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Other Flags in Canada before 1763

Last modified: 2023-01-07 by rob raeside
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The Spanish Flag

[Spanish Flag in Canada] image by Željko Heimer

The flag of Spain flew on the west coast of Canada between 1789 and 1795.

Spain claimed the west coast of North America by virtue of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). Spanish explorations and landings on the west coast of Canada in 1592 and 1774, however, were not consolidated by any settlement.

In 1789, fearful of Russian intentions to move down the coast from Alaska, and concerned by British trading activity that followed Cook's visit in 1778, Spain asserted its sovereignty in the region by establishing a fort at Friendly Cove at the entrance to Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Spain withdrew from Nootka in 1795.

A contemporary print in Jose Cadero's Atlas para el riaje de las goletas "Sutil" and "Mexicana" ... en 1792 (in the British Columbia Provincial Archives), shows the flag flying over the Spanish Fort at Friendly Cove as the national flag adopted by Spain in 1785. The length of the flag is about three times the width. The flag has three horizontal stripes: the yellow centre stripe is twice the width of each of the red stripes along the top and bottom of the flag (similar to the modern Spanish flag. A circle with the arms of Leon (a red lion) and Castile (a yellow castle) is set in the yellow stripe towards the hoist.
Peter Cawley, 13 September 1995

Other Flags

It is possible that other flags were flown over various territories that are today parts of Canada.

The flags of the United States and Russia probably appeared on the Pacific coast until the region was finally established as a British possession in the 1790's.
Peter Cawley, 25 May 1995

an Unknown flag in Hudson Strait

East India Company

[Hudson Bay] image by Antonio Martins

In the National Geographic Magazine, in the map supplement of 1997's September issue (192:9), The Making of Canada -- the North in an old 17th century chart illustrating Hudson's voyages (1611), an unusual flag marks two spots (near two other marked by square St. George's flags) in the Hudson Strait (Baffin Island and Southampton Island): It is a horizontally striped flag (4 red and 3 white) approx. 8:7, and with a square canton with a St. George cross.
Antonio Martins, 9 March 1998

[Ed: In an unrelated post, the image above was identified as the flag of the Honourable East India Company, which initiated the following discussion related to why the HEIC flag would be shown in a map of the voyages of Henry Hudson]

Hudson's last voyage on the Discovery, was financed by the Honorable East India Company.

From The East India Company website:

One of the key issues at the time of the foundation of the Company was the search for the "North West Passage" over the top of North America to the Indies, considered of vital interest because of the continued dominance of the sea routes east by the Spanish and Portuguese. The Company financed expeditions in order to find the supposed passage, and on one such voyage the Captain, Henry Hudson, was cast ashore to die by his mutinous crew in the bay which now bears his name.

Phil Nelson, 29 August 1999

In "Flags at Sea" a drawing of a similar ensign is described as "a typical ensign of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I". (1558-1603).

Until about 1630 when the red, blue and white ensigns were introduced, nearly all English ships are thought to have flown striped ensigns with a St George's cross canton.

It is unlikely that the East India Company used striped ensigns before 1660, and possibly not until 1673. The ensigns usually had nine, eleven or thirteen red and white stripes, with a small canton of St George's cross until c1707, a 1606 Union canton from c1707 until 1801, and an 1801 Union from then until 1830, when they were replaced by Red Ensigns. After 1801 some ensigns had a central vertical red stripe.

Jacks had nine stripes with no canton and continued to be used until 1863 by the Bombay Marine and 1877 by the Bengal Marine. (History of the Indian Navy by C.R. Low and Naval and Maritime Flags of British India by A. Rowand).
David Prothero, 30 August 1999

As a signal flag it was still in used in 1895. P. Downes wrote in, Code of Signals for use in Connection with Lighthouses and Light-Vessels on the Burma Coast "Old Indian Navy Jack which will appear in every hoist except single flag signals and the numerical signal."

The East India Co. flags may have been based on a Portuguese flag.

A footnote in Sir Charles Fawcett's article, "The Striped Flag of the East India Company", which appeared in the Mariner's Mirror October 1937 reads:-

Sir William Foster has suggested to me that the flag may possibly have been derived from that used by Portuguese merchant-vessels. According to Alexander Justice, Dominions and Laws of the Sea (London 1705), this was one bearing alternate green and white stripes, with the Portuguese royal arms superimposed. The Portuguese in India established a system of granting passes to native vessels sailing under their protection, which was copied by the English. The former may have permitted country junks to use their commercial flag minus the royal arms, and the English may have adopted the practice, merely substituting red for green. It would be natural for the Company in that case to go one step further, and distinguish their own ships by the use of the national emblem (St George's cross) in the canton.

David Prothero, 01 September 1999