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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Newfoundland and Labrador Ponders Replacing its Provincial Flag

Recently a grassroots movement has been underway in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to replace the existing provincial flag, adopted in 1980, with one that has been unofficially flown in the province since the 1800’s.

In 1980, the province adopted its current standard. A collage of geometric patterns loosely based on the old Union Jack and containing multiple symbols purported to represent the culture of the province. The flag, designed by well known local artist Christopher Pratt, was the product of the provincial legislature who commissioned the piece and presented it officially on June 6, 1980 to less than resounding reviews from the general public.

Since the flag has been in existence, it has been the topic of debate in coffee houses and at kitchen tables. Some have come to accept it as their flag, but many others in the province appear to prefer a more traditional flag, containing three Green, White and Pink vertical bars. (often referred to in reverse order of colour).

This older standard was never officially adopted as a provincial flag in the province, however it has been flown by some for decades and in recent years has begun to make such a major comeback that many are now referring to it as the “unofficial NL flag”.

Everywhere one looks from St. John’s to Port Aux Basques from St. Anthony to Harbour Breton the Pink, White and Green (or Green, White and Pink) can be seen flying outside houses and shop fronts, from backyard decks and boat decks. License plates bear the image as do rings, t-shirts and baseball caps. Recently Canadian Idol runner up Rex Goudie appeared on the show sporting a t-shirt proudly displaying the flag.

The simple banner that has grown in the hearts of Newfoundlanders in all corners of the island has a somewhat mysterious history. There are many stories of how it originally came into being. The most widely accepted is that during the annual seal hunts of the early 1800's disputes often erupted between the 10,000 or so English (protestant) and Irish (catholic) sealers. During these times, competition was frequently accompanied by religious animosity and a prominent display of opposing flags.

It is believed that a delegation representing the government and leaders of both communities sought the council of Bishop Fleming, who was respected by all. Tradition has it that after pondering the problem, the bishop asked that the pink flag and the green flag of the two factions be brought to him. Then joining them with a white handkerchief, which he said represented the white of peace from the flag of St. Andrew, he handed it to the assembled group and said, "Go in Peace."

Over the years support for this ancient standard has ebbed and flowed with the political and social happenings of the day and although it has been gaining steadily in popularity for the past decade, it wasn’t until the so called “flag flap” during recent negotiations between the federal and provincial governments over offshore royalties that the concept of replacing the current provincial flag began to gel.

According to a recent article, when approached for comment on the movement to replace the flag he had designed, local artist Christopher Pratt appeared unworried. According to the piece Mr. Pratt stated that he simply developed the current flag as requested by government and that it did not come from his heart. He went on to say that he would not be upset if the flag was replaced.

These candid comments by Mr. Pratt seem to blend well with an overriding sentiment in the province that flags are not something that can be legislated by government. They must have meaning and come from the heart. As one person stated recently, “a flag has to grow from the bottom up, not be pushed on you from the top down.”

Sales of the unofficial flag have been booming at retail outlets and flag shops around the province in the past year and recently a student at Memorial University in St. John’s took it upon himself to help move the cause to the forefront. He began by erecting a 15 foot version of the flag on the hills overlooking the entry point to the main port in the provincial capitol. Then, upon seeing the reaction this invoked, started an online petition to enact the new flag as the provincial standard.

Currently the flag is still flying over the city of St. John’s and both it and the petition have made local news services and been the topic of discussion in online chat rooms and talk radio programs. A quick check of the signatures on the petition shows that it has begun to pick up momentum and it is even rumored that Premier Danny Williams has commented that he is open to the idea of presenting it before the provincial legislature should enough support be gained on the issue.

No official comment has been made on the issue and it is not known what reaction the movement will have at the federal level. Neither is it clear what the reaction will be from the majority of residents in the Labrador portion of the province, which itself has an unofficial flag that is dear to the hearts of many in that portion of the province.

At this point in time the movement is in its early stages. Only time will tell exactly how much of an issue it will truly become.

If you would like to know more about the Pink, White and Green standard, to sign the petition or simply to learn more about public sentiment on the issue, you can do so at:


For an opportunity to win a Pink, White & Green (or Green, White & Pink) flag of your own, check out our contest by scrolling down to the related article on this page.

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