Brothers’ Island flag flies anew, with roots in Victorian age

The phone calls started trickling in as soon as Jim and Scott Adams pulled down their outsized Canadian flag, hoisting up a lesser-known blue one in its place.

Not everyone is familiar with the Vancouver Island flag, the co-owners of Adams Storage learned. The brothers have flown the flag — the largest of its kind, according to the Flag Shop — at their View Royal location overlooking the Island Highway for about a month.

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“We had a lady phone just yesterday who said: ‘What is that flag?’ They’re not really phoning for any other reason, just curiosity,” Scott said.

“Even my kid at school was asked about the flag by one of his teachers,” Jim said.

But there’s good reason for the puzzlement. Although Queen Victoria approved its creation in 1865, it is believed the first Vancouver Island flag wasn’t made until 1988.

Now, it is about the sixth most popular seller at the Flag Shop on Fort Street, owner Paul Servos said, even if it remains unknown to many.

The order to create colonial flags came from the United Kingdom, as a way of distinguishing Royal Navy ships from those of the colonies. The design was to be a blue ensign emblazoned with each colony’s badge.

But there’s no evidence the colony of Vancouver Island had one made, according to The Flags of Canada, a book written by Alistair Fraser, a University of Pennsylvania meteorologist with a passion for flags.

Enter Michael Halleran, a Victoria civil servant and amateur vexillologist (that is, flag expert). In 1988, after 15 years of part-time research, Halleran submitted sketches to the Flag Shop to create what could have been the first Vancouver Island flag.

“Basically, I sat down and did something about it,” he said.

The flag’s badge, derived from the Great Seal of the Island colony, features several symbols: • The trident of Neptune, god of the sea, represents the waters surrounding the Island.

• The caduceus, a winged staff with two snakes, represents commerce.

• The pine cone stands for the Island’s forests.

• The beaver symbolizes the fur trade of the Hudson’s Bay Co.

“These kinds of symbols are really interesting because you can deconstruct them and get a value system from them,” said Lorne Hammond, curator of history for the Royal B.C. Museum. He confirmed the museum does not have a 19th-century Vancouver Island flag in its collection.

Halleran, now 71, said he was unaware the flag he revived was flying, supersized, over View Royal.

“I think that’s grand,” Halleran said.

He said he’s happy to watch it continue to gain popularity. In 1999, the B.C. government flew the flag as part of the 150th anniversary celebration of the Vancouver Island colony, he said.

He also said he does not have any copyright claim to the design, since it represents a colonial government.

The Adams brothers’ flag measures 3.0 metres by 6.1 metres, making it one of the largest in Greater Victoria.

In fact, Servos said he knows of only two others as large as theirs: a Canadian flag on the legislature grounds and one in Beacon Hill Park.

For the brothers, it’s an easy way to show some Island pride.

“Our parents are Island-born people, we’re Island-born people and both of our kids are Island-born people,” Jim said.

“I think we’re pretty proud of Vancouver Island, that’s why we did it.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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