Last modified: 2003-08-16 by phil nelson
Keywords: newfoundland and labrador | labrador | spruce twig |
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Official flag design
by Labrador Heritage Society
by Name withheld by request
I think it is necessary to give you an account of the origins and background of the Flag of Labrador.
In 1949 Newfoundland (Including the mainland territory of Labrador) joined the Canadian confederation and became the 10th province. Subsequently the Premier, Joey Smallwood, adopted the Union Jack (of Great Britain) as the provincial flag. Many of us were incensed that we should have a colonialist flag foisted upon us, not to mention the illegality of using another nation's flag as our own. Nevertheless the Union Jack became the official provincial flag.
In 1972 I was elected to the provincial legislature representing the district of Labrador South, my home district, and one of three districts making up the total electoral representation of Labrador in the Provincial House of Assembly.
In 1974 the government of Newfoundland decided to hold a 25th anniversary celebration of confederation with Canada. In preparation for this, in 1973, all citizens of the province were asked to adopt special projects to commemorate the event. A small group of us decided that we should do something significant to celebrate Labrador's heritage as part of this project. During the Christmas break in 1973 I went home to Labrador and there began the process of designing a 25th anniversary project. We decided that since the province was flying the colonialist flag of Britain we needed a flag of our own. Since the government was not interested in creating a new provincial flag we thought it appropriate to make a flag for Labrador.
I set to work on a design and after many attempts we arrived at a prototype that seemed to satisfy the ad-hoc committee that acted as my advisory group. We needed colours that represented elements of our land and an emblem that represented all parts of the country and all ethnic races. The final outcome was a tricolour - white, green, blue in horizontal bars, and in the top staff corner a stylized twig of the black spruce, the tree that is found in all parts of the country and had played a central role in our lives and history.
Our intention was that this would be simply a celebration project and expected nothing further to come of it. We purchased some cloth in the appropriate colours. My wife sewed 64 flags - one for each town and village in Labrador, one to be presented to each of the three Members of the House of Assembly in formal ceremony, and two for ourselves. I took an felt marker and drew the twig on the white staff half of the flag.
The flags were sent out to the communities with letters asking everyone to raise them on their flagpoles on March 31 to commemorate our becoming Canadians on April 1st, 1949. In a public ceremony in the main foyer of Confederation Building - the building housing the Provincial Legislature - the three flags were presented to the Labrador Members, myself included.
There was an announcement and pictures in the local paper in St. John's, the provincial capital.
Later that spring during a visit to Happy Valley, the administrative centre of Labrador, I called together a group of interested people and proposed to them that they form a group whose prime purpose would be the preservation of Labrador's heritage. A group was subsequently formed and called themselves the Labrador Heritage Society.
In the meantime the general public began to ask where they might buy copies of the flag to fly on their own properties. I arranged with a local distributor in Goose Bay to sell the flags and financed the first production by a manufacturer in Montreal. The flags were immediately sold out and so the story began.
Within months there were Labrador Flags flying all throughout the territory.
A couple of years later I left the legislature and went to Labrador City to become the City Manager. There I drew together a group of people who formed the Height of Land Branch of the Labrador Heritage Society with a charter from the main branch in Goose Bay.
By this time images of the flag were being printed on souvenir items such as lapel pins, badges and car stickers. Unfortunately the images did not conform to the original design. Invariably the colours were away off, usually with the green too light and the blue too dark. The horizontal bars became of equal width and the twigs in some instances looked more like leaves of the marijuana plant. It was an embarrassment.
I proposed to the Heritage branch that we apply for copyright of the design in order to try to impose some discipline on the production of these items. We were subsequently given copyright to the Flag of Labrador. Unfortunately this had the opposite effect to what we had intended and hoped for. Rather than trying to adhere to the design, distributors of items that carried the flag went out of their way to change the design in the mistaken belief that they could thus avoid copyright restrictions. We had in fact not stated any restrictions and openly encouraged people to use the flag whenever and wherever possible.
Unfortunately it was these "bootlegged" images that inevitably found their way onto websites and thus the proliferation of the incorrect version of the Labrador Flag. We find it virtually impossible now to convince anyone that those images are not the original. And no one seems to care much except those of us who had a hand in its creation.
If you wish to quote an authority I am that person. It is a matter of public record that I designed the original flag of Labrador and published its specifications. You may check this out with either of the three branches of the Labrador Heritage Society in Labrador; with the currently sitting Member of the Canadian House of Commons, the Honourable Lawrence O'Brien; the Canadian Senator for Labrador, the Honourable William Rompkey, or with any of the public media outlets in Labrador, in particular the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Goose Bay which every year on March 31 broadcasts the story of the creation of the flag.
The overall dimensions of the flag are 1:2. The relative dimensions of the horizontal bars is 2:1:2, that are; the white and blue bars are of equal width and each is twice the width of the centre green bar. The spruce twig is centred diagonally, bottom to top, in the staff half of the top (white) bar, with the stalk closer to the staff and the three branches pointing upward toward the top Centre of the flag.
The following text, slightly modified, is from the description published with the official version:
"The top white bar of the flag represents the snows, the one element which, more than any other, coloured our culture and dictated our life styles. The bottom blue bar represents the waters of our rivers, lakes and oceans. The waters, like the snows of winter, have been our highways and nurtured our fish and wildlife that was our sustenance and the basis of our economy. The centre green bar represents the land - the green and bountiful land, which is the connecting element that unites our three diverse cultures.
"The twig of the black spruce tree, in two year-growths, represents the past and the future. The shorter growth of the inner twigs represents the hard times of the past, while the longer outer twigs speak of our hopes for the future. The twig is typically in three branches and represents here the three original founding races of modern Labrador - the Innu, the Inuit and the white settler. The three branches emerging from a common stalk represents the commonality of all humankind regardless of race."
The Pantone colours are mentioned on the construction sheet:
Green 256 U
Blue 2975 U.
According to natives of Labrador, the flag is a rare sight there - it is used by some "Labrador separatists" - i.e. people who want Labrador to separate from Newfoundland and Labrador (the official name of the province is "Newfoundland and Labrador") and make it a province of its own in Canada. Labrador is resource-rich, but has a very small population.
The colours are thought to represent water, forest and sky - although we are not sure whether the blue is the water or the sky. Logically the water would be at the bottom, but my informant thought that the water was white because it is more often ice than water. The twig is a black spruce twig - the main tree of Labrador. I don't know why it's there.
The flag appears to be totally unofficial - there is no mention of it on the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador & Labrador home page.
Rob Raeside - 23 October 1996
The New England Journal of Vexillology published an article on this flag.
Dave Martucci - 23 October 1996
This flag is meant to be a permanent declaration of the unique identity of the people of Labrador and their common heritage.
The top white bar represents the snow, the one element which, more than any other, coloured our culture and dictated our lifestyles.
The bottom blue bar represents the waters of our rivers, lakes and oceans. The waters have been our highways, like the snows, and nurtured our fish and wildlife. The centre green bar represents the land. The green and bountiful land is the connecting element that unites our three diverse cultures.
The symbolic spruce twig was chosen because the spruce tree is the one thing that is common to all geographic areas of Labrador. It has provided our shelter, transport, fuel, and in an indirect way, our food and clothing since the spruce forests became the environment for the wildlife which gave us meat for our tables, skins for our clothing and trade. It was from the spruce that we sawed our planks and timber for our canoes, komatiks and houses.
The three branches of the spruce twig represents the three races: the Inuit, the Innu, Metis, and the European settlers. The twig is in two sections, or year's growths. The outer growth is longer than the inner growth. This occurs because in the good growing years the twig grows longer than in the poor years. hus, Tthe inner and shorter twig reminds us of times past, while the longer twig represents our hope for the future.
Name withheld by request
I've seen this flag also without the spruce twig, and sometimes with the green stripe narrower (maybe 3:2:3).
Antonio Martins - 27 February 1999
click on the image for a larger view
by Labrador Heritage Society
by Labrador Heritage Society
The colours are identical to the flag. We based the design on the stylized designs used the the coats of arms of the Northwest Territories and Yukon.
Michael S. Martin,
The actual origin of the toponym Labrador is the name of a navigator who sailed in the same fleet: the azoran Joa~o Fernandes Lavrador.
Note that João Vaz Corte-Real and later his two sons (Gaspar and Miguel) visited the coasts of North America from the long known Greenland to as south as the Hudson river mouth, in the early years of 1495-1498 (first voyage) and early 16th century (second voyage). Both Gaspar and Miguel later disappeared when navigating further south and northwest, respectively. Jao~o Vaz Corte-Real died also during his first voyage.
Celebrating the 500th anniversary of João Vaz Corte-Real's death, the Portuguese Postal Service issued in 1996 a very beautiful postage stamp showing both his family coat of arms and a view of the arrival of his fleet to the Labrador shore, showing a portuguese naval jack of the time.
The Corte-Real coat of arms has an additional vex intrest, for a "St. George" cross flag (the so called Banner of Victory) both in its chief and being hold by a gauntlet in the figure above it (I dont know the exact heraldry word in english -- in portuguese its called the coa's timbre). The other charges of the coa are six ribs ("costas" in old portuguese, nowadays "costelas") in two pales, silver on red. Note that the St. George's Cross in chief is not "troughout" but has quite larger horizontal arms, not swiss like.
The naval jack depicted is a highly simplified banner of the Portuguese arms: a field blue charged with five silver circles saltire, bordered plain red (no castles).
This is a realy beautiful stamp, nicely drawn, of an unusual size and format (facial value 140 PTE), but too large to send to FOTW.
Antonio Martins - 28 October 1997