Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hope Restored: New Brunswick's Flag Turns 50

By Cynthia Wallace-Casey
PhD candidate,
University of New Brunswick

February 24 marks the 50th anniversary of New Brunswick’s flag.  This historic semicentennial follows less than two weeks behind the adoption of Canada’s national flag.  Unlike in Ottawa’s House of Commons, however, where the flag debate spiraled down in some instances to accusations of political partisanship and linguistic slurs, the development of New Brunswick’s flag took on far less controversial tones.

This is because New Brunswick had already been assigned armorial bearings by Queen Victoria in 1868; a design that was to "…be borne for the said respective Provinces on seals, shields, banners, flags or otherwise, according to the laws of arms."[1]

Thanks to the efficiency of a young civil servant named Robert Pichette, who quickly undertook the research and development of New Brunswick’s flag, the adoption process met with very little opposition.  Of course there were suggestions that New Brunswick should follow the lead of Ontario, and adopt the Red Ensign for their provincial flag.  In particular, one individual, a retired school teacher, writing from Blackwater Ontario, suggested this particular flag design for New Brunswick:

This individual also advised Premier Robichaud against ever flying the red maple leaf flag on any public building in the province, since it was "an evil obnoxious Liberal enemy flag.[2]"

Working on the advice of heraldry specialist Conrad Swan of the College of Arms in London England, as well as war artist Alan B. Beddoe, O.B.E., (R.C.N.V.) Rtd.,  Pichette quickly set the wheels in motion, and a New Brunswick flag was proclaimed on February 24, 1965. This proclamation was particularly historic, because it was the first government document to be printed by the Province of New Brunswick in both official languages.[3]

The design represented a stylised interpretation of New Brunswick’s armorial bearings, taking into account modern tastes for bright, pure, colours.  Modern artistic flare was also added to each of the symbolic elements.  As Pichette pointed out to Premier Robichaud in a 1965 briefing note:
I should like to quote From Doctor Swan’s letter: "When the time comes to draw up the flag", he writes, "I know that with your knowledge of armory you will urge that the interpretation of the Arms be bold: a fine, ferocious lion and a good, symbolic lymphad or galley." 
The model submitted by Lieutenant Commander Beddoe, and drawn at my suggestion, takes these remarks into account. Therefore this very handsome model is very different from the poor Victorian drawing that has been in vogue in this province since 1868…

Indeed, Beddoe’s design was striking: particularly when flown against the backdrop of a blue New Brunswick sky.

During the dedication ceremony that took place in the New Brunswick Legislature on March 25, 1965, Premier Louis J. Robichaud shared these words of hope with the people of New Brunswick:
The symbols on this flag tell the story of the romance of our history. Steeped as we are in the traditions of our pioneering ancestors, this flag also embodies the pride of our future. 
This beautiful flag, granted to us by Queen Victoria, will be a link between our storied past and our bright future… 
Ce drapeau est un lien entre notre passé, lourd d’histoire, et notre avenir prometteur. Je ne doute pas que tous les citoyens de notre province verront en ce drapeau la fierté que chacun d’entre nous a dans nos institutions et nos traditions. 
Ce drapeau que nous arborons aujourd’hui pour la première fois rappele admirablement bien nos origines. Soyons en fiers![4]

Photo taken in the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick, Thursday March 25, 1965. Left to right: Mr. Melbourne M. Hoyt, QC, Clerk of the Executive Council; the Reverend George A Hatton, Chaplain to the Legislative Assembly; the Honourable Louis J. Robichaud, QC, Premier; Mr. Cyril B. Sheerwood, Leader of the Opposition. Back row: The Honourable Kenneth J. Webber, minister of Labour, and Robert Pichette, Administrative Assistant to the Premier. PANB RS662 C7b
Today, we continue to fly our flag proudly.

[1] Royal Warrant of 1868.
[2] Letter to Premier Robichaud, January 9, 1965. PANB, RS416.
[3] D. Stanley, Louis Robichaud: A Decade of Power, 1984, 115.
[4] Premier Robichaud’s speech, March 25, 1965. PANB, RS415.

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