Canadian Armed Forces Colours

(Extracts from The Heritage Structure of the Canadian Forces)

Flags have been used from the earliest times to identify individuals and groups. Ancient armies carried flags emblazoned with eagles, ravens, dragons and other like devices. Medieval flags often bore religious emblems, such as the Cross of St. George. Many flags which originated as the insignia of individuals, gradually came to represent the state or agencies within the state.

Many names have applied to the different types of flags, and these names have often changed over the years.

Colours [is] a general term with [several] meanings [including] consecrated ceremonial flags carried by designated Canadian Armed Forces combatant formations and units, including Standards, Guidons, Queen's Colours, and Command, Regimental and Military College Colours.

A Standard may refer to the consecrated Colour of a horse or dragoon guards regiment, or a flying squadron.

Colours are a unit's most prized possession.

They are presented personally by the Sovereign or by an individual, normally the Governor General, nominated to act on the Sovereign's behalf. Historically, Colours marked and provided a rallying point for army regiments in the line of battle. Today, they are no longer carried in action or held by a unit in a theatre of war. They continue, however, as visible symbols of pride, honour and devotion to Sovereign and country.

On presentation, Colours are consecrated by the Chaplain General assisted by the unit chaplains; when the Chaplain General is unable to be present, he will personally designate a chaplain to officiate for him. Through this means, Colours are sanctified and devoted to service as symbols of honour and duty; all members of the unit, regardless of classification, rededicate themselves to constancy in the maintenance of these qualities. Once consecrated, Colours are closely guarded and they are honoured by the appropriate compliment while uncased.

Every effort must be made to prevent the loss of Colours to enemy forces. Colours shall not be taken overseas during active operations, including United Nations, NATO, international and other peacekeeping type operations, and units serving overseas at the outbreak of hostilities shall immediately return their Colours to Canada. They are to be destroyed on threat of capture by hostile elements.

Colours may only be presented to combatant or potentially combatant navy and air force higher formations; army and air force units organized and roled to stand in the line of battle; and the Royal Military Colleges of Canada, which are treated for these purposes as if they were an infantry battalion.

The following are entitled to single Colours:

The following are entitled to a stand of Colours composed of a Queen's Colour and a Command/College/Regimental Colour:

In Canadian practice, Colours and Colours parties are never paraded separately from the military body whose presence they mark and whose honour and duty they represent. They are only paraded as an integral part of the formation or unit concerned. An order to a unit which implies giving up control of its Colours can be seen as a sign of disgrace.

Commanding officers are responsible for the safeguarding, care and maintenance, and appropriate manner of the display of Colours. When at rest, Colours should be displayed uncased in an air-tight glass case, customarily in an officers' mess or other guarded lodging location, and protected from direct sunlight and fluorescent lamps.

All Colours that have been consecrated and presented to a unit of the Canadian Armed Forces are and remain Crown property in perpetuity, and are controlled by the Department of National Defence on behalf of the Canadian government. The Colours are memorials to the brave deeds and sacrifices of the units and individuals who serve under them. If deposited or laidup, they are the responsibility of the custodian and must remain accessible to the public.

Under no circumstances are Colours or portions of Colours allowed to pass into the possession of private individuals. If the custodian can no longer preserve them, they must be returned to National Defence Headquarters.

When Colours are honourably retired and laidup, they are left to decay and disintegrate, normally on their pikes or lances, until they cease to exist. Although the custodian may preserve the Colours under glass or otherwise handle them to retard disintegration, they shall never be restored. Pieces which become detached while a Colour is laid-up, lose their sacred status and shall be burnt to ashes.

Serviceable Colours of a disbanded unit remain the property of the Crown and may be reactivated should the unit be reconstituted.

Colours in possession of a unit shall be deposited or laid-up:

Lay-up shall be in either a sacred or public building. Churches, legislative buildings and city halls are most common. A military museum which is generally open to the public is acceptable as a public building.

After Colours have been laid-up, they are considered memorials and are not normally displaced by Colours laid-up later. Laid-up Colours become extremely brittle and delicate over time. Custodians should ensure that they are disturbed as little as possible to extend their life.

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