No fan of the flag

Pam
Pam Frampton
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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 pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

 

 

 

Organizations: College in MontrealI, Union Jacks, National Portrait Gallery Heritage Newfoundland

Geographic location: Newfoundland, London, Maple Leaf St. Paul Tanzania

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Comments

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Recent comments

  • Wince
    July 18, 2012 - 07:54

    First time I've ever agreed with an article you've written. But you summed up my feelings 100%. Well done.

    • Pam Frampton
      July 18, 2012 - 07:57

      Wince — thanks! Glad to hear it. Better late than never...

  • Carl
    July 16, 2012 - 22:51

    I completely agree. Ii can't help thinking that someone must have invented the flag first and then strained their imagination to come up with some symbolic meaning after the fact. Even if the design was actually planned to convey the meanings described on the Heritage Newfoundland website, those meanings are nothing but wishy-washy, artsy-fartsy clap-trap.

  • Pierre Neary
    July 16, 2012 - 19:48

    Never was a big fan myself. Could never get used to it. Disappoints for me as well.

  • Ken Nolan
    July 16, 2012 - 11:03

    My one problem is the sheer amount of white but a simple solution to that is to make the two large red triangles solid red-that will make it stand out more while not harming the original design which by the way is stately.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    July 15, 2012 - 22:45

    I knew a bloke from the UK living in NL who at the time stated in no uncetain terms that Pratt's flag "was just another Newfie joke".

  • Eli
    July 15, 2012 - 19:29

    C'mon b'ys, I can't imagine waking any morning and not think of the images this geometric abortion conveys to my mind. Thanks for for a long overdue critique Pam.

  • Jerome
    July 15, 2012 - 12:10

    I'm not a fan of our flag, but since it replaced one that represents a people that pillaged and enslaved nations world-wide, I can live with it.

  • DWB
    July 15, 2012 - 07:26

    I agree. I was a younger man when that flag was first presented. It left me empty then as it does now. I for one would LOVE to see our provincial flag revisited. can anyone honestly imagine this flag staning the test of time in terms of it's reflectivness of the province? It is cold (not reflective of the people) it is harsh (not reflective of the people) and it is unimaginative (not reflective of the people) and finally, it in no way is reflective of the people, heritage and history of the people of Labrador.

    • All Labrador
      July 15, 2012 - 14:50

      Actualy, it represents Labrador well. Read the article: "Blue represents the sea.... white the snow and ice... Two red triangles signify the island and mainland (Labrador) portions of the province, while a gold arrow points towards a bright future... The design also incorporates Beothuk and Innu ornamentation,.." It is al Labrador.

  • DWB
    July 15, 2012 - 07:21

    I agree. I was a younger man when that flag was first presented. It left me empty then as it does now. I for one would LOVE to see our provincial flag revisited. can anyone honestly imagine this flag staning the test of time in terms of it's reflectivness of the province? It is cold (not reflective of the people) it is harsh (not reflective of the people) and it is unimaginative (not reflective of the people) and finally, it in no way is reflective of the people, heritage and history of the people of Labrador.

  • crista
    July 14, 2012 - 15:28

    it would almost remind you of the turning of the first century, the government of roman empire????would it get you thinking some thing like that????

  • Steamer
    July 14, 2012 - 13:29

    Pam, I'm afraid that age and the conservatism that comes with it is partially responsible for your dislike of the Newfoundland flag. Ask anyone born after 1980 about the Pratt design and they are likely to have fond feelings for it... Personally, I think it is a unifying symbol. The pink, white, and green is a bastardized Irish flag from old Catholic St. John's - I think that it's use is inappropriate, as it is an archaic flag historically representing an exclusive party of our society. I think that commissioning a new flag was the right move in 1980, and I have grown used it, despite any flaws it may have. No Canadian province should have been flying the Union Jack more than 30 years after being forsaken by the United Kingdom, in my humble opinion... On that note Agree, isn't the Union Jack just a geometry set slapped on a placemat? (After all, it partially inspired Pratt) That venerable flag is not meaningful if you don't know the wider significance of the the cross of Saint George, the cross of Saint Patrick or the saltire of Saint Andrew. As well, I think that 150 years of Britannia ruling the waves under the Union flag had something to do with the respect and awe (and some cases loathing) that it seems to inspire today...

  • David
    July 14, 2012 - 12:50

    If we ever get to a point in this province when we have the pure luxury of turning our attention and thoughts to something so incredibly inconsequential as the appearance of our little cloth banner, that will truly be a great day. Not only is today not that day, it's not even in the imagineable future.

  • Where's Waldo
    July 14, 2012 - 12:43

    I hvae always had trouble finding Beothuk and Innu ornamentation, a Christian cross, the maple leaf, and a trident. No clue what he native stuff looks like and the other stuf must be adstract and hard to find, perhaps after thoughts that people looked for.

  • PWG
    July 14, 2012 - 12:38

    To determine whihc flag should be official, look around. How many non-government buildings or houses fly the Pratt vs the PWG? How many songs and poems mention the Prat vs PWG? How many business and charities use the Prat vs the PWG in their logo? Then again, do we want the PWG to be a Prov flag, or do we want it to be kept sacred as a symbol of freedom from Canada?

  • BP
    July 14, 2012 - 12:28

    I agree with Pam. Our flag is more like abstract art. There's nothing nl about it.

  • Agree
    July 14, 2012 - 10:17

    I agree. The flag makes me cringe. It looks like someone bought a geometry set and laid it on a placemat - no creativeity at all in my opinion.. I prefer the pink, white and green and the Labrador flag over these triangles.