Canada, 1904 proposal
I first saw this 110-year-old flag on a vintage postcard with the bewildering caption “Canadian Union Jack. Drapeau National Canadien. Registered in the Department of Agriculture, 1st October 1904.” I mean, where to begin, right? Who designed this thing? What’s with the all these weird pseudo-Masonic symbols? What is HLDP? And why of all things was it registered with the Department of Agriculture?
That last question turned out to be simple. The Deparment of Agriculture used to have a very broad portfolio which included among other things, Immigration, Healthcare, the Census, and Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents. But the rest was a mystery, and the only thing online was speculation about the symbolism. But searching for HLDP eventually led me to a 1908 book called Canada et Canadiens by Adrien Loir. On page 346, in his chapter about Flags, he gives the following explanation, which I have clumsily translated from French:
A French Canadian named Léger, living in Ottawa, deposited a modified Tricolore with the government. Last year I attended a conference at a political club where this flag was presented by its inventor. Here is how it’s described in the official document deposted with the Trademark Office.
This Canadian national flag consists of three colors: blue, white and red.
Canadians say they haven’t chosen this flag because of its French colors, but rather because they are the symbols of their aspirations. They explain further in the official document recorded in Department of Agriculture, Ottawa, 1 October 1904:
"The blue part is placed nearest the flagpole. Blue, a natural color — The sky, the sea.
"The white part is placed in the center. — Spotless, Noble, Loyal, A subject nation. — This is the color of purity.
"The red part is placed at the flying end of the flag. Challenge injustice. Protect our rights. It is the color of defiance, of protection. The eye of God is placed on it, leading us along righteous paths to a glorious destiny for our country.
"The crosses of Saint George, Saint Andrew, Saint Patrick. The most promient badge on the British flag, commemorating the union of Ireland and Scotland with England, is borrowed in order to perpetuate in our country the acquired freedoms that we enjoy in common.
"The Tree of Confederation. — The Maple emblem of Canada. The stump and the two main leaves represent the two Canadas. The upper leaves each represent one Province.
"The globe is divided into six parts, each colour representing one nationality.
"The beaver — Industry.
"The two hands. — Brotherhood. We are Canadiens.
"The four letters: H. L. D. P. — Honneur, Liberté, Défense, Patrie. [Honour, Liberty, Defense, Country]"
The illustration on the postcard was done in 1909 and doesn’t quite match the original description. The tree for example has one big leaf for Confederation instead of two for English and French Canada, as well as leaves for Alberta and Saskatchewan, which weren’t yet provinces in 1905. And the globe the tree is growing out of is split into four sections instead six.
With all that complicated symbolism, this is the type of flag proposal that you would expect to have been ignored and forgotten. But amazingly the damn thing was actually manufactured. There are photos of two surviving examples on the Flags of the World site, one of which is missing the eye of God. That suggests that quite a few of them were made.
(designer: M. Léger)