Flags of British Columbia

From Dominion of British Columbia

Okook pej kopa Chinook Wawa: Kinchoch Kolompi Illahee yaka tzum-sails

The flags of British Columbia.


Union Flag, 1866-1875
Ensign of the Crown Colony of British Columbia, 1866-1875

In 1866, the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island and the Crown Colony of British Columbia were merged to form a single entity, also called the Crown Colony of British Columbia. Like elsewhere in the Empire, the only official flag for use on land was the Union Flag. However, per the Colonial Defence Act 1865, warships and government-owned ships of the colonies were required to wear a Blue Ensign defaced with the seal or badge of the colony in question. The Blue Ensign shown here was that of the Crown Colony of British Columbia between 1866 and 1875. From 1866 to 1875, it was flown by ships of the British Columbia Auxiliary Navy (established in 1864 as a means to help control any future influx like that brought about by the 1862 gold rush). It was also worn by boats of the Western Frontier Constabulary from 1864 to 1868 and of the WFC's successor, the British Columbia Constabulary, from 1868 to 1875, as well as those of the North-West Mounted Police from 1873 to 1875.


Blue Ensign of the Dominion of British Columbia, 1875-1877

After rejecting Confederation in 1871, the Crown Colony of British Columbia became the Dominion of British Columbia, a self-governing dominion within the British Empire, in 1875. The Union Flag remained the official flag for use on land, but the blue ensign was modified, replacing the white disc with the royal crest flanked by "BC" with the shield from the Dominion's coat of arms. The new Blue Ensign continued in use as specified by the Colonial Defence Act 1865 on government-owned ships, and on the vessels of the Royal British Columbia Constabulary (the BC Constabulary was granted the Royal title in 1876 after it absorbed the BC elements of the North-West Mounted Police in 1875) and the BC Auxiliary Navy.

Blue Ensign of the Dominion of British Columbia, 1877 to date

After BC was granted Royal Arms by Queen Victoria in 1877, the blue ensign was once again modified, this time replacing the shield with the full Royal Arms of the Dominion of British Columbia on a white disc. Its use as the ensign on government-owned ships (including the Royal BC Constabulary, the BC Auxiliary Navy and the BC Coast Guard established in 1907) continued, replacing the earlier variant of the Blue Ensign. With the establishment of the British Columbia Navy in 1911, BCN ships began to fly the Blue Ensign as well.

Red Ensign of the Dominion of British Columbia, 1879 to date

A red ensign defaced with the BC shield of arms began appearing in unofficial use on land already in 1876, patterned on the official BC Blue Ensign of 1875. Almost simultaneously, some civilian-owned ships registered in the Dominion began to fly the defaced red ensign as well, but entirely unofficially. Although such usage was technically illegal, it was seldom if ever prosecuted, and in 1879, the Admiralty gave permission for the defaced BC Red Ensign to be used on civilian vessels registered in the Dominion.

British White Ensign, in use 1913-1960

In 1913, King George V gave Royal Assent to the British Columbia Navy. Renamed the Royal British Columbia Navy, His Majesty's BC Ships began to fly the British White Ensign as an ensign, and continued to use the BC Blue Ensign as a jack. This arrangement lasted until 1960, when the Flag Act 1960 was passed by the BC Parliament.

Royal BC Air Force Ensign, 1942 to date

BC's military air arm was established in 1915 as the British Columbia Flying Corps, in 1918 it was granted the Royal title by King George V and renamed Royal British Columbia Flying Corps. In 1922 renamed Royal British Columbia Air Force, but all the way until 1942 the service did not have a distinctive ensign of its own. Introduced just days after the Royal Canadian Air Force ensign, the RBCAF ensign has remained unchanged since its introduction, despite several changes to the design of the roundel since then.

The lack of any legislation specifying what flags can and cannot be flown on land by private citizens meant that the Red and Blue Ensigns were common sights around British Columbia; though the Dominion Government did frequently ask civilians flying the Blue Ensign on land to desist, the lack of a law meant that no action could be taken against these individuals.

1960 to date

In 1959, a referendum was held on the question of creating a new flag for the Dominion. Though the overwhelming majority of the electorate voted not to change the flags, the Dominion Government enacted the Flag Act in 1960. This piece of legislation set very specific definitions on the flags and ensigns to be used in the Dominion, introduced two new flags, and made a slight modification to one. Use of flags by unauthorised parties is punishable by law (fines, primarily).

Dominion Flag and Ensign, 1960 to date

Dominion Flag and Ensign of BC since 1960

The BC Blue Ensign of 1877 remained unchanged in design. It was defined as the official state flag of the Dominion, authorised for use only by government entities. On land, it is flown at all government-owned buildings inside and outside British Columbia and by the Royal BC Constabulary; at sea, it is flown by vessels of the Royal BC Constabulary, the BC Coast Guard, and other governmental entities. At sea, it is also authorised for use on vessels owned by private citizens who are officers in the RBCN Reserve when the owner is in command, or on vessels owned by other non-government entities when the officer in command is an officer of the RBCN Reserve. As an example, ships of the BC Ferries Corporation normally fly the red ensign, but if the captain in command happens to be an RBCNR officer, the blue ensign is flown instead of the red.

Civil Flag, 1960 to date

Civil Flag of BC since 1960.

One of the new flags introduced by the Flag Act 1960 was a new civil flag, a banner of arms authorised for use on land only by all private citizens and non-governmental entities (e.g. businesses; Crown corporations, though owned by the government, are not considered government entities. As such, they are authorised to fly only the Civil Flag). Since its introduction it has gained widespread popularity, many citizens proudly flying it at their homes; Dominion Day (18 August) sees streets and buildings transformed into seas of the civil flag. It is also used as a jack by vessels of the Royal BC Navy.

Civil Ensign, 1960 to date

Civil Ensign of BC since 1960

The BC Red Ensign likewise remained unchanged from the original version first officially authorised in 1879, however, it was very specifically defined as the civil ensign. As such, it is authorised for use only at sea, by vessels registered in the Dominion to any private citizen or non-governmental entity - the maritime counterpart to the civil flag. Its use on land - with the exception of marinas and other designated mooring facilities - is prohibited.

Royal Union Flag, 1960 to date

Royal Union Flag since 1960

The Union Flag was retained in an official capacity by the Flag Act 1960, though with limited use. It is to be flown at and displayed in Parliament in Victoria, the Court of Queen's Bench in New Westminster, and the Governor General's residence along with the Dominion Flag at all times; at all government buildings on the Queen's Birthday, Commonwealth Day (known in BC as Empire Day until 1966), when the Sovereign or another member of the Royal Family is in BC, and on certain other special occasions defined by law. On these occasions, it is considered a flag of BC; on other occasions, and when flown at the offices of the British High Commission in New Westminster, it is considered the flag of the United Kingdom.

Royal BC Navy Ensign, 1960 to date

The BC White Ensign - the flag and ensign of the Royal BC Navy since 1960

The Flag Act 1960 introduced a new ensign for the Royal BC Navy. This was a slight modification of the existing British White Ensign, adding the BC shield of arms in the lower fly quarter. Though the law forbids its use by any party but the RBCN, this is only enforced (strictly!) at sea; on land, it is used at all RBCN facilities in place of the Dominion flag, and it can be sometimes seen at stadiums used by football, rugby and hockey fans at international matches (generally, the political orientation of said fans can be determined at a glance by their use of the white ensign). Aside from warships, the white ensign is also authorised for use on privately-owned vessels when the officer in command is an active-service officer of the RBCN.

Royal BC Air Force Flag & Ensign, 1960 to date

Flag and Ensign of the Royal BC Air Force since 1942

The Royal BC Air Force Ensign remained unchanged from the 1942 design, despite several changes to the roundel as used on RBCAF aircraft since then. It is used on land at all RBCAF facilities in place of the Dominion flag.