Foreign flags in Canada

Canada uses the Union Jack Flag as a symbol of its allegiance to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. It served as a flag for Canada until the National Flag was adopted in 1965.

The Royal Union Flag

The Royal Union Flag, commonly known as the “Union Jack”, has a long history of usage in Canada dating back to British settlement in Nova Scotia after 1621. Although the Red Ensign was widely used in Canada from the time of Confederation until the National Flag was adopted in 1965, the Union Jack was the affirmed national symbol from 1904. It was the flag under which Canadian troops fought during the First World War.

The Union Jack maintains its presence in Canada through its incorporation in the provincial flags of Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.

When flown or displayed in Canada, the Union Jack serves two purposes. First, it is the national flag of the United Kingdom, and second, it is flown as a symbol of membership in the Commonwealth and allegiance to the Crown as approved by Parliament on December 18, 1964.

The order of precedence of the Union Jack in relation to provincial and territorial flags varies in accordance with the reason it is flown.

The Royal Union Flag or Union Jack

Precedence – Representing the United Kingdom

When representing the United Kingdom as a sovereign nation, the Union Jack takes precedence before a Canadian provincial/territorial flag.

From left to right, the Union Jack, the Canadian flag and a provincial flag displayed in a line, on separate flagpoles.

Precedence – Representing Canada’s membership in the Commonwealth or allegiance to the Crown

When representing Canada’s membership in the Commonwealth or allegiance to the Crown, for example during a royal visit, the Union Jack will take precedence after a Canadian provincial/territorial flag.

From left to right, a provincial flag, the Canadian flag and the Union Jack displayed in a line, on separate flagpoles.

Precedence – When displayed as a historical flag

When displayed as a historical flag of Canada – that is, a flag that was used in the past by the Government of Canada or its colonial predecessors – the Union Jack must be flown in accordance with the historical flag policy and rules for flying historical flags in Canada.

Where physical arrangementsFootnote 1 allow, the Union Jack will be flown along with the National Flag at federal buildings, airports, military bases, and other appropriate establishments within Canada, from sunrise to sunset, on the following occasions annually:

  • the date of the official observance of the Queen’s birthday (Victoria Day, the Monday preceding May 25);
  • the anniversary of the adoption of the Statute of Westminster (December 11); and
  • the date of the official observance of Commonwealth Day (the second Monday in March).

The Union Jack may be flown with the National Flag at the National War Memorial. It may also be flown at appropriate federal locations in Canada in connection with ceremonies marking anniversaries of events in which Canadian forces participated with other Commonwealth forces.

Flags of international organizations

The United Nations

The United Nations flag is flown with the National Flag of Canada on Parliament Hill on United Nations Day, October 24, and by special arrangement on other occasions. Such occasions include visits to Ottawa by the Secretary-General of the United Nations or his representative.

The United Nations Flag

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is Canada’s first peacetime military alliance, placing the nation in a defensive military arrangement with the United States, the nations of Western Europe, and Turkey. The treaty was signed on April 4, 1949. There is no specific day when the NATO flag is flown.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Flag

The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth flag consists of the Commonwealth symbol in gold on a blue background. The symbol is a radial grating forming the letter “C” surrounding a circular solid, on which are superimposed five latitudinal and five longitudinal lines to represent the globe. The symbol is centred on the rectangle and the dimensions of the rectangle is twice as long as it is wide (2:1).

There is no significance in the number of rays and they do not seek to represent the number of countries within the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth symbol was registered with The Patent Office in the United Kingdom under the Trade Marks Act, 1938, on March 26, 1976. It is also registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization in Switzerland.

The Commonwealth Secretariat has decided on Blue Pantone 287 and Yellow Pantone 108 to describe the colours of the Commonwealth flag.

Learn more about the Commonwealth, its history, members and flag.

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