from the pole.  This idea that the forward edge of the flag is its windward one becomes more apparent if you imagine the flag flying from a moving pole, so that it is the motion of the pole (held by a marcher, perhaps) rather than the wind that is causing the air to move past it.  By this flag-logic (which gives the same result but for different reasons than heraldry-logic), to be understood as moving forward, the ship needs to be facing the hoist. (This flag-logic is also the reason that “backwards” US flags are worn on the right shoulders of some military uniforms and placed on the right side of vehicles.)

The US flag on the right side of Space Shuttle Endeavor.

This need to show vehicles (and people, and animals) facing into the wind only comes into conflict with the way the wind itself needs to be depicted on the flag when the vehicle is understood to be pushed by the (imaginary) wind.  Take away the sail, for example, and the problem goes away — the imaginary wind can be shown to be moving in an anti-heraldic direction, consistent with the real wind, and (hopefully?) not raising any heraldic hackles.

The New Brunswick flag with the lymphad turned around.

However, the question of which direction is perceived as forward on a flag is larger than the particular problems depicting sailing vessels presents.  But that is a subject for another time.

New Brunswick’s flag turns 50

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the flag of the Canadian province of New Brunswick.

The flag of the Canadian Maritime province of New Brunswick.  Adopted 24 February 1965.
The flag of the Canadian Maritime province of New Brunswick, an armorial banner of the provincial coat of arms. Graphic design by Alan J. Beddoe. Adopted 24 February 1965.

Is it a coincidence that both this flag and the Maple Leaf flag of Canada both celebrated 50 year anniversaries this February? As explained by Alistair B. Fraser in his book Flags of Canada, it most certainly is not!

In the early 1960s the armorial banner of the province had been used as a distinguishing flag on the Premier’s car on special occasions…. But no attempt was made to transform this flag into a provincial flag until it was driven by political expediency in the early days of 1965. The Parliament in Ottawa had just adopted the National Flag which became official on February 15. In various places in the country, including New Brunswick, imperialist sentiment sought to recapture the lost Red Ensign by turning it into a provincial flag. It was this sentiment, or at least fear of it, which prompted the government of Premier Lois-J. Robichaud to adopt instead the armorial banner. It happened as follows.

Just before the sitting of the Legislative Assembly in early 1965, both Premier Robichaud and his Executive Assistant were on holidays. This left the Robert Pichette, the Administrative Assistant, to hold down the fort in the Premier’s Office. In strictest confidence, Pichette received word from an acquaintance that the Opposition had agreed on a parliamentary strategy for the upcoming Session: they would not debate the traditional Speech from the Throne, but instead would introduce a motion calling for the Red Ensign bearing the arms of the Province to become the official flag of New Brunswick.

This would not only have caught the government off guard, it would have undercut government support. The government, led by an Acadian, would have had to oppose the motion, unavoidably alienating many of the Anglophones. The only recourse Robert Pichette had open was to undercut the Opposition by having the government proclaim a provincial flag, but he had to act quickly before the opening of the next Session. Heraldically knowledgeable, Pichette chose to transform New Brunswick’s armorial banner into its provincial flag. To do this, he sought help from an old friend from his days in the RCAF, Lt. Commander Alan J. Beddoe. He hardly could have chosen anyone better: Beddoe was Canada’s leading heraldic artist and, among other things, the man responsible for the 1957 revisions to the Arms of Canada.


Upon his return, Premier Robichaud was presented with both the political problem, and its heraldic solution, in the form of one of the prototypes athwart the wall of his personal office. Robichaud smiled and said, “We’ll do it, but there is something missing on your flag.” Sure enough, no one had previously noticed that lymphad’s oars were missing. A quick trip to a local seamstress solved that, and with the surreptitious printing of some informational brochures for M.L.A.s and the press, all was ready for the surprise announcement during the Speech from the Throne.

To undercut any possible opposition from imperialists wanting a red ensign the new provincial flag was offered with “thanks to Queen Victoria of Happy Memory,” as it was she who had authorized it in the form of the province’s armorial banner. No opposition was voiced; editorial comment was immediately favourable, and Robert Pichette never did find out whether or not the Opposition really had intended to call for the adoption of a red ensign as the provincial flag.  [From the chapter New Brunswick in Flags of Canada by Alistair B. Fraser.]

Has any other flag’s creation been the result of such political intrigue — and quick thinking by an administrative assistant?