Flags and the Red River Resistance

An annotated visual guide to historical flags associated with Red River Settlement — as presented in fact (meaning verified by historical sources) and, perhaps, in fiction (meaning some flags were only rumoured to have flown and have to be imaginatively reconstructed).


Ancien Régime/ French Flag in Nouvelle France/ New France, 1534-1763:

From the 16th century, a standard with three gold fleurs-de-lis on a blue field was the symbol of French sovereignty in North America. This Royal Arms of France was displayed whenever new lands were claimed.[1]

[1] See “Fleur-de-lis,” Historical Flags, Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada website (archived content; accessed 11 September 2014).



British Flag 1670 (the year of the Hudson’s Bay Company Royal Charter):

Adopted 1606 and flown to 1800, symbolizing the union of England and Scotland.[2]

[2] See ” Royal Union Flag,” Historical Flags, Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada website (archived content; accessed 11 September 2014).



HBC standard incorporating the Union Flag:

hbc 1670

From 1670 to 1800



The North West Company Flag, 1779:

Possibility A

Possibility B

“The first co-partnership of 1779 was followed by the agreements of 1780-1782, 1783-1787, 1787-1792, 1792-1798, 1798-1802, 1802-1804, and 1804-1821. The NWC’s roster changed over the years, but the 1779 group did contribute one lasting mark: the company flag flew for the first time in that year.”[3]

[3] “The Partners and Partnerships,” In Pursuit of Adventure: The Fur Trade in Canada and the North West Company,  McGill Library Digital Exhibitions and Collections (accessed 11 September 2014).



British Union Flag from 1801:

Modified flag symbolizing the union of England and Scotland with Ireland.



The Hudson’s Bay Company Standard from 1801:

Flag flown at HBC fur trade posts, including Upper Fort Garry, Red River Settlement.

Alexandre-Antonin Taché, Bishop of St. Boniface, testified before an Inquiry in 1873 that

“There was no British flag used in the country [Assiniboia] for some time previous to the movement [of 1869-1870]. When the Hudson’s Bay Company did use a flag, it was not the British flag proper, it was a ‘Union Jack,’ with the letters ‘H.B.C.’

On account of the letters ‘H.B.C.’ on the flag, it was considered the flag of the Company. It used to be the practice to fly this flag on Sundays, but for some months before the troubles this practice had ceased, and a far as I know this flag was not hoisted at all for some months.”[4]

[4] A.-A. Taché quoted in Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” Journals of the House of Commons 8 (Appendix 6), [Ottawa: I.B. Taylor] 1874; also printed as Canada, Parliament, Chambre des Communes, “Rapport du Comitée spécial sur les causes des troubles du Territoire du Nord-Ouest en 1869–70, Journaux de la Chambre des Communes 8 (annexe 6), 1874), 31 (page number to the English-language edition).



Cuthbert Grant Jr.’s New Nation Flag c. 1815:




Devised and displayed during an intense period of conflict between the HBC and NWC.


[5] “The Métis Flag,” Cuthbert Grant, Canadian Wartime Experience, University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections (accessed 11 September 2014).



The Parti Patriote Flag a.k.a. the Papineau Standard 1837-1838:

A chronicler of  Red River history, Alexander Ross, commented that during 1837-1838,

“The Papineau rebellion … broke out in Canada about this time, and the echo of which soon reached us, added fresh fuel to the spirit of disaffection. The Canadians of Red River sighed for the success of their brethren’s cause. Patriotic songs were chanted on every side in praise of Papineau. In the plains, the half-breeds made a flag, called the Papineau standard, which was waved in triumph for years, and the rebels’ deeds extolled to the skies.”[6]

Ross was referring to the struggle, of Louis-Joseph Papineau and the Parti Patriote, to see responsible government instituted in Lower Canada. As historian Allan Greer explains,

“In 1837-38 Canada came as close to revolution as ever it would. The parliamentary régime had ceased to function in Lower Canada, as a movement (the ‘patriots’), pushing in the direction of democracy and independence, ran into a stone wall of British intransigence.”[7]

Perhaps not coincidentally, Jean-Louis Riel (a.k.a. Louis Riel Sr., the father of Louis Riel, president of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia), arrived at Red River from Lower Canada in 1838. It is not known whether he had participated in the rebellion (in which case he might have fled Lower Canada to avoid summary incarceration, execution, or deportation/ exile; though he might simply have been returning to a preferred homeland — he having been born a Île-à-la-Crosse). Undoubtedly, however, Riel Sr. communicated information on the ideals of the political reform movement to people of Red River. He was a leading force (along with James Sinclair), in settler protests during the 1840s against the proprietary government of the HBC — which provided neither for a representative (meaning elected) legislative assembly, nor for a responsible council (chosen from an elected Assembly as opposed to being appointed by the HBC Governor).[8]

In 1869, the members of the Comité National des Métis/ Métis National Committee, who were stationed at the barricade/ la barrière on the road from Upper Fort Garry to Pembina, where it crossed the Rivière Sale/ Dirty River,[9] referred to themselves as the “parti Patriote,” and the “Patriot Army.” Although they were not recorded as carrying a flag,[10] it seems that while performing their guard duty they passed the time by composing verses sung to “La Marseille.” These were written down and “circulated among the half-breeds of the neighbourhood.”[11] The lyrics were also shown to William McDougall, the rejected Lieutenant-governor appointed by Canada.

[6] Alexander Ross, The Red River Settlement: Its Rise, Progress, and Present State: With Some Account of the Native Races and Its General History to the Present Day (London: Smith, Elder and Company, 1856), 239, see also 224.

[7] Allan Greer, quoted in “Reference Material from the Patriot War 1837-38,” Thousand Islands Life.com (accessed 11 September 2014); see also Allan Greer, The Patriot’s and the People: The Rebellion of 1837 in Rural Lower Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993); and  CBC, “The Reformers and the Patriotes,” CBC learning (accessed 11 September 2014).

[8] See Darren O’Toole, “The Machiavellian Moment of the Métis of Manitoba,” Ph.D. diss. (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 2010), 106-110; W.L. Morton, “Riel, Louis,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography online [DCB]; and Irene M. Spry, “Sinclair, James,” DCB.

[9] Later renamed the La Salle River. Its English-language name has often been represented as ‘Stinking River,’ but that was actually another river further to the south that had the same French-language name. The other Rivière Sale was known in English as the Salt/ Stinking River  because of its salt springs and alkali waters (additionally, the other Rivière Sale was known as Forest River).

[10] Likewise, the people of the “Peace Party” — led in late October 1969 by William Dease and organized to attempt to have the Canadian Lieutenant Governor designate, William McDougall, allowed to enter the settlement — were not widely recorded as having a flag of their own. There was, however, a mention in the New Nation (18 February 1870), that implied there might have been a “Point Coupee” flag (Dease’s parish of residence). See also “Possible Objectors to a Provisional Government, 29 Nov. 1869,” this site.

[11] Great Britain, Colonial Office, and Canada, Governor General, “Correspondence Relative to the Recent Disturbances in the Red River Settlement; Presented to both Houses of Parliament by Command of Her Majesty, August, 1870,” Blue Book Reports for 1869 and Journals of the House of Commons (London: William Clowes and Sons, 1870), 15; and “Songs of the Resistance,” this site.



Signal Flag used in the Fall Buffalo Hunt, 1861:

In 1861 the local Red River newspaper, reporting on the fall buffalo hunt, remarked:

“A noticeable feature in this expedition is that the signal flag carried a Union Jack—a very pretty piece of bunting—which floated over the Bonsecours Market, Montreal, on the occasion of [Albert Edward] the Prince of Wales visit to the city [in 1860]. It was presented to the hunters by Mr. [J.D.] Gremmill.”[12]

This standard was possibly the flag flown at Upper Fort Garry in 1870 by the Provisional Government of Assiniboia.

[12] “The Fall Hunt,” Nor’-Wester (15 November 1861), 2. J.D. Gremmill was in company with William Wentwort-Fitzwilliam ‘Lord Milton,’ M. La Grange and “other gentlemen-riders … among the hunters.”



Canadian Dominion Flag 1869:

Devised after the confederation of three British North American possessions:

  • the Province of Canada — comprised of Canada West/ Upper Canada (Ontario) and Canada East/ Lower Canada (Quebec);
  • the Colony of New Brunswick; and
  • the Colony of Nova Scotia.

As of 1869, the flag included the crests for four provinces of the new Dominion:

  • Ontario,
  • Quebec,
  • New Brunswick, and
  • Nova Scotia.



‘Dr’ John Christian Schultz‘s ‘Canadian Party’ Flag, Town of Winnipeg, 1869:

In June of 1869, the Parliament of Canada ratified terms for the transfer of Rupert’s Land and the North-West from the HBC to the British Crown, setting the initial date of transfer as 1 October 1869. It then passed An Act for the Temporary Goverment of Rupert’s Land, 1869, and arranged to send a Lieutenant-governor from Canada — William McDougall — to Red River to replace the HBC Governor and Council of Assiniboia as the official government in charge of the settlement. Canadians at Red River — known locally as the ‘Canadian Party’ — expressed their jubilance by erecting a flag.

Possibility A

In a letter written in 1870 — after he had been rejected as a governor; had been prevented from entering the settlement; and had returned to Canada — William McDougall (who had never actually seen it) referred to the Canadian Party flag flown at Red River in 1869 only as “the British flag, with the word ‘Canada’ upon it.”[13]

Alexander Begg, who lived within the settlement at the time and kept a daily journal in which he recorded his impressions, commented,

“Dr. S[c]hultz some time ago about the time when it became known that the mission of Mssrs. [William] McDougall and [George Étienne] Cartier in England with regard to the transfer of this country was successful erected a flag staff on which he used to hoist the British flag with the words ‘Canada’ inserted in the middle of it in white letters.”[14]

The two mentions suggest the version of the flag, ‘Possibility A,’ above.

Possibility B

Alexander McArthur, a newcomer from Canada, who arrived at Red River Settlement at the end of October 1869, witnessed some of the events of the Resistance. In his reminiscences, he included stories of events that took place before his arrival. According to McArthur:

“In the beginning of the summer of 1869, when news reached the settlement of the successful negotiations in London the Canadian party in the little village of Winnipeg (adjoining Fort Garry) looked upon the matter as a great victory, and assuming that nothing further required to be done, considered the country as already under the Canadian Government. Dr. Schultz had a flag-pole erected in front of the Nor’Wester [sic: Nor’-Wester] office and alongside his own store, and hoisted on it a large flag with the word Canada across its whole face.”[15]

Bishop Taché of St. Boniface testified several years later that “Schultz’s flag was, as I understand, hoisted in opposition to the Hudson’s Bay Company.” The self-designated ‘Dr.’, John Christian Schultz, was regarded as a leader of the Canadian Party at Red River. His flag was elsewhere described as “an improvised version of the Canadian Ensign.”[16] The Canadian ensign, like the HBC and NWC flags, was not a Union Jack proper, but a red flag with the union device in one corner, which would suggest a flag such as that shown above.

McArthur observed that the Canadian Party flag had been “of course, anything but pleasing to Governor McTavish [sic].” The displeasure perhaps stemmed from Schultz’s being poorly regarded by the HBC Governor and Council of Assiniboia. First Schultz had run up bad debts. Then he had flouted the Council’s directive that he settle accounts with his creditors, refusing to pay or to serve out his jail sentence — which he avoided by escaping. And then again, HBC Governor William Mactavish was perhaps annoyed that Schultz’s flag so closely resembled the Company’s own.

According to one report (written by an anonymous American correspondent), Schultz was not prevented from continuing to fly his flag at least into early November 1869, and perhaps longer. After the Comité National des Métis had taken possession of Upper Fort Garry (on 2 November 1869), according to the correspondent:

“Dr. Schultz has been in the habit of hoisting on Sundays and holidays the British flag, with the word Canada written on the red ground [suggesting the flag was ‘Possibility B’ above]. I hear it is the Doctor’s intention to hoist it as usual to-morrow, and there are predictions of evil if this should be the case.”[17]

The supposition that the flag would elicit anger from the Comité National was apparently unfounded. According to further testimony by Bishop Taché, among the people of Red River, Schultz’s flag “was considered a party flag. Mr. Riel considered that if one man in the country had a right to raise a flag of his own, the same right extended to other men.”[18]

Possibility C

Alexander Jamieson Russell, illustrator for The Canadian Illustrated News (published in Montreal), imagined Schultz’s flag as something along the lines of the design shown above: consisting of only “Canada” laid out across a light-hued ground. He included it in a depiction of the Town of Winnipeg, shown below.

Alexander Jamieson Russell, illustration, “Town of Winnipeg,” Canadian Illustrated News 1 (Saturday, 18 December 1869), 101.

Russell illustrated the view of the Town of Winnipeg as seen from outside the north gate of Upper Fort Garry. The flag was accurately shown in front of the Nor’-Wester newspaper office and beside ‘Fort Schultz,’ a large, new, two-storey, brick building that served as a drugstore, warehouse, and boarding house.[19]

[13] William McDougall, “Letter V,” The Red River Rebellion: Eight Letters to Hon. Joseph Howe (Toronto: Hunter, Rose and Company, 1870), 35.
[14] Alexander Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River journal: and other papers relative to the Red River resistance of 1869-1870, ed. W.L. Morton (Toronto: Champlain Society, 1956), 175. See also Oblate historian Rev. A. G. Morice cited in James B. Stanton, “A Mysterious Canadian Ensign,” Manitoba Pageant 16, no. 3 (Spring 1971).
[15] Alex McArthur, “On the Causes of the Rising in the Red River Settlement, 1869-70,” Manitoba Historical Society [MHS] Transactions ser. 1, no. 1 (read 5 October 1882).
[16] Stanton, “Mysterious Canadian Ensign”; and McDougall, “Appendix,” Red River Rebellion: Eight Letters to Hon. Joseph Howe, 62.
[18] Ibid., 31.



The ‘Fenian Flag’ run up Schultz’s pole, 1 July 1869:

Alleged flag

Various websites allege the image above (or one similar to it) is that of a standard created in 1869 at Red River Settlement, purportedly designed by Louis Riel and used by the Provisional Governments of 1869-1870 and 1885.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provisional_Government_of_Saskatchewan; http://www.worldstatesmen.org/Canada_Provinces_A-O.html ; http://www.thefullwiki.org/Provisional_Government_of_Saskatchewan.

None of the sites supply sources to support their claim. It is more likely that the flag they refer to was one used in a prank and run up the flagpole in front of John C. Schultz’s store. 

Alexander McArthur included in his reminiscences a story of flag shenanigans reputed to have taken place before his arrival. According to McArthur:

“Among other sympathizers with the [HBC] Governor and the company were to be numbered nearly all of the Americans in place, and some of the lower orders of these during the early morning of the 1st of July, hauled the obnoxious flag [flown by John C. Schultz] down, and in its place hoisted the Fenian flag. This was, of course, hauled down as soon as it was observed; but it was a great grievance to the Canadian party that the people guilty of hoisting the Fenian flag, were furnished by the Governor, on the 4th of July, with a cannon for the purpose of firing a salute in honor of Independence day.”[20]

Apparently Schultz — who was fond of describing as ‘loyal’ all right-minded people (meaning those who agreed with him) — was regarded as having Orange Order [Protestant] sympathies. Having his flag captured and replaced by a ‘Green’ [Catholic] flag — if such an event ever actually took place (it might not have) — would therefore be quite the jibe.

A possible candidate for instigating such a prank would be Hugh Francis ‘Bob’ Olone. He was an American proprietor of the saloon across Main Street from ‘Dr.’ Schultz’s drugstore. Olone had been a captain in the Union army during the American Civil War. He had begun his service in the ‘Irish Regiment,’ the 69th New York Volunteers and may well have had a commemorative flag in his possession afterwards (perhaps on display at his saloon). Aside from having an Irish heritage, Olone was opposed to the Canadian Party (and before long would be an honourable member of the Legislative Assembly of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia).

HBC Governor Mactavish’s act of rewarding the ‘guilty’ might have had something to do the fact that he was on good terms with Olone (who was in the process of organizing Winnipeg’s first fire department, the ‘Mactavish Fire Engine Company No. 1’). Additionally, like Olone, Mactavish’s wife, Mary Sarah ‘Sally’ McDermot (sister of Anne ‘Annie’ McDermot Bannatyne, who whipped Schultz’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, Charles Mair), was of Irish heritage and Catholic. It is not unreasonable to assume that lending cannon for a ‘street party’ celebrating the survival of the United States after its recent civil war was simply a courtesy extended by Mactavish to a good neighbour and co-congregant of St. Boniface Cathedral.

A more likely candidate

banner of the 69th

Was this the notorious ‘Fenian flag’? The image above depicts a standard of the ‘1st Irish Regiment’/ ‘Fighting 69th.’ This was the flag under which Hon. Hugh F. Olone of the legislative Assembly of the Provisional Government of Assiniboia had once fought as a Union soldier during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

About a year after the green flag incident, the local Red River newspaper, the New Nation, ran a notice refuting “slander” that had circulated in Canada: Eleanor Eliza Cripps Kennedy, the Canadian-born wife of Captain William Kennedy (a respected Métis resident of Red River with a Irish surname), was accused of having embroidered a Fenian flag that was “boisted [sic: hoisted] over Fort Garry” during the Resistance. The newspaper asserted that “there exists not even the shadow of foundation” for such an accusation.[21]

[21] “A Slander Refuted” New Nation (16 July 1870). See also “Aftermath: The ‘Reign of Terror’,” this site. The accusation that a Fenian flag flew over Upper Fort Garry can be traced to “Indignation Meeting. Immense Crowd,” Toronto Globe (7 April 1870), along with other allegations, which are commented upon in “The Toronto Telegraph’s Own Correspondent,” New Nation (23 July 1870), 2 — including a statement that, as of 2 July 1870, “The Fenian Flag still floats at Upper Fort Garry from the tall flagstaff taken from Dr. Schultz’s premises, and under it on a shorter pole, the British ensign hung at half mast.” Mention of the flag also appears in a transcription of the Globe article in Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal, 513.



American Flag suitable for 4 July 1869 celebrations in Town of Winnipeg:

Note that there were 37 states in the union at the time.[22]

[22] See also, “National Treasures, Flags in American Politics,” Zaricor Flag Collection (accessed 11 September 2014), for design variations on the layout of the 37 stars.
Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal, 259 , 260, 261, 265, 287, reports that on 12-26 January 1870, the flag flew “over George Emerling’s [sic: George Emmerling‘s] Hotel where Oscar Malmoras [sic: Jürgen Christopher Oscar ‘George’ Malmros] the [American] Consul resides — at half mast in the memory of the death of [Edwin M.] Stanton the American Ex Secretary of War.”



Flags allegedly flown at Upper Fort Garry by the provisional government(s) begun by the Comité National des Métis (imagined reconstructions):

The Minneapolis Tribune of 24 November 1869 reported that the “Republic of the Half-breeds” had installed itself in Upper Fort Garry as of 2 November 1869. It was further alleged that as of 6 November, “A new flag has been adopted, which is composed of a white ground, upon which are displayed three crosses — the centre one large and scarlet coloured, the side ones smaller and gold coloured. A golden fringe binds the white ground.”[23]

Imagined reconstruction of a flag said to have flown during the 1885 Resistance, and of a design that perhaps had its origins in a Red River or Pembina hunt brigade. [See also the Gabriel Dumont Institute’s reconstruction, “The 1885 Resistance Standard Flag.”]

It is worth remarking that captains of the Red River Buffalo Hunt each had a signal flag that represented their constituency of hunters. It is possible that the first flag raised at Upper Fort Garry by Red River settlers was a signal to the wider community, indicating exactly which traditional hunt brigade, or brigades, had occupied the premises. The flag might have been the signal flag of either St. Norbert or St. Vital hunters, or, it might have been a new design that signalled the combining of the two groups. William McDougall, the Canadian Lieutenant Governor designate who had not been allowed to enter the Settlement, in fact alluded to the occupiers of Upper Fort Garry as a “faction that rallied the Buffalo-hunters to their standard.”[24]


Imagining Henry Woodington’s version.

Henry Woodington was among the Canadian Volunteer Militia taken prisoner on 7 December 1869 after their surrender of ‘Fort Schultz’ (the drugstore). He described the Provisional Government flag as “made of white Duffle, 2 x 3 feet in size. There are three fleur de luce [sic] or Flower of France [missing word?] across the surface with a shamrock in the centre of the bottom edge.”[25]

On-site HBC Governor William Mactavish reported that the first provisional government flag had been run up at Upper Fort Garry, “with much formality,” as that government was proclaimed on 10 December 1869. He did not describe the flag, which is unfortunate, because the descriptions that do exist do not agree on details of the design.[26]

According to Bishop Taché (who was not present in the settlement at the time), “The flag used by the Provisional Government was the French flag with the ‘Fleur de lis,’ to which was afterwards added the shamrock.” He did not, however, indicate which flag of France this might have been. Although the one displayed at the top of this page would seem a logical choice, there were variations on the flag of France, others of which also featured fleur de lys.[27]

Newspapers in Canada thought reports of flags being flown at Red River worthy of comment. In a column headed “The Leaders at Red River,” the Toronto Globe, along with much criticism of the Resistance, reported on 14 January 1870:

“[A] … letter in L’Evenement of the 10th inst., lets us understand that the unfurling of the flag of which we have heard so much, was not a novelty. That flag has been used from time immemorial and has been unfurled in all the varied enterprises of the French half-breeds for years on years. It seems such flags are quite numerous in that region. The Hudson Bay Company have one. The various religious denominations have also their own flags, and so have different companies of merchants. One flag, however, has never appeared there, and that is the British flag. So that, according to this writer, the raising of the new Government flag could mean no disrespect to the British Ensign, as it has never been unfurled to the breeze in that quarter.”[28]

The assertion that the Métis customarily flew the flag of New France has some merit, because “The Royal Arms of France, with its three gold fleurs-de-lis on a blue field, was the royal emblem displayed whenever French explorers claimed new land in North America.”[29] That flag, however, did not date to ‘time immemorial,’ even in France. The final statement in the article is open to challenge, mainly because it all depends on what the author meant by “British Ensign” and whether the HBC flag was acknowledged as such.

Donald A. Smith, HBC commissioner of the Montreal department, was sent to Red River as Commissioner from Canada and reported that while at the settlement he objected to the “Fleur-de-lis and shamrocks” flying at the time of the mass meeting held outdoors 18-19 January 1870.[30] Bishop A.A. Taché pointed out that “there never was any such thing as taking down the British flag at all” — because a proper Union Jack had not been flown at Fort Garry for at least two years previous.[31] The usual flag was the HBC version of the British ensign.

According to Alexander Begg (who was in the settlement at the time), “the Provisional Government flag” had “the fleur de lys and shamrock on the fly.”[32] The phrase “on the fly,” used by Begg, refers to the space on a British ensign where a colonial crest is placed — hence the design imagined above (which could explain Donald Smith’s displeasure). Begg penned a square in his journal in which he promised an illustration of the flag design. Unfortunately, either

  • Begg did not in fact supply an illustration (is it possible that he never actually saw it, but only recorded a rumour?), or,
  • whatever he supplied was subsequently removed.

It is remotely possible that Begg meant the blank rectangle to be read as an illustration of the battle flag/ colonial flag of France. But, if that were the case, his mention of fleur de lys, shamrock, and ‘on the fly’ would make no sense.

battle flag

From the early 1600s, the battle flag and the colonial flag of France (previously consisting of a cross and four quarters, the dimensions of which are indicated by the broken lines above), were plain white — symbolizing both purity and royal might — until the adoption of the French tricolour in the 1790s. See “The White Flag as a Battle Flag,” Canadian Military History Gateway, Government of Canada website (accessed 11 September 2014).

In addition, according to Begg’s journal, there were at least three provisional government flags, each larger than the last (the 2d flag went up on 6 February, the 3d on 24 May). Potentially, these differed one from another, to some degree, in design as well as in size.[33] For example, Taché’s comment that the shamrock was added ‘afterwards’ might mean that it did not appear on the earliest flag(s). Most accounts, regardless of date, however, mention the shamrock.

The shamrock is a symbol connected to both Catholic Ireland and the nexus of the French fur trade — Montreal (also predominantly Catholic, and a city that experienced a relatively large Irish influx).[34] The crest of the city of Montreal had (and still has) a shamrock (three clover leaves entwined together) on it, as shown below:

Jacques Viger, illustration, “Armoiries de Montréal, version originale de 1833/Coat of arms of Montreal, original version of 1833,” Wikimedia, public domain.

The four original symbols for the Montreal crest were a beaver, thistle, rose, and shamrock. The crest lost the beaver in 1938, when a fleur de lys was substituted.



Another possibility, regarding what the first Provisional Government flag looked like, is raised by the design of the flag created in 1910 by the Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba (which had gold fleur de lys on light blue ground in 3 corners and the Union Jack in the 4th corner — all on a white ground).[35] If the 1910 flag was modelled after the 1869 – 1870 flag of the Provisional Government — except that the shamrock was removed (any suggestion of association with Fenians having become extremely unpopular after the creation of Manitoba) — then the earlier Provisional Government flag might have looked something like the one shown above.


Then again, Louis Schmidt — an honourable member of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia and Secretary of the Provisional Government — suggested there was one additional symbol displayed, at least on the original flag. In his memoirs of 1919, Schmidt recalled:

“Le 6 décembre [sic] 1869 fut un jour mémorable pour nous. Outre la prise de cinquante prisonniers et l’émanation de notre fière proclamation, nous devions ce jour-là arborer le nouveau drapeau du gouvernement Provisoire. Ce drapeau à été conservé. Il avait un fond blanc, avec des fleurs de lys et de trèfle, et un gros bison en relief, dans le bas.”[36]

[My translation: December 6, 1869, was a memorable day for us. In addition to taking fifty prisoners and issuing our emminent proclamation, we had that day the new flag of the Provisional Government to fly. That flag has been preserved. It had a white background, with fleur de lys and clover, and a large bison depicted in relief on the bottom.]

Schmidt also told an anecdote which implied a similarity to the all-white battle flag/colonial flag of France. He recounted,

“I cannot help telling a rather comic episode with respect to that flag. An old Frenchman lived on the St. Boniface side, who insisted on being called ‘Dr’ Pillard, and who sympathized completely with us. He came almost every day to the Fort. He lived on the road which I followed on my way home, and I often stopped to see him. The evening of that day, on my way home, I saw him at his door, gesticulating, and shaking his fist towards the fort, and uttering some indignant words: ‘What,’ he said, ‘You have run up the white flag, that accursed flag and symbol of tyranny, that I have crossed the seas in order never to see again.”[37]

Pillard was likely referring to the all-white flag of France, as the white flag decorated with gold fleur de lys (shown below) “could only be flown in the presence of the king … It was flown officially only very rarely in France itself, and not at all in Canada.”[38]

royal france

The flag “mentioned by so many history books as the essence of the Ancien Régime, and which often appears in encyclopedias.” The White Flag as a Battle Flag,” Canadian Military History Gateway, Government of Canada website (accessed 11 September 2014).

And finally, Alexandre Nault (son of André Nault), gave an interview in 1959, in which he averred that the flag of the provisional government was one that, by that date, “no one living has seen.” He described it as “white with French fleur-de-lis and Irish shamrocks entwined.”[39]

To date, it is anyone’s guess what the flag(s) of the provisional government(s) might have been.

My hypothesis:

  • Given that the flag had to be sewn by hand, that women were likely to do that work, and that one obvious coterie of women available to do that work resided at the convent in St. Boniface;
  • if the flag was stitched together by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal/ Sœurs de la Charité de Montréal/  Grey Nuns/ Sœurs Grises (one of whom was Sarah Riel; all of whom celebrated the Sacré-Couer/ Sacred Heart),[40] and

• they used available materials (including flags already on hand),

  • then they might have combined elements from

• a Hudson’s Bay Company flag (for the Union Jack),
• a flag known as the Carillon-Sacré-Coeur (for the fleur de lys),
• all arranged on a white ground (the French colonial standard/ battle flag in North America),
• with added embroidery (the ‘shamrocks entwined’), copied from the crest of the home city of their religious order, Montreal (the inclusion of the symbolic reference additionally serving to acknowledge the historic ties of Red River people to the NWC).

  • with a result similar to the illustration below

A provisional idea

provisional flag

 Hypothetical flag: adapted from a Carillon-Sacré-Coeur flag (link to photograph of an original) with its diagonally placed fleur de lys; and the ‘shamrock entwined’ taken from the initial coat of arms of the city of Montreal (link to a graphic of the original shamrock entwined). NB: the broken lines are suggestive of stitching of the ‘cross and quarters’ of the French flag only and would not have been visible.

[24] William McDougall, “Letter IV,” The Red River Rebellion: Eight Letters to Hon. Joseph Howe, 32.
[25] See Henry Woodington “Diary of A Prisoner in Red River Rebellion,” Niagara Historical Society 25 (1913), 33.
[26] Great Britain et al, “Correspondence Relative to the Recent Disturbances in the Red River Settlement,” 191. Stanton, “Mysterious Canadian Ensign,” who was at one time the director of the Manitoba Museum of Man and Nature, observed in 1971 that “Descriptions of [the provisional government flag] vary with each chronicler and none of these match up with the flag shown in the St. Boniface Museum.”
In my opinion, the descriptions should not be expected to accord exactly with the flag at the museum, as that flag is the original flag of Union nationale métisse St Joseph du Manitoba. See nn. 34, 35 below.
For sample flags of the Ancien Régime see “The White Flag as a Battle Flag,” Canadian Military History Gateway; and “Flags of the French Regime (1534-1760),” Posters of Historical flags of Canada, Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada website (accessed 11 September 2014).
[28] “The Leaders at Red River,” Toronto Globe (14 January 1870).
[29]Fleur-de-lis,” Historical Flags, Canadian Heritage, Government of Canada website (archived content; accessed 11 September 2014).
[32] See Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal, 75, 225.
[33] Morton, ed., and Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal, 75 n. 3; 124; 125; 175, 225, 277, 297, 342, 343, 345, 347, 352, 353, 356, 360, 361, 362, 364, 365, 372, 373, 374, 375, 443, 467, 526, 544; and Begg, Creation of Manitoba, 182.
 A Note on the Ups and Downs of Flags at Upper Fort Garry:
According to Begg, by 22 March 1870, there were rumours that the flag was to be replaced by the Union Jack (many of Begg’s reports appear to rely on rumours). Reputedly, the provisional government flag flew to about 25 March. Then there appear to have been problems with the pole, because the flag had to be cut down. No flag was visible until about 29 March when the provisional government flag was again raised. On 8 April no flag was visible. On 12 April the provisional government flag was again reported to be flying. On 20 April the Union Jack was again raised. From that point onward, it was presumed that the provisional government flag was to be only flown “under the protection” of the Union Jack (below the British flag). On 22 April, however, Begg alleged the order was reversed. On 23 April the Union Jack was down and only the provisional government flag was visible. On 24 April, it appears the provisional government flag was cut down a second time — though it was apparently flying again the next day. It flew to early May, when it seems to have been replaced by a Union Jack (which Begg described as sometimes up and sometimes not in the intervening days). Afterwards, the provisional flag reportedly flew intermittently with the Union Jack.
For all of the speculative reasons, put forward by Begg and on the part of editor W.L. Morton — for the two government flags to be up and down (and sometimes only halfway up or down) — reasonable explanations can be inferred from statements couched amidst the recorded rumours.
First, it seems the old flag pole at Upper Fort Garry was replaced by a new one. The new pole was that on which Schultz had previously flown the Canada Party standard. Perhaps the new pole was taller. Perhaps its pulley system was assumed to be in better condition than that on the old Upper Fort Garry pole. The rope, however, proved problematic too, and a new one had to be strung.
Second, it is possible that it took some time before a suitable Union Jack could be procured (one large enough to fly with dignity when compared in size to the provisional government flag). After one was obtained, it is possible that the provisional government flag was flown principally as a signal that the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was in session.
[34] Along with a number of the people Red River Settlement, reputedly Louis Riel, too, had Irish ancestry. This lineage is said to trace back to Jean Baptiste ‘Sansouci’ Riel dit l’Irelande, a.k.a. Jack Reilly. According to family lore, he was born c. 1645, in Limerick, Ireland; served as one of the Irish ‘Wild Geese‘ and assimilated into the army of Louis XIV; voyaged to Canada and soldiered in the Compagnie de La Valtrie (Berthier Company of the Carignan-Salieres Regiment); and died at Lavaltrie, Quebec. Evidence to substantiate the story is elusive, however. It is not clear that Jean Baptiste Riel was the same person as Jack Rielly or that the latter even existed (birth records do not exist, and he is not listed as a known soldier in the Carignan-Salieres Regiment, nor is there a record showing that he married Louise Lafontaine in Ireland).
[35] See “Drapeau Union nationale métisse St Joseph du Manitoba (1910 -),” Drapeaux d’Origine & d’Inspirations Françaises website (accessed 11 September 2014).
[36] Louis Schmidt, typescript [copy], “Les memoires [sic] de Louis Schmidt,” 1911-1912, AM, MG9 A31, Louis Schmidt Papers (available online from University of Saskatchewan Libraries Special Collections, [A.S.] Morton Manuscripts Collection, MSS-C550-2-3-20, http://scaa.sk.ca/ourlegacy/permalink/25702), 76. Other accounts give the main arrest date as 7 December, the proclamation as 8-10 December, and the flag raising ceremony as 10 December.
The flag Schmidt refers to as ‘preserved’ might be the “original flag of the Union Nationale Métisse” (of c. 1887), and not the original provisional government flag. The Union Nationale Métisse flag is now housed in the Heritage Centre of the Société Historique de Saint-Boniface (founded 1902).
[37] Louis Schmidt, quoted in Morton, ed., trans., Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal, 468. See also Archives of Manitoba [AM], MG3 B20, “Louis Schmidt correspondence with Colin Inkster. 1930, Original. 2pp. Secretary to Louis Riel,” described as “The collection consists of correspondence with Colin Inkster re: Flag of Provisional Government”; and AM, MG3 B21, “Roger Goulet, Original. 1 pp, Gift from W.L. Morton,” described as “The collection consists of sketch of Provisional Government Flag prepared for W.L. Morton.”
[38]The White Flag as a Battle Flag,” Canadian Military History Gateway, Government of Canada website (accessed 11 September 2014).
[39] See Derrick M. Nault, “Kin Relive Historic Riel Days“, who has posted a scan of the original article: Lillian Gibbons, “Kin Relive Historic Riel Days,” Winnipeg Tribune (4 March 1959), and a photograph of a ‘Riel flag’ that was perhaps printed with the same article.
[40] See Lesley Erickson, “Repositioning the Missionary: Sara Riel, the Grey Nuns, and Aboriginal Women in Catholic Missions of the Northwest,” in Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands, ed. Sarah Carter and Patricia McCormack (Edmonton: Athabasca University Press, 2010), 115-116. At the convent, the programs of instruction for girls, although they might include “French, English, history, mathematics, painting, and music,” focussed on developing skills believed essential to mothers of Catholic children and wives of Catholic farmers. Sarah Riel (sister of Louis Riel), for example, learned “to spin, knit, sew, and embroider, to perform all the duties required to maintain a household and demonstrate domestic economy.  … Like most nineteenth-century teaching orders, the Grey Nuns regarded their students’ piety, modesty, and artistic skills as being more practical and pleasing to God than academic achievement. … and the first Friday of each month and the entire month of June were devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.



Flag at Kildonan Parish:

In February of 1870, while preparing to attack Upper Fort Garry, the Canadian Party hoisted a flag, “brought down from the Portage,” over the school house at Kildonan. It was described as “a large ensign with the words ‘God Save The Queen’ stitched across it.”[41]

[41] “The Revolution!” New Nation (18 February 1870), 2 columns 4 and 6; and “The Revolution!,” New Nation (25 February 1870), 2. See also Stanton, “Mysterious Canadian Ensign”; Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal, 309.



Flag flown at Upper Fort Garry by the Provisional Government of Assiniboia:

Alexander Begg described the flag flown by the Provisional Government of Assiniboia, from 7 April 1870 onwards as England’s flag. He did not mention any crest ‘on the fly,’ which opens the possibility that this was the Union Jack.

Alexandre-Antonin Taché, Bishop of St. Boniface, wrote from Red River Settlement, to Hon. Joseph Howe, Canadian Secretary of Sate for the Provinces, on 3 May 1870:

The British flag was hoisted two weeks ago  [mid April, on or about the time of the closing of the first session of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia], and is since floating; trade is freely carried on; preparations are made to convey the usual supplies to the interior, messengers have been sent to prevent any assault against the Company’s establishments inland, peace and quietness prevail, and throughout the whole settlement prisons are long ago empty, the regular administration of justice has taken its course; with the sole exception of fear of the Indians, the settlement was recovering from the danger incurred during the whole winter, and anticipating a fair and advantageous agreement with Canada. … I have mentioned fear relative to the Indians, and I am sorry to say that such danger is really very great. [Col. J.S.] Dennis, [Charles] Mair, [‘Dr.’ J.C.] Schultz and [Joseph] Monkman have been amongst them. Some others are still busy exciting them … .”[42]

On 7 May 1870, Taché wrote to Howe that six weeks after Taché’s arrival at the settlement on 9 March the “old ‘Union Jack'” was raised at Upper Fort Garry,

“not without some little difficulties, but the noble British standard has floated ever since. Peace and confidence are prevailing, and without exception, the whole community is joyfully anticipating the speedy settlement of our past difficulties by our complete and peaceful union with Canada.”[43]

The New Nation of 22 April 1870 declared that as of 20 April,

The Union Jack floats once more in our midst, and we would beg to say, that never has the slightest feeling of disrespect been felt here towards this emblem of our Nation’s greatness. The old Provisional flag has done its duty well, and will still proudly fly under the protection of the one which is a bond of union among us. And we sincerely hope that our people, whether French or English, and strangers, who have lately come among us and been led into error, but now desire to promote their prosperity, will remember that there should be no distinction, no flag and no interest but what should be common to all. Ducit amor patriae.[44]

In 1874, Taché recalled that when the Red River Expeditionary Force arrived at the lower settlement on 23 August 1870, “the British flag was floating over [Upper] Fort Garry.” He explained that “During the night the rain poured very heavily, and they took down the British flag on that account that morning [27 August]. I had myself seen it flying the previous evening.”[45]

In 1876, A.G.B. Bannatyne, formerly an honorable member of the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia, and currently the honourable member for Provencher in the Canadian House of Commons, recounted,

During the time the delegates were at Ottawa, [William B.] O’Donoghue was not loyal to the Métis. When the British Flag was raised, a few minutes after, O’Donoghue ordered it to be taken down. News of this was brought to Reil [sic: Louis Riel] who went out and told O’Donoghue there should be but one master, that the Métis expected to have their rights secured and would live under the British Flag. In proof of it he nailed it to the mast and there it remained until the troops were brought in.[46]

The foregoing shows that there is little doubt that the Provisional Government of Assiniboia flew the Union Jack (possibly first obtained in 1861 as a souvenir of the Royal visit to Montreal in 1860—see above). Which days the flag might have flown together with the Provisional Government’s own flag, as protection (meaning flying above the latter), is less clear. Were both flags raised as often as possible (given logistics of ropes, pulleys, and weather)? Or only on specific occasions (such as the Queen’s birthday, or when the Legislative Assembly of Assiniboia was in session)?

[42] Canada et al, “Report of the Select Committee on the Causes of the Difficulties in the North-West Territory in 1869–70,” 27-28, 30. See also Louis Riel quoted in, “Session 2, Day 7: 3 May,” who implies that the Union Jack is flying when he states, “We certainly have some right to complain of injustice at the hands of some parties in Canada — parties who are now crying out against us. But our answer is, that we have as much confidence in the British flag as they have themselves (cheers).”
[43] Ibid., 30.
[44]  “The Union Jack,” New Nation (22 April 1870), 2. See also “The Storm in Upper Canada,” New Nation (6 May 1870), 2.
[46] A.G.B. Bannatyne, quoted in Canada, Parliament, House of Commons, Debates of the House of Commons of the Dominion of Canada, 3d session, 3d parliament, 1876, ed. A.M. Burgess (Ottawa: McLean, Roger & Co., 1876), 804. What Bannatyne failed to mention as a factor that might in part explain O’Donoghue’s anger was that two of the delegates invited by Canada to Ottawa had been arrested on arrival.



Katherine Jane Glen Macaulay Rae Hamilton Begg‘s Banner, St. John’s Parish

Kate's banner

Vanderleelie, “Detail of Scottish shawl, 1870 Collection of Brooklyn Museum, NY,” The Paisley Shawl: Threads of history, HugPages (accessed 10 September 2014).

On 30 April 1870 Katherine Begg (newly wed to Alexander Begg), flew a shawl — possibly similar to the one shown above — “in fun” in front of the Beggs’ residence. Purportedly, the ‘flag’ was spotted and a guard from Upper Fort Garry rode down to investigate.[47]

[47] Begg, Alexander Begg’s Red River Journal, 365.
During the resistance over the winter of 1869 – 1870, Katherine and husband in St. John’s Parish, near the Town of Winnipeg. Her brother, Colin Hamilton, did as well and might have acted in support of the Canadian Party (if he is the man identified in some accounts as Arthur Hamilton). In the spring however, both Alexander Begg (on 5 May 1870) and the New Nation (6 May 1870), recorded that Katherine and her infant daughter, Minnie, left the settlement with her brother to go to Hamilton, Canada, where she would be visiting friends until the next spring.



Dominion of Canada Flag after the Creation of Manitoba:

canada 1870

Blue ensign, shown with arms of the dominion as of 1870 on the fly.

On 23 July 1870, the Red River newspaper, New Nation, ran an article that indicated the flag flown by the Dominion, to which the new province of Manitoba now belonged, was:

“the blue ensign, with the arms of the Dominion on the fly. The arms of each of the four provinces combined in one shield, the shield surrounded with a garland or wreath of Maple leaves surmounted by a crown resting on the wreath. The ensign is pretty, although some people are inclined to think it too foreign looking. The Governor-General’s flag is the Union Jack, with the above arms or badge of the Dominion emblazoned on a shield in the centre. The flag for the Lieutenant Governors of the Provinces is the Union Jack, with the arms of the respective Provinces on a shield in the centre, surrounded by a wreath of Maple leaves.”[48]

[48] “Dominion Flags,” New Nation (23 July 1870).



Colony of Newfoundland Flag 1870:



Colony of British Columbia Flag 1870:



Colony of Prince Edward Island:


The island did not have a flag at the time, although, after it confederated with Canada in 1873, it did eventually have a badge (in 1878). The badge design was based upon the Public Seal of St. John’s Island — the name of the island when it became a colony separate from Nova Scotia in of 1769. The seal “depicted an oak tree and three small saplings with a Latin motto meaning, ‘the small under the protection of the great.’ The oak tree represented Britain, and the saplings, the island’s three counties of King’s, Queen’s and Prince.”[49]

[49] Rob Raeside, Historical Flags of Prince Edward Island. See also Alistair B. Fraser, “Prince Edward Island,” The Flags of Canada online (accessed 10 September 2014); and Governor General of Canada, “Prince Edward Island,” The Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada (accessed 10 September 2014).



Mystery Flag 1, allegedly “made by Canadian soldiers and flown over Fort Garry” after the arrival of the Red River Expedition Force

A “Miss Sybil Inkster,” donated this flag to the Manitoba Museum c. 1968. A “newspaper report” indicated Sheriff Colin Inkster “used this flag” at the unveiling of a cairn in 1927, and asserted its Canadian soldierly origin. James B. Stanton noted, however, “The flag shown here does not match any of the known descriptions” of those flown during or after the resistance, but that it “very nearly resembles the flag shown in Lord Selkirk’s drawing of Fort Douglas.”[50]

Detail of Thomas Douglas, pencil sketch, “Fort Douglas” (1817), reproduced in George Bryce, Lord Selkirk’s Colonists, p. 112; and Manitoba, p. 160.

The Fort Douglas cairn and plaque were unveiled in 1925 near the northwest corner of Higgins Avenue and Maple Street —  perhaps the ‘newspaper report’ was referring to the 1925 event and printed ‘1927’ in error. (Or, maybe the blue patches faded away, or fell off over time.)

[50] Stanton, “Mysterious Canadian Ensign.”



Mystery Flag 2, possibly “brought out with one of the regiments that came here in 1870.”[51]

[51] For a photograph of the actual flag and a discussion of its origins, see James B. Stanton, “The Fenian Raids, 1866 – 1870,” Manitoba Pageant 17, no. 2 (Winter 1972).



The Manitoba Flag:

The new Province of Manitoba did not have its own flag immediately after confederating with Canada. The first ‘provincial’ flag appears to have been instead the Canadian Red Ensign. The addition of Manitoba as a province (or of provinces that subsequently entered confederation) was not officially incorporated into the ensign’s design, although various flag makers created crests to place ‘on the fly’ that indicated provincial additions. The Canadian Red Ensign immediately below shows a crest created after Manitoba entered confederation but before British Columbia or Prince Edward Island had done so.

Canadian Red Ensign c. 1871


Detail showing crest

Note Manitoba’s indistinct, but buffalo-like creature at the bottom right, under a St. George’s cross [the traditional flag of England] that seems to have an additional badge superimposed on it [most likely the Royal Crown — see the description of the Great Seal of Manitoba in 1870 immediately below].

Manitoba was granted an officially legitimized crest before receiving an officially legitimized flag of its own. On 2 August 1870 a Canadian Order-in-Council recommended a Common Seal to be called The Great Seal of the Province of Manitoba. The New Nation described a seal being made at Ottawa at that time, containing “the Cross of St. George and the Royal Crown, with a buffalo on a green field.”[52]

Although an order in council of August 1870 created the provincial seal, it was not until 1905 that “The coat of arms of Manitoba was established by royal warrant. The green shield bears a bison, a beast that provided food and clothing to indigenous groups and early settlers and gave the latter a strong export product.”[53]

[52]The Great Seal of Manitoba,New Nation (20 August 1870).
[53]Flag of Manitoba,” Encylopædia Britannica online (accessed 14 September 2012)



Canadian Red Ensign c. 1907:


Canadian Red Ensign c. 1922:


Canadian Flag 15 February 1965:

canada 1965m


Manitoba flag from 1966:

File:Flag of Manitoba.svg

The decision to adopt the current Manitoba flag was made after the federal government decided to replace the Canadian Red Ensign with the Maple Leaf flag. Queen Elizabeth II having given permission for the use of the Union device in October 1965, the Manitoba Legislative Assembly passed a bill approving the flag on  11 May 1965. The flag was officially proclaimed on 12 May 1966.


One that got away (a casualty of the ‘Great Canadian Flag Debate‘):

MB not

The Manitoba flag as it might have appeared if Canada had adopted a different flag and Canadians had decided to replace the Union Jack as a symbol in their provincial flags (that artifact of British colonialism, however, is still retained). See also “Proposed Flags for Canada (1895-1964),” for historical samples of Canadian flags that were not adopted.


One that never was (listed in Wikimedia Commons as the 1905 Provincial Flag):



Some that might someday be:

out with the old

A digital quilting composed of suggested replacements that would update the flag’s design so as to give the province a distinctive symbol (after a 2001 North American Vexillological Association [NAVA] survey and Winnipeg Free Press article designated Manitoba’s flag the ‘ugliest’ in Canada).


Published: 8 July 2012; revised 11 September 2014; updated 18 April 2017





  1. What a great and informative website. We will be using this information for our historical section of our Canadian Flag Collection at the museum.

  2. Thanks for the effort! A lot of detail from local sources. Great little treatise of some local Canadian flag usage.

  3. Extremely interesting article with regards to Canadian history and flags used during its evolution.

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