The Flag Story

   Several years ago one of our faithful volunteers approached me on the grounds of the Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) and reported that our Union Jack flag at the Barkfield School was being flown upside down. This greatly concerned me, because I had been trained about the importance of handling flags appropriately and flying the Union Jack the correct way. During my student days at the Burwalde School between Winkler and Morden, the older boys (which at some point included me) were required to raise the flag on the outdoor pole in the morning and take it down at the end of the school day. We were instructed to position the wide white border above the diagonal red line on the pole side of the flag. Since that’s also the way our flag at the Barkfield School has been flown during my tenure at MHV, I have always understood it to be correct.

   But after the conversation with our volunteer, I started to question the accuracy of my memory. So I went to the internet to check how this flag should be flown. Reassuringly, I confirmed that my memory had not failed me, but how was I to inform this volunteer, whom I respected so highly? I think it may have been a year or two later when I finally told him I had researched the correct way to hang that flag and had confirmed that ours was flying correctly. He graciously informed me that he too had done some research and that indeed our Union Jack was flying as it should be.

   Mennonites have historically had a prickly relationship with national flags. In 16th century Europe, Mennonites suffered severe persecution in an era where church and state were virtually one and the same. Viewing themselves as citizens of God’s kingdom, they placed a high value in separating themselves from the state. Permission to operate their own schools free of all civic trappings was guaranteed in the Immigration Privilegium when they came from Russia to Canada in the late 1800s. However, the School Attendance Act of 1916 restricted the freedom of Mennonites in Manitoba to provide their own education to their children, requiring adherence to certain government standards such as flying the national flag at their schools.

   Canada actually had several national flags at the time but no “Canadian” flag. The Canadian Red Ensign was used in some situations as early as 1868. This flag was the British Red Ensign modified with an emblem representing various Canadian provinces, which therefore changed from time to time as more provinces were added. The Union Jack, the national flag of the United Kingdom, was also a national flag of Canada and was used in various public settings, such as public schools.

   As multiculturalism grew in Canada, the need for a uniquely Canadian flag was realized. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, the current red Maple Leaf became Canada’s national flag and was first flown on February 15, 1965.

   As we prepare to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary this year, we realize how privileged we are to be living in Canada. On July 1, MHV will welcome all guests free of charge and invite everyone to join us in the raising of Canada’s national flag and celebrating Canada Day.

Calendar of Events:

March 28: 7:30 PM – Annual General Meeting

April 2: 7:00 PM – Vespers

April 6: 7:00 PM - Auxiliary Film Night, The Last Objectors

April 27: 7:00 PM – Volunteer Orientation

May 6: Mini Conference, Food, Family and Spirituality

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About the Author

Barry is the Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Village. While he does not consider himself to be a historian, he places a high value on the preservation and interpretation of the Mennonite and pioneer stories that help people of all ages understand and appreciate their heritage. Learn more about the MHV.

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