Quebec’s Flag, the Fleurdelisé

par Bouvier, Luc

Quebec flag hold by a citizen, 2007

Between the end of the Troubles of 1837 and 1838 and the Second World War, French Canadians usually flew the blue, white and red tricolor flag of France, which to them best represented their distinct character. But at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, francophones began to call for a flag of their own that would be more in accord with their North American identity. A number of designs submitted from 1901 to 1905 helped lead the way to the present flag, particularly the Fleurdelisé of Father Elphège Filiatrault and the Carillon Sacré-Cœur. Finally, on 21 January 1948 the Fleurdelisé as we know it today became the official flag of Quebec. Since then it has been a strong symbol of Quebecois identity, flying over the official buildings of Quebec and in front of many private residences, or proudly raised by the people in various circumstances, particularly at important historical moments.



Article disponible en français : Drapeau du Québec : le fleurdelisé

The present flag 

The flag of the province of Quebec, Quebec Parliament, 1948

At the stroke of three o’clock on January 21, 1948, a blue flag bearing a white cross and four fleurs-de-lis pointing toward the centre was raised at the center tower of Parliament. At that time there was no actual flag of the kind that had just been adopted. Only on February 2, 1948, was the official design of the national flag of Quebec, with upright fleurs-de-lis, made final. The floral motif chosen was the Renaissance fleur-de-lis, in use during the reign of François I of France (1515-1547), when Jacques Cartier made his voyages to Canada. The version of the fleur-de-lis chosen was proposed by Maurice Brodeur for the flag of the Société nationale Jacques-Cartier, designed for the 400th anniversary of Jacques Cartier’s arrival, and presented three times in 1936, in La Nation, Le Terroir and La Voirie sportive (NOTE 1). In April 1949 Burroughs Pelletier gave a description of the new Quebec flag: “blue, with a silver cross quartered with four fleurs-de-lis of the same” (NOTE 2). On March 9, 1950, the Loi concernant le drapeau officiel de la province (Act concerning the official flag of the province) was finally passed. Since then, the Fleurdelisé flag has officially symbolized Quebec. 


Religion and country: precursors 

French Canadian flag

The Fleurdelisé that flew over the Saint-Jude presbytery on September 26, 1902, was made by Father Elphège Filiatrault, who proclaimed, “We are a new people on American soil. A new people need a new flag.” (NOTE 3) Borrowing from the Carillon banner the blue field that it was thought at the time to have had, and replacing the royal arms and the Madonna by a white cross that evoked France, Filiatrault’s flag was meant to represent French-Canadian values. 

At the same time, two Flag Committees were formed, one in Quebec City, the other in Montreal. These committees also proposed adoption of the blue flag with fleurs-de-lis inspired by the Carillon banner, but they urged that a Sacred Heart be added at the centre, surrounded by maple leaves and bearing the motto “Je me souviens” (I remember) (NOTE 4). The committees, under the name L’oeuvre du drapeau national, launched an intense promotion of this flag, called the Carillon-Sacré-Coeur. In two years 8,500 brochures, 15,000 post cards, 60,000 badges, 20,000 engravings, 150,000 buttons and signs and 76,500 flags of various sizes were sold. 

Book published by the Comité de Québec in 1904

In response to the campaign of the Carillon-Sacré-Coeur promoters, Filiatrault published another brochure, Nos couleurs nationales, where he argued that “trying to combine two different emblems, one representing religion like the Sacred Heart, the other representing the country like the Carillon colours, into one emblem, would weaken both of them.” He added that these symbols “may very well go together, but should not be merged” (NOTE 5). On June 24, 1905, the French Canadian national day, Father Filiatrault’s Fleurdelisé was raised at Saint-Jude, on a pole more than sixty feet high. Thus was born what would become nearly 45 years later, except for the orientation of the fleurs-de-lis, the national flag of Quebec.


The move to the Fleurdelisé 

After World War II, the campaign for a Quebec flag gained new strength. This time there was a consensus in favour of the Fleurdelisé, and the removal of the Sacred Heart no longer aroused opposition from the clergy (NOTE 6). The campaign was carried out on two fronts: promotional, thanks to various associations; and legislative, with the nationalist deputy René Chaloult sponsoring proposals at the provincial legislature. 

In 1939, with the Comité du drapeau Carillon-fleurdelisé, the promotional campaign really took off. In addition to flags, the Committee provided banners, blotters, New Year’s cards, post cards, pillows, decals, badges, envelopes, signs, handkerchiefs, photographs, plaques, tablets, stamps, and cards with the Fleurdelisé colours. In 1945 this group finally took the name Comité de propagande du drapeau, and continued to offer various articles in the form of the Carillon-fleurdelisé. Behind these committees, three organizations were active: the Société Saint-Jean Baptiste of Montreal, the Jeunes laurentiens, and especially the Ordre de Jacques-Cartier, a secret society which, by circulars addressed to its members through local chapters, aimed to make known “the origin, history and meaning of our Fleurdelisé” and to “spread our national flag to all parishes and have it flown at all public events” (NOTE 7)

Lionel Groulx, René Chaloult, and André Laurendeau

At the beginning of 1947 the political front was active as well. Under pressure from René Chaloult, at the time independent deputy from Québec-Comté, supported by André Laurendeau, leader of the Bloc populaire, a special committee made up of twelve members of the Legislative Assembly was formed to study the possibility of adopting a Quebec flag. Several meetings took place, but no consensus was reached. Laurendeau, supported by Chaloult, finally moved the following amendment: “1) They expressed the opinion that a provincial flag should be chosen immediately; 2) They expressed the opinion that this flag should be the Fleurdelisé, flown for more than forty years by the population of Quebec as a distinctive flag”. Despite the support of Adélard Godbout, leader of the Liberal party, the opposition of the majority Unionist members led to the disbanding of the committee. René Chaloult persisted, however, and entered his motion in parliamentary debates in December 1947: “This House asks the government to endow this province, in the course of the current session and following the example of Nova Scotia, with a truly Quebecois flag”(NOTE 8).


Designs and negotiations 

Burroughs Pelletier, 1941

Faced with popular pressure in favour of the Fleurdelisé, Premier Maurice Duplessis decided to act. In January 1948 he called in Burroughs Pelletier, then director of the provincial urban affairs division of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. When questioned “on the subject and the design of a flag for the Province”, Pelletier explained that Quebec could, like Nova Scotia, use its arms as a flag, and offered to submit some designs to the Premier. A few weeks later, he presented to him seven models for a flag, labeled A, B, C1, C2, C3, D and E (NOTE 9). The common element in these designs was the presence of the old arms of Quebec. Burroughs Pelletier then emphasized “the beauty of this flag (model A] and the fine effect that it would make when flown on the main tower of Parliament”. No decision was taken at that time (NOTE 10) . In this month of January 1948, the supporters of the Fleurdelisé were unaware of the existence of these designs and prepared for a battle that was not to take place. 

France's arms as shown on the Quebec gates in 1759

At the same time, the popular pressure in favour of the Fleurdelisé was growing. An operation was launched to flood the premier and deputies with letters supporting the fleur-de-lis flag, to adopt statements of support and publicize them in newspapers, to organize delegations to ministers and deputies and to involve municipal councils. During January 1948, the Comité du drapeau provincial published a first series of letters and messages to whip up support. Despite figures that vary from one source to another – 60,000 signatures according to Groulx, 50,000 according to the newspaper Le Carabin, 75,000 according to the organizers – Louis-Philippe Roy of Action catholique, who was closely following the campaign in the Quebec City region, declared the operation to be a success (NOTE 11). 

While this campaign was at its height, exchanges took place among Maurice Dupessis and René Chaloult, the first consultant Burroughs Pelletier, and the second, Canon Lionel Groulx. The discussions, and the correspondence that records them (NOTE 12), bear on whether certain symbols should be present: the provincial arms, which include a lion, a crown that could pass for that of France or of England, depending on one’s allegiance, a red maple leaf, fleurs-de-lis, etc. According to Groulx, putting very complicated arms on a flag was unrealistic and would cause it to be unnecessarily difficult to make. Another idea discussed was placing the fleurs-de-lis upright; at the time they pointed toward the centre, in homage to the Sacred Heart which had previously been there.


Official adoption 

A fleur-de-lis, 2005

At about 11:00 a.m. on January 21, 1948, René Chaloult received a call from Duplessis announcing that the “Fleurdelisé will fly today at three o’clock over the central tower of the Parliament [...] the fleurs-de-lis will point toward the heavens, the ideal of the Union nationale”. Wheeler Dupont, president of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Québec, was summoned to the Cabinet Room and Duplessis informed him that he had to “find a flag before 5 minutes to 3 o’clock to raise at the central tower of Parliament”. Since the design of the Fleurdelisé with upright fleurs-de-lis was finalized only on February 2, 1948, a flag with the fleurs-de-lis pointing towards the centre was raised on this historic day (NOTE 13). 

In the early afternoon during a special session, the Cabinet adopted ministerial decree Nº 72 concerning the flag of the province of Quebec. Shortly after 3:00, Duplessis made the announcement to the House. Several bursts of applause marked his speech. The leader of the opposition, Adélard Godbout, expressed some reservations about the fleurs-de-lis being upright, but admitted that the new flag “can only unite all people of good will, all those who want to serve the province of Quebec and see it flourish”.



Premier Maurice Duplessis

In choosing to proceed by ministerial decree, Duplessis prevented any debate in the House and presented a fait accompli to his opponents. Because of the strength of the movement in favour of the Fleurdelisé, being the father of the Quebec flag served his political interests, especially since he was planning an election within the next few months. Almost everyone applauded the Quebec Premier’s decision (NOTE 14). Lionel Groulx even called it the “most solemn affirmation of the French fact in Canada since 1867”. The Ordre de Jacques-Cartier was of course ecstatic: “Quebec has its flag! Here is, among many, one of the finest victories of our Order... The Quebec flag is a gift of the Order to the French race in America... Intelligent and wise tactics have been put to work, and the success has been brilliant”. Even anglophone society welcomed the new Quebec flag: for the newspaper The Gazette, it “takes heraldic data into account and is an emblem of exceptional beauty” (NOTE 15).


Politicisation and heritage value 

Quebec flags at Saint-Malo, France

Though some people might like to dissociate them, flags and politics are inseparable. The whole history of the Fleurdelisé, like that of the banners before it, bears the mark of politics. Before it was adopted, it was considered by Maurice Duplessis as a “separatist” flag, since its most ardent promoters were nationalists of the school of Lionel Groulx. But once it was adopted, the Premier used it in his electoral campaign, even making it “his” and his party’s flag, so much so that in the 1960 campaign, Jean Lesage’s Liberals “decorated their dais with red streamers with white lilies, or even red lilies on a white background (NOTE 16) rather than the Quebec flag. However, with the Quiet Revolution, the Fleurdelisé gradually became the symbol of the distinct character of Quebec society and of its desire for emancipation. 

The Quebec flag was soon associated during the 1960s and 1970s with the sovereigntist movement. The victory of the Parti Québécois in 1976 gave wide exposure to the Fleurdelisé. The new government reactivated the decrees ordering that the Quebec flag be raised on government buildings, and amended the Code municipal and the Loi des cités to the effect that the city hall of all cities and municipalities should also display the Fleurdelisé (NOTE 17). The flag became more and more associated with the will for recognition of Quebec, here and elsewhere. On the international scene, the provincial Fleurdelisé and the federal Maple Leaf often competed for their respective place in official events. 

Quebec: we love you! 2005

In 1980 and 1995, the Fleurdelisé played an important role in the referendums on Quebec sovereignty. It was spontaneously adopted as the rallying sign of the YES to Quebec sovereignty, while the Maple Leaf represented the NO side. After the first referendum, to avoid having the Parti Québécois monopolize the use and image of the flag, the Liberal Party of Quebec modified its logo by adding a Fleurdelisé to the right of the traditional red Liberal L. In 1989, when anti-French demonstrators in Brockville, Ontario trampled the Fleurdelisé, the act became a symbol of the refusal of Canadians to accept Quebec’s distinct character. And with the defeat of the Meech Lake Accord, which was supposed to have Quebec sign the Canadian Constitution which had been repatriated and amended in 1982, without its agreement, people of Quebec naturally turned to their flag, which they flew everywhere in the national day parade on 24 June 1990 in Montreal. 

One of the most amusing stories about the use of the Fleurdelisé and the Maple Leaf in the struggle between sovereigntists and federalists took place on April 29, 1994, at the Confederation Building in Ottawa. An employee of a Member of Parliament from the Bloc Québécois, a Quebec nationalist party sitting in the Canadian Parliament, decided to shake out the folds of a Fleurdelisé that she had just received, by flying it from her window. Five minutes later, several Maple Leafs were waving in the wind. The Bloquistes responded in kind, and for the next hour, the inner court of the Confederation building was brightly coloured with Fleurdelisés, Maple Leafs and a few flags of other Canadian provinces! This anecdote shows how a flag expresses the cultural identity of individuals and thus is at the heart of the symbolic heritage of nations. 

Since its adoption in 1948, the Fleurdelisé has thus become a powerful symbol of Quebec identity.


Luc Bouvier

Chief of Staff, Office of the Mayor of Gatineau 




Note 1 : Maurice Brodeur proposed a flag charged with a white cross, marked in the centre by a maple leaf bearing a gold fleur-de-lis. The quarters near the pole are blue; those of the floating part are red. There is another version, “Flag for French Canadians of all provinces. French-Canadian tricolor”, without fleur-de-lis; the upper quarters are blue and the lower ones, red. Brodeur also designed the new arms of Quebec, adopted by decree on 9 December 1939. Archives nationales du Québec, fonds Maurice Brodeur, P574/007, dossier 7.15 et 7.35.

Note 2 : Letters from Roméo Lorrain to Burroughs Pelletier, 20 April 1949, and from Burroughs Pelletier to Roméo Lorrain, 27 April 1949 (fonds Burroughs Pelletier).

Note 3 : Un compatriote [Elphège Filiatrault], Aux Canadiens-Français. Notre drapeau, p. 16.

Note 4 : In March 1903, the Committee unanimously chose the flag design: “the four white fleurs-de-lis of the precious national relic, called the Carillon flag, on a blue field, charged with a white cross, bearing at the centre the emblem of the Sacred Heart”. See in Le Messager canadien du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus, “Un drapeau national”, February 1903, p. 82-83, and “Le Sacré-Coeur et le drapeau national”, May 1903, p. 228.

Note 5 : Elphège Filiatrault, Nos couleurs nationales, Saint-Jude, February 1905, p. 7-8, 12. See also Elphège Filiatrault, “Notre drapeau national”, la Patrie, 14 April 1904, p. 10. Reprinted from la Revue ecclésiastique.

Note 6 : In a letter to Anatole Vanier on 3 May 1947, René Chaloult says that to his great relief, “the Fédération des oeuvres de charité de Montréal has written [to him] that it accepts the Fleurdelisé form, ‘with or without the Sacred Heart’”. Centre de recherche Lionel-Groulx (CRLG), fonds Anatole-Vanier P29/K,147.

Note 7 : ANC MG 28/98, vol. 126, dossier “Drapeau fleurdelisé 1943-1953”. At the same time, in preparation for political discussions to come, they were trying to “have resolutions adopted by the greatest possible number of public bodies, city councils, county councils, and associations of all kinds, to gain support from the press, especially the rural press, in favour of adoption of the Fleurdelisé”. Letter from the secretary of the CX (3874) to the XC of the province of Quebec, 11 December1947, ANC MG28/98, vol. 20, dossier “CPO drapeau fleurdelisé”.

Note 8 : Journaux de l'Assemblée législative 1947, volume LXXXII, p. 199, 203, 334, 436, 437; “M. René Chaloult et le drapeau québécois”, le Devoir, 29 April 1947, p. 7.

Notre 9 : Model A represents the old arms of the province of Quebec, as they were received by decree from Queen Victoria on 26 May 1868: “Or on a Fess Gules between two Fleurs de Lis in chief Azure, and a sprig of three Leaves of Maple slipped Vert in base, a Lion passant guardant Or”. Pelletier favoured this proposal, which followed the principles he had defended for about ten years. Model B represents his second choice. The old arms of Quebec are in the upper left quarter on a blue ground with a white cross. Model C1 and its variants C2 and C3 are his third choice. C1 has a blue ground and a white cross with, at the centre, the old arms of Quebec with a crown above, and at the top the motto: Je me souviens. C2 is identical except that the motto does not appear, and the arms cover part of the quarters. C3 is identical to C2, except that there is no crown. The last two designs were submitted but not recommended. The first of these, D, is on a blue ground with the old arms of Quebec in the upper left corner. The second, E, has seven horizontal bands in red, white, blue, white, blue, white, red, with the old arms of Quebec in the upper left corner.

Note 10 : Mémoire sur la part que j'ai prise en rapport avec le choix du drapeau actuel de la province de Québec (fonds Burroughs Pelletier).

Note 11 : “Well, I believe that the public is expressing its opinion, and strongly. The St-Jean-Baptiste chapters of some dioceses, the Lacordaire and Ste-Jeanne-d’Arc circles, urban and mural municipal councils, school boards, farm women’s circles, U.C.C. circles, chapters of the Union des électeurs, Sacred Heart Leagues, Caisses populaires, citizens’ leagues, many specialized movements of Action catholique (L.O.C. and L.O.C.F., J.O.C. and J.O.C.F., J.A.C. and J.A.C.F., J.E.C. and J.E.C.F., etc., etc.), Guides, Scouts, the Fédération générale des étudiants de Laval, trade unions, several educational institutions, other sports, social, and patriotic groups including the Jeunesses laurentiennes, and many others have joined the campaign with enthusiasm, not to mention thousands and thousands of people acting individually”. “Jeunesse, autonomie, fleurdelisé”, L’Action nationale, 20 January 1948.

Note 12 : René Chaloult, Mémoires politiques, Montréal, éd. du Jour, 1969, p.281-295; Lionel Groulx, Mémoires, vol I, Montréal, Fides, 1972, p. 322-324; Letter from Lionel Groulx to René Chaloult, 25 March 1947, CRLG, P1 A/706; Fonds Burroughs Pelletier, Mémoire sur la part que j’ai prise en rapport avec le choix du drapeau actuel de la province de Québec, 7 June 1955, 5 p.; Mémoire re article de M. René Chaloult se rapportant à la question du drapeau de la province de Québec, January 1963, 2 p.; Remarques supplémentaires, February 1968, 6 p.

Note 13 : « Les moments historiques de l’adoption du fleurdelisé. Deux versions », l’Action, 31 January 1968.

Note 14 : At the Legislative Council, Élysée Thériault, one of the few opponents, maintained that the government had “behaved very indelicately towards minorities in the province of Quebec”. A word play shows how little impact his opposition made: “Since the speech of Mr Élysée Thériault, there is talk of changing the “Fleurdelisé” flag to the ‘Fleur ... d’Élisée’ flag’”. “M. Élysée Thériault et notre drapeau”, Le Devoir, 29 January 1948, p. 1-3.

Note 15 : “Un accueil favorable au drapeau québécois”, La Presse, 22 January 1948, p. 5; “Le drapeau est une excellente chose”, Me F. Choquette, 22 January 1948, p. 5; Robert Rumilly, Maurice Duplessis et son temps, tome II, Montréal, 1973, Fides, p. 208-212; le Devoir, 23 January 1948; “Le drapeau et la presse anglaise”, le Devoir, 26 January 1948; “Drapeau qui n’enfreint aucune loi”, la Patrie, 22 January 1948, p. 5.

Note 16 : In the Devoir of 23 October 1962, André Laurendeau, himself a strong proponent of the Fleurdelisé during the campaign for its adoption, recalled this period: At the beginning, the flag became in a way the Union nationale’s flag. The Liberals ignored it; they were not very nationalist, and they thought fleurs-de-lis were old-fashioned. Then they realized that was a mistake. [...] Some by opportunism, like Duplessis, others by conviction, like some followers of Duplessis, they began to use it too.” 

Note 17 : The decrees of 22 June 1967 ordered that “the flag of Quebec be flown over all government buildings, as well as the buildings of commissions, state-owned companies and other government organizations, and over all schools and educational institutions under the Ministry of Education” and “that it be displayed in the place of honour [...] at the right, if there are two flags, or in the middle, if there are more”. Since 1984, May 24 is the national flag day in Quebec.



Luc Bouvier, “Histoire des drapeaux québécois: du tricolore canadien au fleurdelisé québécois”, in L’Héraldique au Canada, March 1994, p. 30-41; June 1994, p. 22-33; September 1994, p. 25-32; December 1994, p. 25-33; March 1995, p. 25-33; June 1995, p. 27-33.

 Luc Bouvier, “Histoire des drapeaux québécois: du tricolore canadien au fleurdelisé québécois”, in L’Action nationale, vol. LXXXVI, no 3, March 1996, p. 123-134; no 4, April 1996, p. 83-94; no 6, June 1996, p. 91-102; no 9, November 1996, p. 97-107; no 10, December 1996, p. 99-111. 

Luc Bouvier, “Histoire des drapeaux québécois: du tricolore canadien au fleurdelisé québécois, [online] (23 April 2011).


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