Flag Etiquette in Canada

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 in this brochure 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-lys 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. (Figure 1)


Figure 1

The canton in the National Flag of Canada is not apparent, but shows very clearly in the Canadian Forces Ensign (Figure 2).


Figure 2 - the Canadian Forces Ensign

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 (Figure 3).


Figure 3

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.

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 size and pole length for building poles
FlagPole
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 yardarm 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.