During World War I, Canadian soldiers fought under the British Union Jack flag even though we were a country with our own flag. In 1867, our year of confederation, Canada had yet to have an official flag. In 1868, in Barkerville, there was an unofficial flag designed and flown to celebrate the first “Canada Day” on July 1 of that year.
By 1869 we adopted an early version of the Red Ensign, which had the Union Jack in the upper left corner on a red background and featured the coats of arms of the provinces in confederation at the time. This, of course, had to be modified each time a new province was added.
This flag represented Canada until 1921, when the last version of the Red Ensign was used until 1965. There were small variations to the Ensign from 1957-1965, basically changing some colours, but the flag remained the same until the new red and white maple leaf was adopted in 1965.
During the Great War, Canada’s soldiers were organized into what was known as the Canadian Expeditionary Force and commanded by British officers. Therefore, we fought “For King and Country” under the Union Jack. Interestingly enough, we should know that during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, the Canadian Corps, for the first time, fought as an entire unit completely commanded by Canadian officers. There is a story that during that battle, an early version of the Red Ensign flew proudly on the battlefield.
This Remembrance Day, we will remember the 100th anniversary of the signing of the armistice, and members of the Royal Canadian Legion will be handing out small Union Jack flags. Quesnel’s Legion building will be decorated with the Jack as well, in honour of this event.
Doug Carey is legion historian for Quesnel’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch 94.