Vancouver Island’s flag has attracted royal attention.
Royal mail arrived at Cedar post office in June for resident Laurie Gourlay, offering best wishes from Queen Elizabeth II for a “most successful and enjoyable year” marking the 150th milestone of Vancouver Island’s flag.
“It was like, wow,” said Gourlay, president of Vancouver Island and Coast Conservation Society, who sees the flag as a “unifying” symbol and a way to reflect on our history.
The flag, a blue ensign with the Union Jack in the left corner and the Colony of Vancouver Island crest, has roots stretching back 150 years, when Vancouver Island had a government independent of B.C.
The colony was authorized to make a flag in December 1865 by the British colonial secretary in London, but a year later it merged with B.C. It’s not believed the flag was ever flown.
It wasn’t until 1988 that researcher Michael Halleran found the correspondence about a flag that one was created based with the seal of the Colony Vancouver Island, according to Royal B.C. Museum’s curator of history Lorne Hammond.
Historians still debate whether a blue ensign would ever have been flown. Blue is for merchant-ship discovered colonies, while red is for naval, and the Island already had two flags. The navy flew the Union Jack and the Hudson’s Bay Company had a red ensign with the letters of the company sewn into the middle.
But the flag Halleran created is based on real instructions with the legal seal of the colony.
It’s an imagined flag but has “real roots” and is a great story, Hammond said.
While he cautions we have to be careful about reconstructing our history, he also sees the flag as a lens to explore the 1860s.
“The flag is a symbol that draws people to exploring who we are and you have to respect that.”
The Flag Shop in Victoria has seen popularity for the flag this year, which owner Paul Servos believes is because of a real sense of Island pride.
“People like the fact that it represents the Island and there’s a sense of belonging to the Island.”
Gourlay isn’t convinced the flag never flew, calling it a question of history and one that he had hoped the Queen would have answered. But he says it does offer a way to remember the history.
“That’s what the flag is offering … a chance to talk about the history, where we’ve come from and more so, where we’re going,” he said.
This is the first article in an ongoing series on Nanaimo’s history, published monthly.