Maybe it’s time to rethink our provincial banner
“… The people have become
accustomed to the flag and have
reconciled themselves to it.”
— From a website
on Newfoundland history
created for students of
Marianopolis College in Montreal
I had a sneaking suspicion confirmed while I was on holiday last month: I don’t like our flag.
The night of the Queen’s Jubilee concert in London, my husband and I found ourselves watching the show on a big-screen TV in an English pub.
British pride was on full display, with stately Union Jacks lining both sides of the The Mall and English performers trooped out to entertain the massive and patriotic crowd.
Fireworks lit up the London sky outside Buckingham Palace for the thunderous finale.
Sitting there in the pub, where the old wooden beams were draped in British bunting, and enthusiastic patrons were belting out “Delilah” along with Tom Jones, I realized I was feeling patriotic stirrings of my own.
My heritage is English, so I do feel a kinship with the people in the land of the Beatles, Virginia Woolf, Annie Lennox and Sir Elton John. There’s such a rich history and culture to be inspired by in London alone: the magnificent dome of St. Paul’s, the amazing artwork in the National Portrait Gallery, the majesty of the bridges spanning the Thames, the golden shimmer of the Parliament Buildings. The monarchy, with its storied lineage and emphasis on tradition, is fascinating, even if there are those who feel it is no longer relevant.
I still remember when the Union Jack was the flag of Newfoundland — and for some it still is — so it’s only natural that, for me, it evokes pride and a sense of camaraderie.
As a Canadian, the Maple Leaf has been the national banner during my entire lifetime, and it, too, inspires a surge of warm feeling.
On one fine Canada Day more than 20 years ago, I stood in company with several new Canadians, watching the Queen do a walkabout on Parliament Hill as the Snowbirds performed their aerial acrobatics overhead. I was stirred by how fervently some recent immigrants waved the flag of a country that they had not been born into, but chose; chose for all the good it represents: peace and prosperity, mutual respect, religious and sexual freedom.
Who isn’t proud to hear “O Canada” played at the Olympics or sung at a hockey game? Who doesn’t feel a measure of comfort and solidarity upon seeing a Maple Leaf pinned to the knapsack of a fellow traveller? I am Canadian, it says — I come from the land of peacekeepers, brave soldiers, Wayne Gretzky, Rick Mercer and Joni Mitchell.
The simplicity of the Maple Leaf suggests strength, security, stability. It is easily recognizable and distinctly our own.
The Newfoundland flag — not the Pink, White and Green — but the official flag, leaves me cold.
Watching it flapping from a pole in a gale force wind, I feel absolutely nothing.
And I mean no offence to its designer, the artist Christopher Pratt, who had the unenviable task of trying to satisfy many different camps when he created the flag in 1980.
Read the description of what the geometric design is supposed to signify, according to the Heritage Newfoundland website, and you can see how it tried to offer something for everyone:
The flag incorporates three colours set against a white background. Blue represents the sea, red human effort, gold self-confidence, and white the snow and ice. Four blue triangles echo the Union Jack and represent the province’s Commonwealth heritage, while the larger red and gold sections represent its future. Two red triangles signify the island and mainland portions of the province, while a gold arrow points towards a bright future.
The design also incorporates Beothuk and Innu ornamentation, as well as a Christian cross and an outline of the maple leaf. A trident is also visible, acknowledging the province’s deep association with the sea and its resources. The golden arrow resembles a sword when the flag is hung as a banner, a sign of respect and remembrance to war veterans.
See what I mean?
It can embody all the symbolism you want, but do you know anyone who sees the flag and gets all that from it?
Pratt is to be applauded for taking the province’s history and geography into account.
But the flag still disappoints, at least for me.
It is cold and stark — all sharp corners and coloured lines, like the angles in a protractor set.
It could as easily be said to represent Tanzania or Timbuktu as this province; its symbolism is not readily apparent and the flag says nothing that is immediately identifiable as belonging to this place.
A newcomer to Newfoundland in the 1980s told me he first saw the flag flying at a gas station and thought it was an Irving pennant.
I’ve no doubt Pratt sees the flag differently, and that for him it embodies our native culture, the sea, our heritage.
I see it fluttering in the breeze and it says nothing to me of our rich history, our tenacity, our spirit of independence.
It is a flag with an identity crisis, and 32 years after its design, it still does not speak to me.
Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram’s associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: pam_frampton