The Pink, White and Green — an­other New­found­land myth

Some still fly it in front of their homes

The Compass - - OPINION -

Myths are part of the his­tory of ev­ery na­tion, and have been since time be­gan. Many of them fade over the years, and are for­got­ten. But some per­sist, and in­deed grow ever stronger. New­found­land’s his­tory is filled with myths. But none among them has shown more vi­tal­ity and more strength than the be­lief that the Pink, White and Green ban­ner was New­found­land’s na­tional flag.

Many myths are founded in fact, but this one isn’t. Its his­tory, al­legedly, be­gan in St. John’s in the win­ter of 1843, when ri­val na­tional groups of wood-cut­ters be­gan to com­pete to see who could cut the largest pile. Each group flew a dif­fer­ent coloured flag — pink for the English and green for the Ir­ish. The ri­valry be­came in­tense, and Michael Flem­ing, the first Ro­man Catholic Bishop of St. John’s, in­ter­vened to make peace. He joined a white flag with the English pink and the Ir­ish green to­gether as one ban­ner.

As lo­cal his­to­rian John Fitzger­ald put it, “there is not a shred of ev­i­dence to sup­port any as­pect of the tale.”

But myths mu­tate, and it soon be­came a com­mon be­lief that the Pink, White and Green flag was the em­blem of the New­found­land Na­tives’ So­ci­ety. The So­ci­ety, founded in 1840, sought the al­le­giance of Na­tive-born New­found­lan­ders of ev­ery re­li­gious be­lief. (By “Na­tive”, the So­ci­ety meant “New­found­land born, of Bri­tish or Ir­ish de­scent”; there is no record that any­body ever asked the Beothuks or any other abo­rig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants of the Is­land to join it.)

The so­ci­ety had a flag, as did ev­ery sim­i­lar group. Theirs was a tri­colour — red, white and green. It won wide ac­cep­tance, and sur­vived the dis­ap­pear­ance of the Na­tive So­ci­ety in the 1860s. But the na­tive so­ci­ety’s flag never won any of­fi­cial sanc­tion, and it was red, not pink.

The Pink, White and Green flag ac­tu­ally was born early in the 1870s, as the of­fi­cial flag of the Star of the Sea As­so­ci­a­tion. Carolyn Lam­bert, a young New­found­land his­to­rian, es­tab­lished this defini­tively in an ar­ti­cle pub­lished in the Spring 2008 is­sue of New­found­land and Labrador Stud­ies. Her re­search found no ev­i­dence of any flag that was even par­tially pink be­ing flown in New­found­land be­fore the so­ci­ety was es­tab­lished. Lam­bert’s dili­gent re­view of all the avail­able ev­i­dence, both doc­u­men­tary and pic­to­rial, and her scrupu­lous ex­am­i­na­tion of it, es­tab­lish the facts clearly.

Once cre­ated, how­ever, the Pink, White and Green flag soon won con­sid­er­able public favour, to­gether with the strong sup­port of the Ro­man Catholic hi­er­ar­chy. The most pow­er­ful, and bril­liant, demon­stra­tion of this came in the form of a song by Michael Fran­cis How­ley, then the Ro­man Catholic bishop, and later the first arch­bishop, of St. John’s. We have heard it sung, time and time again:

Lam­bert ac­knowl­edges that both the Red, White and Green and the Pink, White and Green were f lown by cit­i­zens of ev­ery ilk on many oc­ca­sions. She ac­knowl­edges, too, that the Na­tive So­ci­ety’s Red, White and Green was sup­planted by the Star of the Sea’s Pink, White and Green in the 1890s. In 1896, the St. John’s po­lice and fire de­part­ments ( then one or­ga­ni­za­tion) be­gan to fly a ver­sion of the Pink, White and Green as their of­fi­cial flag. There are re­ports, too, that the Fish­er­men’s Pro­tec­tive Union, founded in 1908, dis­played it on oc­ca­sion.

But nei­ther the wide­spread ac­cep­tance nor the pop­u­lar­ity of How­ley’s song gave Pink, White and Green of­fi­cial stand­ing, how­ever. The sim­ple, and in­con­testable truth is New­found­land never had an of­fi­cial flag of any stand­ing or any sort un­til 1931, shortly be­fore the col­lapse of Re­spon­si­ble Gov­ern­ment.

Robert Bond, New­found­land’s prime min­is­ter be­tween 1900 and 1909, be­came as­so­ci­ated with the Pink, White and Green in the lat­ter years of his ca­reer. In 1909, stand­ing in the gen­eral elec­tion held to break the 18 to 18 tie in the 1908 con­test, he promised to make it New­found­land’s of­fi­cial flag.

Un­for­tu­nately, the elec­torate did not sup­port his cause, and Bond and his Lib­er­als lost the elec­tion de­ci­sively. Ed­ward Mor­ris and his Peo­ple’s Party took over the reins of power. Mor­ris made no move to give of­fi­cial sta­tus to any flag be­yond the Union Jack which f lew through­out the Bri­tish Em­pire. The New­found­land leg­is­la­ture de­clared it to be the na­tional flag of the Do­min­ion of New­found­land in May 1931.

The prov­ince of New­found­land — now New­found­land and Labrador — flew the Union Jack as its of­fi­cial flag for more than 40 years af­ter Con­fed­er­a­tion. Brian Peck­ford, in his first cam­paign in 1979, promised New­found­land her own flag, and moved quickly af­ter his elec­tion vic­tory to hon­our his prom­ise.

Although a num­ber of his­tor­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions and many in­di­vid­u­als ar­gued strongly in favour of the Pink, White and Green, the House of Assem­bly com­mit­tee charged with rec­om­mend­ing a de­sign de­cided in favour of our present f lag, an en­tirely new de­sign by Christopher Pratt, one of New­found­land’s pre-em­i­nent artists. The House of Assem­bly voted in favour of the new de­sign in May 1980.

The Pink, White and Green lives on. Many New­found­lan­ders — and even a few Labrado­ri­ans — claim it as their his­toric em­blem. Some still fly it in front of their homes, and more wear it on T- shirts em­bla­zoned with the leg­end “Repub­lic of New­found­land.” But our is­land home, Bri­tain’s old­est colony, was never a repub­lic. And the Pink, White and Green was never an of­fi­cial em­blem of ei­ther the Colony, the Do­min­ion, or the Prov­ince of New­found­land.

Ed­ward Roberts has had a life­long in­ter­est in the his­tory of New­found­land and Labrador. He was an MHA for 23 years, and served as the prov­ince’s lieu­tenant-gov­er­nor from 2002 to 2008.

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