This is the chapter entitled, Newfoundland, from the book,
The Flags of Canada, by Alistair B. Fraser.
This work is copyrighted. All rights reserved.


Chap XIX:


I think there is enough symbolism in the flag to last for the next 600 years.1
John Carter (1980)
(Upon the unveiling of the new flag of Newfoundland.)


The first flag to specifically represent Newfoundland seems to have borne a green fir tree upon a pink field. In use early in the nineteenth century, it is likely that this flag was based on a similar flag, but with a white field, that had been flown by the colonists in New England.

Although the pink flag with its tree apparently initially represented all islanders, when a modified version of it was adopted by the Native's Society in the late 1830s, it began to be perceived as the symbol of the English Protestant portion of the community. Irish Catholic immigrants responded by flying a green flag bearing the celtic harp. In the 1840s, the division between these two groups was exacerbated each spring as up to 10,000 sealers would converge on St. John's before boarding ships for the sealing grounds. During these times, competition was frequently accompanied by religious animosity and a prominent display of opposing flags.


The Pink, White and Green

In an attempt to defuse the conflicts, a delegation representing the government and leaders of both communities sought the council of Bishop Fleming, who was respected by all. Tradition has it that after pondering the problem, the bishop asked that the pink flag and the green flag of the two factions be brought to him. Then joining them with a white handkerchief, which he said represented the white of peace from the flag of St. Andrew, he handed it to the assembled group and said, "Go in Peace."2

Thus was born the pink, white and green tricolour of Newfoundland, a flag which quickly gained prominent social and commercial and governmental use throughout the island. It was used prominently during the visit of the Prince of Wales to St. John's in 1860, and in the late 1860s and again in 1904 it was a central symbol for those opposed to confederation with Canada. It is said that the Newfoundland native, Captain Bob Bartlett, who accompanied Admiral Peary on his ultimate polar expedition in 1909, planted the pink, white and green within a few miles of the North Pole.3

However, with the advent of the twentieth century the dominance of the Newfoundland tricolour gave way not only to the Union Flag itself, but to ensigns bearing the badge of Newfoundland on the fly. Although the tricolour is still seen on the island, the handwriting was on the wall when in 1907 an official mail steamer entered the port of St. John's wearing the pink, white, and green, and was forced by authorities to replace it with the red ensign.4


Newfoundland's Ensigns

The ensigns used by vessels registered in Newfoundland were distinguished by a special badge approved on May 18, 1904. While the dominion had used a different badge prior to that date, it is likely that its use was confined to the Governor's flag and so will be discussed later.

The 1904 badge of Newfoundland consists of an allegorical scene in which the god, Mercury, holding a caduceus symbolic of commerce, assists a fisherman in offering his catch to Britannia with the motto "Haec Tibi Dona Fero," or, "I bring these gifts to you." With minor variations in clothing, or lack thereof, this illustration had appeared upon the great seals of Newfoundland since 1827.5 The adaptation to a flag badge was made in 1903 by the niece of Governor Sir Cavendish Boyle, Adelaide Lane. She not only added a scroll bearing the words TERRA NOVA, but appropriate clothing improve the decorum of Britannia and the fisherman.

Bearing this badge, the Newfoundland Red Ensign was worn by commercial shipping, and the Newfoundland Blue Ensign by governmental shipping until Confederation with Canada in 1949. Thereafter, although these flags were reaffirmed by law in 1951, their use became extremely limited.


A Provincial Flag

Like Canada, Newfoundland began an increasing use of the Union Flag on land early in the twentieth century. However, unlike Canada, Newfoundland, in 1931, adopted legislation making the Union Flag its official national flag. In 1952, a few years after entering Confederation, the new province reaffirmed the official use of the Union Flag, even retaining the original description of it as the national flag. It is in this sense that the Union Flag was the provincial flag of Newfoundland from March 31, 1949 until a new flag was adopted in 1980.

If having the Union Flag as a provincial flag was fine within the province, it did not serve the province well elsewhere. In the rest of Canada it was variously viewed as the flag of the United Kingdom, a flag of a lieutenant-governor, or an official flag of Canada, itself, as indeed it was after 1964. Repeatedly, delegations from Newfoundland would discover to their embarrassment that the mainlanders would just refuse to reserve the use of the Union Flag to represent their island province. Either Newfoundland would be left unrepresented, or one of the flags devised for the Garden of the Provinces in Ottawa would be used.6

In January 1974, as the twenty-fifth anniversary of Confederation approached, the government attempted to make redress. Submitted to the Newfoundland House of Assembly was a proposal for a provincial flag in the form of a white ensign with the Union Flag in the canton, and the shield from the arms of Newfoundland on the fly. Although the government hoped to have it flown officially by the anniversary date of March 31, the flag met with so much opposition that the plan was dropped.7

Yet the present state of affairs was untenable, so there ensued a gentle running debate conducted through letters to newspapers, radio talk shows and lobbying societies. Newspaper columnist, Nish Colin, summarized the dilemma poetically with:

No flag to call our own flies in the breeze
Pink, White and Green conjures up bigotries.
The Union Jack, with patriotic touch
Is Britain's which we cannot claim as such.

There were adherents of each, and of variants upon each. Newly elected in March 1979, Premier Brian Peckford determined to settle the issue. In November 1979, he appointed a commission consisting of four government and three opposition members. For two months the committee travelled to all parts of the province, and heard testimony from individuals and groups. The chairman, John Carter, sought to come as close as possible to the sentiments of the public, and create "something that is attractive and mirrors the province's traditions" in order to make "the nicest provincial flag in all of Canada."9

Using the elements the committee had found to be uppermost in the minds of the public, Newfoundland artist, Christopher Pratt, drafted many proposals, six of which he submitted to the committee. Pratt's favourite was the one the committee, and ultimately the House of Assembly chose.10 It was given royal assent on June 6, 1980 and raised for the first time on June 24, Discovery Day, the anniversary of the arrival in Newfoundland of John Cabot in 1497.

The flag is indeed one of the most unusual in Canada, incorporating neither arms nor other flags. Yet it is reminiscent of many symbols historically linked to Newfoundland, including the Union Flag, Beothuk and Naskapi ornamentation, a maple leaf, and a trident.11 As Mr. Carter commented at the unveiling, "I think there is enough symbolism in the flag to last for the next 600 years."12


The Vice Regal Flag

Until it entered Confederation in 1949, Newfoundland had a Governor. A 1862 chart of St. John's house flags shows the earliest-known flag used by a Governor of Newfoundland. At Government House, there flew a Cross of Saint George with an antique gold crown in the centre.13 In 1869, the Admiralty edict stated that while at sea, Governors should fly a Union Flag defaced with arms or a badge. It is not known with what alacrity Newfoundland responded, but if other maritime colonies are a guide, it probably had adopted a special badge within a few years. Showing a clear lineage from the earlier flag, the badge approved by the Admiralty for the Governor's flag bore a nonstandard crown above the words TERRA NOVA all on a white roundel.14 This badge, surrounded by a laurel wreath and placed in the centre of the Union Flag would have formed the flag of the Governor of Newfoundland from about 1870 until the near the end of the century.

In a striking departure from traditional usage around the beginning of the twentieth century, Governors H.H. Murray (1895-1898) and C. Boyle (1901-1904), chose to fly the Pink, White and Green Newfoundland tricolour at Government House in St. John's.15 Yet, it was during the tenure of Governor Sir Cavendish Boyle that Newfoundland's allegorical badge was introduced. One expects that shortly after May 18, 1904, when the new badge was approved, it would have been surrounded by a laurel wreath and placed in the centre of a Union Flag to a new flag for the Governor. Certainly, this flag continued in use past Confederation, when it became the Lieutenant-Governor's flag. Even after 1949, the wreath remained of laurel rather than of maple leaves,16 and so it stayed up until the mid-seventies. There then followed a spell when a maple-leaf wreath was used.17

In January 1987 the Governor General approved the new-pattern flag of the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland. Upon it appear the ancient arms of the province.

The arms had been granted on January 1, 1638 by King Charles I (under the dating system at the time, a new year did not start until April 1, so the year would have been recorded as 1637). The arms had been long forgotten, when, following the First World War, the Imperial War Graves Commission wished to be able to place the arms of Newfoundland on memorials in some French cathedrals. Inquiries at the College of Arms revealed the old arms with the result that their use was revived officially beginning January 1, 1928.

These are the arms which appeared upon the informal flag for Newfoundland used at the Garden of the Provinces in Ottawa in the 1960s, and which were placed on the government's proposed provincial flag in 1974. Curiously, they once had also been used upon a red ensign. The occasion was the 1939 royal visit of their majesties, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.



Memorial University of Newfoundland places the shield of its arms, granted in 1951, in the centre of its flag. The effectiveness of the flag is greatly enhanced by the use of the white cross on red from the provincial arms as a field for the university's arms.


Municipal and Regional Flags

The capital city of St. John's adopted a flag in 1965 upon being granted arms. The arms, which use the Paschal Lamb to recall the city's name, are placed in the centre of a white field.

Widely flown throughout The Labrador is a flag devised in 1974 as a project for the silver anniversary of Confederation. It is a unequal horizontal tricolour of white, for ice and snow, over green, for the land, over blue, for the sea. In the upper hoist appears a spruce twig to symbolize the resource common to most of The Labrador. Mike Martin, who with his wife Patricia helped design and make the first flag, sought to "make the point that Labrador was different."18

The flag of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, adopted for the town's twenty-fifth anniversary in 1986, is clearly based upon the flag of Labrador, but it replaces the spruce twig with the logotype of the town.


This is the chapter entitled, Newfoundland, from the book,
The Flags of Canada, by Alistair B. Fraser.
This work is copyrighted. All rights reserved.



1. "Here's the New Flag," The Daily News (St. John's, April 30, 1980).

2. A brief regarding the proposal of the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador for a Distinctive Provincial Flag (St. John's: Newfoundland Historical Society, St. John's Folk Arts Council, Newfoundland Historic Trust., 1977), p. 17.

3. "Crew of the Invermore say Capt. Bob Bartlett was within six miles of North pole and planted the pink, white and green there." The Daily News, (St. John's, September 16, 1909).

4. Paul O'Neill, "The Story of Newfoundland's Native Flag" Flag Bulletin, XV, 6 (1972), p. 190, 197.

5. Swan, Conrad, Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977), p. 87-92.

6. O'Neill, Flag Bulletin, XV, 6 (1972), p. 184-85.

7. O'Neill, Flag Bulletin, XV, 6 (1972), p. 195.

8. Colin, Nish, "Rhymes of the Times,"The Daily News (St. John's, May 2, 1980).

9. "Newfoundland May Fly Nicest Flag in Canada," The Evening Telegram (St. John's, January 28, 1980).

10. Smith, Whitney, "New flag for Newfoundland and Labrador" The Flag Bulletin, XX, 2 (1981), p. 35-43.

11. The official explanation is: In this flag, the primary colours of Red, Gold and Blue are placed against a background of White to allow the design to stand our clearly. White is representative of snow and ice: Blue represents the Sea; Red represents human effort and Gold our confidence in ourselves. The Blue section, most reminiscent of the Union jack, represents our Commonwealth heritage which has so decisively shaped our present. The Red and Bold section, larger than the outer, represents our future. The two triangles outlined in red portray the mainland and island parts of our province reaching forward together. A golden arrow points the way to what we believe will be a bright future. Surrounded by red to indicate human effort, the arrow suggests that our future is for the making and not the taking. But the design of the flag encompasses much more symbolism than this. For example, the Christian Cross, the Boethuck and Naskapi ornamentation, the outline of the maple leaf in the centre of the flag, a triumphant figure and our place in the space age. The image of trident stands out. This is to emphasize our continued dependence on the fishery and the resources of the sea. Hung as a banner, the arrow assumes the aspect of a sword which is to remind us of the sacrifice of our War Veterans. Since the whole flag resembles a Beothuk pendant as well as all of the above, the design takes us from our earliest beginnings and points us confidently forward, It, therefore, mirrors our past, present and future.

12. "Here's the New Flag," The Daily News (St. John's, April 30, 1980).

13. John B. Ayre, The Corrected Code of Merchants Signals of St. John's (1862), App. 1. The only known surviving copy of this chart was discussed in Mark Le Messurier, The Signal and Commercial Flags of St. John's, Newfoundland, a paper presented at the 1990 meeting of the Canadian Flag Association at North York, Ontario.

14. Flags of All Nations (London: Admiralty, 1889), plate 16.

15. A brief regarding the proposal of the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador for a Distinctive Provincial Flag (St. John's: Newfoundland Historical Society, St. John's Folk Arts Council, Newfoundland Historic Trust., 1977), p. 17.

16. Swan, Conrad, Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1977), p. 95-

17. A flag of the Lieutenant-Governor bearing a maple-leaf wreath is preserved at Government House at St. John's.

18. Gwyn, Sandra, "Labrador on the brink of the future," Saturday Night (Toronto, December 1978), p. 22.


This is the chapter entitled, Newfoundland, from the book,
The Flags of Canada, by Alistair B. Fraser.
This work is copyrighted. All rights reserved.