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The National Flag of Canada
The maple leaf was historically used from the early days of Canada to symbolize the land and its people. It was first proposed as an emblem of Canada in 1834 when the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste was founded; shortly thereafter, in 1836, Le Canadien, a newspaper published in Lower Canada, referred to it as a suitable emblem for Canada.

It was also used in the decorations for the visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada in 1860. It appears on the coats of arms granted to Quebec and Ontario in 1868 and as a distinctive emblem on the royal arms of Canada proclaimed in 1921. The maple leaf was for many years the symbol of the Canadian Armed Forces and was used to identify Canadian contingents in the two world wars. But it wasn't to receive official status until the National Flag of Canada was proclaimed by Her Majesty the Queen in 1965.


 

 

 

Canadian Flag Etiquette

Introduction

Flags are symbols that identify people belonging to a group. The National Flag of Canada and the flags of the provinces and territories are symbols of honour and pride for all Canadians. They should be treated with respect. The manner in which flags may be displayed in Canada is not governed by any legislation but by established practice. The etiquette outlined here is an adaptation of international usage and of customs the federal government has been observing for many years. The rules applied by the federal government are in no way mandatory for individuals or organizations; they may serve as guidelines for all persons who wish to display the Canadian Flag and other flags in Canada.

History

Early in 1964, the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, informed the House of Commons of the government's desire to adopt a distinctive national flag for Canada. He personally proposed a flag with three red maple leaves between two blue borders. After reviewing the hundreds of designs submitted by experts and other Canadians, the Senate and House of Commons Committee, which had been established by the government to consider the flag proposal, set about classifying the designs.

 

The Committee, after having eliminated various designs, was left with only three: a Red Ensign with the fleur-de-lis and the Royal Union Flag (Union Jack), the three-leaf design, and a single red maple leaf on a white square on a red flag. The single-leaf design was adopted unanimously by the Committee on October 29, 1964. It was proclaimed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on January 28, 1965, and was inaugurated on February 15, 1965, at an official ceremony held on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in the presence of the Governor General, His Excellency General the Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier, the Prime Minister, the members of the Cabinet, and Canadian parliamentarians.

 

These words, spoken on that momentous day by the Honourable Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate, added deeper meaning to the occasion: "The flag is the symbol of the nation's unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion."


Glossary

When describing the details of a flag, it is assumed that the flag is flying from a staff with the flag flying towards the right as seen by the observer.

Canton

The place of honour in a flag is the upper half of the hoist. It is also called the First Quarter and sometimes the Upper Hoist.

 

Flagpole or staff

A cylindrical piece of wood or metal to which a flag is attached or from which it is hoisted.

 

Fly

The half of a flag farthest from the halyard; also a synonym for length.

 

Finial

The decorative ornament on the top of a pike, staff or pole. May be in the form of a spear point, ball, maple leaf, crown, etc.

 

Fourth Quarter

The lower half of the fly.

 

Halyard
The rope which raises or lowers a flag.
 
Hoist

The half of a flag nearest to the halyard; also a synonym for width.

 

Pulley

Grooved wheel for the halyard to pass over, which permits the raising and lowering of a flag.

 

Running eye and toggle

A method of hoisting a flag by means of a rope sewn into its heading, which has a wooden toggle at the top and a loop at the bottom that fasten to their opposites at the end of the halyard.

 

Second Quarter

The upper half of the fly

 

Sleeve

A tube of material along the hoist of a flag through which the staff or halyard is inserted.

 

Third Quarter

The lower half of the hoist; it is also called the Lower Hoist.

Description and Dimensions of the National Flag

Technical description

The National Flag of Canada is a red flag of the proportions two by length and one by width (or 64 units in length and 32 units in width or depth as shown in the accompanying diagram), containing in its centre a white square the width of the flag, with a single red maple leaf centered therein.

Colours

The colours red and white are the same as those that were used in the Canada Red ensign and are found in the Union Jack. Red and white are Canada's official colours and, with the maple leaf, are the symbolic elements found in the Canadian flag.

The printing ink colour is FIP red: General Printing Ink, No. 0-712; Inmont Canada Ltd., No. 4T51577; Monarch Inks, No. 62539/0; or Sinclair and Valentine, No. RL163929/0.

The painting colours are FIP red No. 509-211 and white: 513-201

Heraldic description

The heraldic description is: gules (red) on a Canadian pale argent (white) a maple leaf of the first.


Flagpoles

In the general sense, flagpoles may be divided into three categories: exterior permanent poles (located on buildings or on the adjacent grounds); exterior portable poles; and interior poles.

The exterior poles should be fitted with a hoisting device such as a halyard and pulley arrangement to allow for the flags to be easily changed and half-masted as required.

Flag size and pole length for building poles should correspond to the following dimensions:

Flag Pole
3 X 6 feet 17 to 20 feet
0.90 X 1.80 metres 5.10 to 6 metres
4 1/2 X 9 feet 30 to 35 feet
1.40 X 2.80 metres 9 to 10.50 metres
6 X 12 feet 40 to 45 feet
1.80 X 3.60 metres 12 to 13.50 metres
7 1/2 X 15 feet 50 feet
2.30 X 4.60 metres 15 metres



On occasion, the simple flagpole is fitted with a yardman or gaff to increase the number of flags that may be flown from it. This practice is in imitation of a ship's mast and is normally found at naval establishments ashore. Care should be taken to ensure proper flag etiquette is followed when this type of pole is employed.

Dignity of the Flag

The National Flag of Canada should be displayed only in a manner befitting this important national symbol; it should not be subjected to indignity or displayed in a position inferior to any other flag or ensign. The National Flag always takes precedence over all other national flags when flown in Canada. The only flags to which precedence is given over the Canadian flag are the personal standards of members of the Royal Family and of Her Majesty's eleven representatives in Canada.

 

The National Flag of Canada should always be flown on its own mast - flag protocol dictating that it is improper to fly two or more flags on the same mast (eg. one beneath the other). Further, the following points should be kept in mind:

  • The National Flag of Canada should not be used as table/seat cover, as a masking for boxes or as a barrier on a dais or platform.

  • While it is not technically incorrect to use the National Flag of Canada to cover a statue, monument or plaque for an unveiling ceremony, it is not common practice to do so and should be discouraged.

  • Nothing should be pinned to or sewn on the National Flag of Canada.

  • The National Flag of Canada should not be signed or marked in any way (A border could be attached to the outside edge of the flag on which it would be acceptable to have signatures leaving the flag itself untouched).

When the National Flag of Canada is raised or lowered, or when it is carried past in a parade or review, all present should face the flag, men should remove their hats, and all should remain silent. Those in uniform should salute.

Displaying the Flag

The National Flag is flown at all federal government buildings, airports, and military bases and establishments within and outside Canada. The flag may be flown by night as well as by day.

The National Flag of Canada may be displayed as follows:

Flat against a surface, horizontally and vertically

If hung horizontally, the upper part of the leaf should be up and the stem down. If hung vertically, the flag should be placed so that the upper part of the leaf points to the left and the stem to the right from the point of view of the observer facing the flag. Flags hung vertically should be hung so that the canton is in the upper left corner.

On a flagpole or mast

The top left (first) quarter or canton should be placed in the position nearest the top of the flagpole or mast.

On a flag rope (halyard)

The canton should be placed uppermost, raised as closely as possible to the top with the flag rope tight.

Suspended vertically in the middle of a street

The upper part of the leaf should face the north in an east-west street, and face east in a north-south street, thus being on the left of the observer facing east or south respectively.

Projected from a building

Displayed horizontally or at an angle from a window or balcony, the canton must point outward.

Affixed on a motor vehicle

The flag must be on a pole firmly fixed to the chassis on the front right.

Sharing the same base - Three flags

When only three flags are displayed, the National Flag should be at the centre. To an observer facing the display, the second-ranking flag is placed to the left of centre, and the other to the right.

A common combination of flags is that of the National Flag of Canada with a provincial or territorial flag, and a municipal flag or an organization's banner. In such a case, the National Flag should be in the center with the provincial/territorial flag to the left and the municipal flag/organization's banner to the right (to an observer facing the display).

When used to cover a casket at funerals

The canton should be draped over the upper left corner of the casket. The flag should be removed before the casket is lowered into the grave or, at a crematorium, after the service. The flag size for a standard adult-sized casket should be 4 1/2 X 9 feet/ 1.40 X 2.80m.

Position of honour

Due consideration should be given to flag etiquette and precedence whenever the National Flag of Canada or other sovereign national flags or provincial/territorial flags are displayed.

The location of the position of honour depends on the number of flags flown and the chosen configuration. When two flags (or more than three flags) are displayed, the position of honour is furthest to the left (to an observer facing the display). When three flags are flown, the position of honour is in the center.

Precedence

The order of precedence for flags is:

  1. The National Flag of Canada*

  2. The flags of other sovereign nations in alphabetical order (if applicable)**

  3. The flags of the provinces of Canada

  4. The flags of the territories of Canada

  5. The flags of municipalities/cities

  6. Banners of organizations

* Her Majesty's Personal Canadian Flag, the standards of members of the Royal Family as well as the standard of the Governor General and the standard of the Lieutenant Governor (in his/her province of jurisdiction and when assuming the duties of the representative of The Queen) take precedence over the National Flag of Canada on the buildings where these dignitaries are in residence or where they are attending a function.

** There are exceptions when flying the Union Jack.

Alone

When the National Flag of Canada is flown alone on top of or in front of a building where there are two flagpoles, it should be flown on the flagpole to the left to an observer facing the flag.

When the National Flag of Canada is flown alone on top of or in front of a building where there are more than two flagpoles, it should be flown as near as possible to the centre.

When the National Flag of Canada is displayed in a place of worship or on a speaker's platform, it should be against the wall, or on a flagpole on the left from the point of view of the congregation audience facing the celebrant or speaker.

When used in the body of a place of worship or auditorium, the National Flag of Canada should be to the right of the congregation or spectators facing the flag.
 

With flags of other sovereign nations

The National Flag of Canada, when flown or paraded, takes precedence over all other national flags. When flown with the flags of other sovereign nations, all flags should be flown on separate flagpoles/masts and at the same height, all being of the same size, with the National Flag of Canada occupying the position of honour.

The National Flag should be raised first and lowered last, unless the number of flags permits their being raised and lowered simultaneously.

With the flag of one other nation, the National Flag of Canada should be on the left of the observer facing the flags; both should be at the same height.

When crossed with a flag of another sovereign nation, the National Flag of Canada should be on the left of the observer facing the flags; the flagpole bearing the National Flag of Canada should be in front of the pole of the other flag.

In a line of three flags, the National Flag of Canada should be in the centre. The other two flags should, in alphabetical order, be placed to the left and right of the National Flag respectively, from the point of view of the observer facing the three flagpoles/masts.

When there are more than three flagpoles/masts, the National Flag of Canada should be flown on the left of the observer facing the flags, followed by the flags representing the other sovereign nations ordered alphabetically. An additional National Flag of Canada may also be flown on the right at the end of the line.

In a semi-circle of flags representing a number of sovereign nations, the National Flag of Canada should be in the centre.

In an enclosed circle of flags representing a number of sovereign nations, the National Flag of Canada should be flown on the flagpole/mast immediately opposite the main entrance to a building or arena.

With a combination of flags of sovereign nations, provinces/territories, international organizations, cities, companies, etc.

In keeping with previously outlined practice, the National Flag of Canada, when flown with different types of flags, should be flown on the left of an observer facing the flags. The position of the other flags is determined by order of precedence.

With flags of the Canadian provinces and territories

When provincial and territorial flags are flown with the National Flag of Canada, the order is based on the date of entry into Confederation of the provinces followed by the territories. In a grouping of flags that includes the National Flag of Canada and all of the flags of the provinces and territories, the order of precedence is:

1. National Flag of Canada
2. Ontario (1867)
3. Quebec (1867)
4. Nova Scotia (1867)
5. New Brunswick (1867)
6. Manitoba (1870)
7. British Columbia (1871)
8. Prince Edward Island (1873)
9. Saskatchewan (1905)
10. Alberta (1905)
11. Newfoundland (1949)
12. Northwest Territories (1870)
13. Yukon (1898)
14. Nunavut (1999)

When there are more than three flagpoles/masts, the National Flag of Canada should be flown on the left of the observer facing the flags, followed by the flags of the provinces and territories. An additional National Flag of Canada may be displayed at the end of the line if desired.

Carried in a procession

If carried with other flags, in a single file, the National Flag of Canada should always lead.

If carried in line abreast, it is preferable to have the National Flag of Canada at each end of the line.

If only one National Flag of Canada is available, it should be placed in the centre of the line of flags carried abreast (Figure 21).

When the number of flags is even and the National Flag of Canada cannot be carried in the centre (of a line of flags abreast), it should be carried on the right-hand end of the line facing the direction of movement.

Note: It is suggested that the pole or pike used to carry flags be 7 or 8 feet/ 2.10 to 2.40m in length.

Flown on ships and boats

The National Flag of Canada is the proper national colours for all Canadian ships and boats, including pleasure craft. The Canadian Shipping Act states that a Canadian ship shall hoist the flag on a signal being made to her by one of Her Majesty's Canadian ships, or any ship in the service of and belonging to the Government of Canada; on entering or leaving any foreign port; and if of 50 tonnes gross tonnage or upwards, on entering or leaving any Commonwealth port.

Foreign vessels may fly the Canadian flag as a "courtesy flag" when they are berthed in a Canadian port. The flag then is customarily flown from the foremast.

General rules governing merchant vessels and pleasure craft are as follow:

  • the flag should be worn in harbour and in territorial waters but need not be worn while under way on the high seas unless the vessel wishes to identify her nationality to another ship;

     

  • whenever possible, the proper place for a vessel to display the national colours is at the stern, except that when at sea, the flag may be flown from a gaff;

     

  • when in harbour the flag should be hoisted at 0800 hours and lowered at sunset;

     

  • when a merchant ship and a warship of any nationality pass or overtake one another, the merchant ship should dip the flag as a gesture of courtesy. If on a staff, the lowest corner of the flag should be brought to the level of the rail and kept there until the salutation is acknowledged by the naval vessel. If flown from a gaff, the flag should be lowered to six feet (1.80m) above the level of the deck, until the salute is acknowledged;

     

  • in times of mourning, the flag may be flown at half-mast, which places the upper corner of the flag next to the staff at approximately three-quarters of full-hoist. As on land, a flag hoisted to or lowered from half-mast position must first be hauled close-up.


Half-masting for Mourning

Flags are flown at the half-mast position as a sign of mourning.

The flag is brought to the half-mast position by first raising it to the top of the mast then immediately lowering it slowly to the half-mast position.

The position of the flag when flying at half-mast will depend on the size of the flag and the length of the flagstaff. It must be lowered at least to a position recognizably "half-mast" to avoid the appearance of a flag which has accidentally fallen away from the top of the mast owing to a loose flag rope. A satisfactory position for half-masting is to place the centre of the flag exactly half-way down the staff.

On occasions requiring that one flag be flown at half-mast, all flags flown together should also be flown at half-mast. Flags will only be half-masted on those flagpoles fitted with halyards and pulleys. Some buildings fly flags from horizontal or angled poles, without halyards, to which flags are permanently attached. Flags on these will not be half-masted.

Flags on federal government buildings, airports, military bases and other establishments are flown at half-mast when directed by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The following are examples of the practice:

  • across Canada and abroad, on the death of the Sovereign or a member of the Royal Family related in the first degree to the Sovereign (spouse, son or daughter, father, mother, brother or sister), the Governor General, the Prime Minister, a former governor general, a former prime minister, or a federal cabinet minister;

     

  • within a province, on the death of the Lieutenant Governor, the Premier or another person similarly honoured by that province;

     

  • within his/her own riding, on the death of the Member of the House of Commons, or the Member of the Provincial/Territorial Legislature;

     

  • at his/her place of residence, on the death of a Senator, a Canadian Privy Councillor, or a Mayor.

Apart from occasions when flags on all government buildings and establishments across Canada are flown at half-mast, the flag on the Peace Tower of the Parliament Building at Ottawa is flown at half-mast:

  • on the death of a Lieutenant Governor;

     

  • on the death of a Canadian Privy Councillor, a Senator, or a Member of the House of Commons;

     

  • on the death of a person whom it is desired to honour.

"Death" may be taken to include the day of death and up to and including the day of the funeral.

The flag on the Peace Tower and flags at the Lester B. Pearson Building (headquarters of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) are flown at half-mast from sunrise to sunset the day of the funeral of a foreign Head of State, a Head of Government of a Commonwealth country, or a Head of Mission accredited to Canada who dies while in office at Ottawa.

Flags at federal government buildings and other locations are also half-masted subject to special instructions on the death of members of the Royal Family other than those related in the first degree to the Sovereign, a Head of a Foreign State, or some other person whom it is desired to honour.

During periods of half-masting, the flag is raised to full- mast on all federal government buildings, airports, and military bases and establishments on statutory holidays, and also on the Peace Tower while a Head of State is visiting Parliament Hill. These procedures do not apply while flags are half-masted for the death of the Sovereign when they are only raised to full-mast for the day on which the accession of the new Monarch is proclaimed.

On Remembrance Day, November 11, the flag is flown at half-mast from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon on the Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings.

Disposal of Flags

When a flag becomes tattered and is no longer in a suitable condition for use, it should be destroyed in a dignified way by burning it privately.

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