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


Chap XIV:


(Loyal she began and loyal she remains)
Motto of Ontario

The maple leaf had been established as the symbol of the land well before Canada West was transformed into Ontario on July 1, 1867. Consequently, for the arms assigned to Ontario on May 26, 1868, Canadian authorities had requested a cluster of three maple leaves rather than the single wheat sheaf which had been proposed by the, then, Garter King of Arms. Completing the Ontario arms, the cross of St. George recalls the English stock of the United Empire Loyalists whose indelible mark is upon the province yet.

The arms of Ontario were widely used on flags, for, as they composed part of the official composite badge of the country before Canadian arms were granted in 1921, they appeared on the Governor General's flag, the Canadian Blue and Red Ensigns, as well as the flag of Ontario's Lieutenant Governor. However, we know of no evidence that any Ontario authorities ever made use of their armorial banner. The next significant step on the road to a provincial flag only seems to have occurred in the late 1950s.

In late 1958, in one of those periodic reexaminations of attitudes toward a national flag, a survey revealed that over 80 percent of Canadians who expressed an opinion wanted the national flag to be entirely different from that of any other nation.1 This meant that the majority did not favour a red ensign, for, with the exception of its badge, the Canadian Red Ensign was the same as a flags of Britain and many of its present and former colonies.

Those in favour of adopting the Canadian Red Ensign as the national flag, rushed to its defence. Leading the charge for Ontario was Premier Leslie M. Frost and following right behind was Lieutenant Governor J. Keiller Mackay. On April 9, 1959, Mr. Mackay moved his flag badge, the Ontario shield surrounded by maple leaves, from the centre of the Union Flag to the lower hoist of the Canadian Red Ensign. He flew this flag both at Queen's Park and, in a miniature version, on his car. To emphasize that this was a vice-regal vote for the Red Ensign as Canada's national flag, he raised his flag on the forty-second anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. Said Mackay, with both enthusiasm and unintended hyperbole:

This is the flag Canadians followed in two world wars and which followed the mortal remains of 60,000 Canadians killed in the First World War. The Red Ensign is not only a distinctive Canadian flag but it holds with pride in the top corner the crosses of St. George, St. Andrews and St. Patrick which for 1,000 years have carried the glory and the romance in the battle and the breeze.2

Although his history was mangled, and his vote was cast for a national flag not a provincial one, in many ways Mackay was expressing the soul of the province. Certainly, Mackay's stand helped set the stage for the almost inevitable provincial responses five years later.

On May 14, 1964 Prime Minister Pearson informed the press of his personal choice for a national flag: three red maple leaves on white field with blue bars at either end. This was the flag soon dubbed the Pearson Pennant and it soon had the country polarized. Among those objecting to the three-leaf design, despite the fact that in different colours it formed the proud emblem of his own province, was Ontario Premier John P. Robarts. He stressed that Canada had had a Red Ensign for a long time and that it evoked a deep feeling of loyalty, he then added that there is a "distinct possibility that we'll develop" an Ontario flag.3

In the wee hours of the morning of December 15, 1964, the Parliament approved the National Flag of Canada. At a press conference a week later, Premier Robarts announced that Ontario might adopt the Red Ensign as a provincial flag so that it could continue to fly officially in the province.4 The idea received mixed support from other leaders,5 but the prevailing mood was best expressed by the Ottawa Citizen:

The major objections to the Red Ensign as the national flag had been that it was unacceptable to a large portion of the country, and that it was not sufficiently distinctive to make it readily identifiable abroad as Canada's flag, and Canada's alone. The arguments do not apply to a provincial flag, and certainly not to Ontario.6

On April 14, 1965 a red ensign with the shield of the arms Ontario on the fly was adopted as the provincial flag by an act of the legislature. As the flag bore the Royal Union Flag in the canton, permission from the sovereign was necessary. This was received the following May 21.


The Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario

Before the authorization of a special flag badge for the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario on July 17, 1870, he flew the plain Union Flag at his residence.7 As the special flag for the Lieutenant-Governor was originally intended for use aboard a ship, it is not clear how long it was before it began to replace the plain Union Flag on land.

With two minor departures, the Union Flag bearing the Lieutenant Governor's badge continued to be used until replaced by the new-pattern flag, with the blue field on June 27, 1981. The one departure in use has already been discussed in its capacity as a precursor to the provincial flag. It remains to be noted that the Lieutenant-Governor's Red Ensign which was introduced on April 9, 1959, by Mr. Mackay, was retired when it had finished serving its symbolic role. In 1965 the Union Flag with badge was restored.

The other departure involved only the car flag. It was probably inspired by flag of the Governor General which from 1931 had had a blue field. During the tenure of the Honourable Ray Lawson, from 1946 to 1952, a small navy blue pennant bearing a gold crown was used on his official car.8


The Trillium

The floral emblem of Ontario, the trillium, occurs with sufficient frequency on the governmental flags of the province that it deserves a separate discussion. The adoption of the trillium was an outgrowth of a movement following WW I which sought to establish a national flower so as it might be used for planting on the graves of Canadian servicemen overseas. The trillium, the proposal of the Ottawa Horticultural Society, did not receive national recognition, but, on March 25, 1937, Ontario chose it as the provincial flower.

The trillium appeared on a governmental flag in 1963 with the establishment of the Ontario Achievement Award flag. This blue flag which bears a trillium in the upper hoist and a letter "A" on the fly, is awarded to companies which make outstanding contributions to the provincial economy. The use of this flag was discontinued about 1985.9 A red outline of a trillium on blue forms the flag of the Ontario Place Corporation which opened in 1971 as a showcase for Ontario's entertainment and culture.

Since February 21, 1973, when a stylized version as adopted as a provincial logotype, the use of the trillium as an element in governmental flag designs has greatly increased, appearing as it does, on the flags of: Foodland Ontario (1981), the Bicentennial (1984), International Youth Year (1985), and the Ontario Pavilion at EXPO 86 (1986). Unlike the national emblem of the maple leaf which is found on flags of every conceivable source, the provincial emblem of the trillium, is rarely found outside of governmental flags. However, it is occasionally seen, such as on the municipal flag of Whitby, and the association flag of the Franco-Ontarians.


Flags of Occasion

In 1984, Ontario celebrated the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists. The flag for the occasion was formed by placing the bicentennial logotype, a sunburst of trilliums, upon a white field. Although the arrival of the greatest numbers of Loyalists was in 1783 and 1784, a number sought refuge from the revolution earlier. In 1781 a treaty was negotiated with the Indians which resulted in the immediate settlement of some Loyalists on a strip of land just to the west of the Niagara River. In 1981, this enabled Niagara-on-the-Lake to be the first of many Ontarian towns mark their own bicentennial with a flag.

In 1984, Toronto celebrated its 150th anniversary, not of settlement which dates from the mid eighteenth century, but of incorporation as a city. The colourful red, white and blue sesquicentennial flag bore what has become a modern emblem of the city, the city hall. Many Ontario communities have had special flags to mark their centennials; illustrated are the flags used by Bellville and Midland in 1978. That same year brought a flag to mark a hundred years of the Canadian National Exhibition.

Not all flags of occasion are for anniversaries. In 1985 both the province and the city of Toronto flew special flags bearing local symbols to mark International Youth Year. Then in 1986 a special flag was flown over the Ontario Pavilion, the province's showcase at EXPO 86 in Vancouver. Each of these latter flags made prominent use of the trillium.


Annual Events

The events celebrated on an annual basis are distinguished by a flag. The best known of these is certainly Toronto's Canadian National Exhibition. In 1973 the CNE placed a pinwheel cum maple leaf on a blue field. While this still forms the flag of the exhibition, from 1979 to 1983 the emblem was supplanted by a stylized carnival barker.

The flags of two annual events of more local interest are illustrated: adopted in 1970 is the flag for the Western Fair (Association) of London, and, in 1983, is that for the Sound of Music of Burlington. This latter flag presents the score for the first phrase of Oh Canada, a motif innovative in both conception and notation.


Governmental Organizations

Organs of the provincial government, ranging from departments to crown corporations, often have flags. One of the earliest of these to place its logotype upon a flag was Ontario Hydro. Designed in 1965 by Allan Fleming, who also originated the sinuous symbol of Canadian National, the corporate device ingenuously combines an O, for Ontario, with an H, for Hydro, to make both an electrical plug and the letter E, for electricity or energy, representing the company's product.

Both the Ontario Provincial Police and Ontario Place Corporation place their emblems upon a blue field. The Foodland Ontario flag, created in 1981 by Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture, is seen widely in the province to promote the province's agricultural produce. For a couple of years from 1985 to 1987 the logotype of the Ministry of Tourism and Recreation was displayed on a flag at information centres for tourists, such as the one at Fort Erie. The flag was unusual on two counts: it had the rare recursive property of bearing a flag upon a flag, and was one of only two provincial flags designed to promote tourism (B.C. having the other).



Ontario has many universities but few of them have flags. In its dual role of bastion of a culture's intellectual traditions, and wet nurse to the nation's youth, it is not always the ethereal side which wins. As one university official commented:

the University of ... does not have an official flag. Yes, we do wave banners and the like at University sporting events and on other occasions. None of these, I dare say, would be suitable for publication-few of them are even suitable for waving.

Of the flags which are suitable for waving, the one with greatest significance for Canada in that it served as a model for the National Flag, is that of the Royal Military College in Kingston. The college flag is made up of three pales, red, white, and red, with the crest of the college arms (a mailed fist holding three maple leaves) in the white or central pale. The red and white pales are believed to have been adopted during the First World War in imitation of the ribbon of Canada's first military service medal awarded in 1898 to acknowledge the contributions of those who either repelled the Fenian Raids or fought in a Northwest Rebellion. In 1964, the then Dean of Arts of the Royal Military College, Dr. George Stanley, suggested that a variant of the college flag would make a good national flag. This suggestion had considerable influence in the final design chosen for the national flag. Further, the R.M.C. flag served as the model for the flags of its sister institutions, Royal Roads Roads Military College in Victoria, B.C. and the Collège militaire royale de St-Jean, Québec.

The University of Toronto flies a banner of the arms it was granted in 1917: beneath an imperial crown lie two open books and a beaver.

Queen's University adopted two flags in 1984: an armorial banner used to represent the authority of the institution, and a tricolour used as a civil flag. The banner, which is available only to the Principal or his designate, bears a Cross of St. Andrew, recalling the original bond between Queen's and University of Edinburgh. The tricolour, which is available to all, is royal blue, gold and red and bears a fleur-de-lis crown in the upper hoist pale. Prior to 1984 there had been a flag based upon older assumed arms.



Some municipalities with flags and the dates they adopted them are:

Brockville [city]67
Brockville [citizen's]67
East York78
Fort Frances81
Kingston [city]75
Kingston [citizen's] 75
Mississauga 74
North York 72
Orillia 84
Ottawa-Carlton (Nat Cap) Reg85
Owen Sound 20
Peterborough 86
St. Catharines 79
Scarborough 67
Stratford 65
Thunder Bay


Toronto (City) 74
Toronto (Metro)67
Windsor 71
York 67


Some notes on Municipalities

On Hamilton's flag, adopted in 1986, a bar sweeps across the flag from upper hoist to lower fly. It represents the topography of Hamilton's site: the Hamilton Mountain, the escarpment, the lake plain, and Burlington Bay.10 In 1968, York, then a borough, adopted a flag and became the first municipality in Metro Toronto to do so.11 What about Scarborough which adopted one in 1967. The two flags of Kingston flag are discussed in12. A discussion of the controversy surrounding the adoption of the new city flag of Ottawa is found in13. Orillia's flag, raised in 1984, is discussed in14.


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



1. Gale, Jack, "What Canadians Want in a Flag," Star Weekly (March 21, 1959).

2. "Mackay Uses Ensign, Replaces Union Jack," Globe and Mail (April 10, 1959).

3. "Ontario May Get Own Flag," Winnipeg Free Press (May 27, 1964).

4. "May Adopt Red Ensign Robarts Says," Globe and Mail (December 23 1964).

5. "Robarts wants ensign on Ontario's new flag," Ottawa Citizen (December 24, 1964).

6. "Red Ensign for Ontario," Ottawa Citizen (December 26, 1964).

7. A plain Union Flag is illustrated flying over the Residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in the Canadian Illustrated News (March 5, 1870), p. 280. Although the new flag was approved on July 16, 1870, the despatch was not received by the Privy Council in Canada until August 8, which is likely the earliest time the new flag would have been in use.

8. Letter from Frank F. McEachren, Lt.Col, Senior ADC to the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, dated October 22, 1970, and addressed to Whitney Smith.

9. Harrington, Kevin, "Fiftieth Anniversary of Ontario's Floral Emblem -the trillium 1937 -1987," Flagscan, Vol. II, No. 1 (Spring 1987), p. 10-13.

10. Harrington, Kevin, "Beaver Banners," Flagscan, Issue 10, Vol. III, No. 2 (Summer 1988), p. 6-7.

11. Harrington, Kevin, "Beaver Banners," Flagscan, Issue 10, Vol. III, No. 2 (Summer 1988), p. 6-7.

12. Harrington, Kevin, "Kingston-Royal City of Two Flags," Flagscan, Issue 7, Vol. II, No. 2 (Fall 1987), p. 8-11.

13. Harrington, Kevin, "The Ottawa City Flag Controversy, March, 1987," Flagscan, Vol. II, No. 1 (Spring 1987), p. 2-5.

14. Harrington, Kevin, "Orillia's Sunshine Flag," Flagscan, Vol. I, No. 2 (Summer 1986), p. 8.


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