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St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador (Canada)

Last modified: 2018-07-17 by rob raeside
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[St. John's Newfoundland and Labrador] 1:2 image by Peter Orenski, 13 November 2012
based on research and information provided by James Croft and Kevin Harrington
Source: Canadian City Flags, Raven 18

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St. John's

The City of St. John's (160,172 inhabitants in 2011; 480 sq. km) is the capital of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

St. John's recorded the first permanent settlers with a family named Oxford establishing a plantation probably in the area west of Beck's Cove in the early 1600's. The north side of the harbour saw wharves, fish stores, and warehouses constructed to accommodate the trade which grew as a result of the fishery. A path which crossed the various streams and brooks running down the side of the hill connected these premises. This path later became known as the lower path and later still as Water Street - the oldest commercial street in North America. St. John's performed this role throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as the major commercial and service centre for the Newfoundland fishery. The port's importance as a major cog in this fishery made it a prime military target for any nation wishing to gain control over this important food supply. The earliest record of these battles dates back to 1555 when the Basques travelled overland to capture St. John's from the French. Over one hundred years later, in June 1665, the great Dutch naval strategist Admiral De Ruyter captured St. John's from the English. Commencing in the late seventeenth century and running throughout most of the eighteenth century, the English and French engaged in a series of wars which saw St. John's used frequently as a battle ground. The last of these battles occurred in 1762 when the British recaptured St. John's from the French after a brief fight. The outbreak of the of the Napoleonic Wars in 1791- 92 in Europe saw a growth in the demand for salt fish. The economic boom in the Newfoundland fishery ended with the conclusion of the war. Fish prices fell and generally remained depressed until the outbreak of WW I in 1914. In 1921 St. John's became incorporated as a city with the passage of the City of St. John's Act by the Newfoundland government. - Municipal website (full text)
Ivan Sache, 29 July 2012

Current Flag

Text and image(s) from Canadian City Flags, Raven 18 (2011), courtesy of the North American Vexillological Association, which retains copyright. Image(s) by permission of Eugene Ipavec.


The flag of the City of St. John’s has a white field with its colourful coat of arms, nearly the full height of the flag, in the centre. The simple shield has a horizontal top and simply-curved sides forming a pointed “U” shape. It has a red field, with a white section on its top third bearing three wavy blue stripes with three undulations at its base. Atop the wavy stripes is an early ship sailing toward the hoist with a jib and square main sail in white and a golden yellow hull. A long pennant blows forward from its single mast, a smaller ensign from a staff in the stern, both in red. In the centre of the lower section is a lamb oriented toward the hoist, depicted in white with black details, a golden yellow halo, and holding with its right foreleg a staff (ending in a cross finial) from which streams a swallow-tailed white flag bearing a red cross. On either side of the lamb is an inverted scallop shell in white outlined in black. Above the shield is a knight’s helmet in grey, white, and black with an elaborate crest: a golden yellow crown in the form of a crenulated stone wall with five towers, surrounding a rocky hill. On it stands a lion in golden yellow, with right foreleg raised between two red and white Tudor roses with green leaves and stems. Its tongue and claws are red. The mantling is red with black and white details. On either side of the shield, standing on a slightly 186 Canadian City Flags arched wooden platform of brown and golden yellow, are two sailors—at the left, in 15th-century garb (a brown hat over a green, orange, and purple tunic and cowl) holding a scroll inscribed 14 97, at the right in late-16th-century garb (a green hat and a grey, collared jacket) holding a scroll inscribed 15 83. Both have orange leggings and brown footwear. The scrolls are white, the dates black, in old script. Below the shield curves a white ribbon inscribed AVANCEZ in blue serif letters.
Scott D. Mainwaring, Canadian City Flags, Raven 18, 2011


According to English legend, the explorer John Cabot discovered St. John’s harbour on 24 June 1497, the feast day of St. John the Baptist for the Catholic Church, although scholars consider it unlikely that Cabot ever visited St. John’s. Basques, on the other hand, believe that the harbour was named for the town of San Juan in Basque Country. San Juan is on the Bay of Pasaia, of which early Basque fishermen in Newfoundland were reminded by the topography of St. John’s harbour. In either case, the “Lamb of God”, traditional in Christian iconography, refers to St. John, who gave Jesus this title (John 1:29, 36), as do the scallop shells (used in Catholic baptism). The sailing ship refers to the province’s early discoverers and explorers, with one sailor representing the discovery of Newfoundland by Cabot in 1497, and the other Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s proclamation in 1583 that Newfoundland belonged to England. In the crest, the lion and roses are symbols of England as well. The mural crown signifies St. John’s status as a municipality. The city’s motto is Avancez (“Advance” in French).
Scott D. Mainwaring, Canadian City Flags, Raven 18, 2011


Scott D. Mainwaring
, Canadian City Flags, Raven 18, 2011


The arms were created by the College of Arms in London, England, and granted 1 March 1965.
Scott D. Mainwaring
, Canadian City Flags, Raven 18, 2011

More about the Flag

The flag of St. John's is prescribed in Article 28 of the City of St. John's Act:

28. (1) The city shall have an official flag consisting of a reproduction of the Coat of Arms of the City of St. John's emblazoned in colours on a white background, the proportions of the flag and the position of the Coat of Arms of the City of St. John's on it being those approved by the council.
(2) The official flag of the city referred to in subsection (1) may be flown at all official places and on all official occasions of the city."

The coat of arms of St. John's is prescribed in Articles 23-24 of the City of St. John's Act:
"Coat of Arms
23. (1) The Coat of Arms of the city is that Coat of Arms described as follows:
"Gules a Paschal Lamb proper between in chief two Escallops Argent a Chief of the last charged with an ancient Ship sail set pennon and flag flying upon Water Barry wavy proper And for the Crest Issuant from a Mural Crown Or a Rocky Mount Sable thereon a Lion passant Or between two Roses Gules each charged with another Argent barbed seeded slipped and leaved proper, Mantled Gules, doubled Argent. On either side a male figure the dexter habited as a Mariner of the Fifteenth Century holding an Escroll Argent inscribed thereon the numerals 1497 Sable and the sinister habited as a Mariner of the late Sixteenth Century holding a like Escroll inscribed 1583". 
(2) The Coat of Arms referred to in subsection (1) may for all purposes be called the Coat of Arms of the City of St. John's .
(3) A pictorial representation of the Coat of Arms of the City of St. John's , printed in black and white, is as follows:
Use of Coat of Arms
24. Except with express permission granted by resolution of the council, another person, other than the city, shall not assume or use the Coat of Arms of the City of St. John's or a design in imitation of it or calculated to deceive by its resemblance to it or a paper or other material upon which the Coat of Arms of the City of St. John's or a design in imitation of it or calculated to deceive by its resemblance to it is stamped, engraved, printed or otherwise marked."

The arms and supporters (but not the flag) of St. John's were granted by Letters Patented registered on 15 March 2005 in the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges, vol. IV, p. 456, as announced on 11 June 2005 in the Canada Gazette, Vo. 139, p. 2,034. The emblems were originally recorded in the records of the College of Arms, London, England, 1 March 1965.

"Supporters: Dexter, a mariner of the 15th century holding an escroll inscribed 1497, sinister a mariner of the late 16th century holding a like escroll inscribed 1583 proper;
Arms: Gules a paschal lamb proper between in chief two escallops argent, a chief argent charged with an ancient ship its pennon and flag flying proper upon barry wavy azure and argent;
Crest: Issuant from a mural crown or a rocky mount sable thereon a lion passant or between two Tudor roses slipped proper;
Motto: AVANCEZ." - Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges

Memorial University of Newfoundland prepared the following interpretation of the City Crest:
"The saint after which the City is named is symbolized on the shield by the lamb, carrying a banner bearing St. George’s Cross, and scalloped shells. The ship, sailing on waves at the top of the shield, refers to the province’s early discoverers and explorers. The shield is supported on the left by a mariner of the fifteenth century bearing the year the island was discovered by Cabot. The supporter on the right is a mariner of the late sixteenth century, bearing the date 1583 - the year Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed the island for England. The stone wall of the crest stands for civic authority, while the lion and roses refer back to the City’s British heritage. "Avancez" or "advance", the City’s motto, can be seen at the base of the coat of arms". - Municipal website
Ivan Sache, 29 July 2012

Former Flags

The city apparently had flags before it was granted a coat of arms in 1965. For example, the Daily News of 5 August 1907 noted The City Flag was hoisted on the New Pole in Bannerman Park, for the first time yesterday.
Scott D. Mainwaring, Canadian City Flags, Raven 18, 2011

Other Flags

As Britain’s easternmost port in North America, St. John’s had a long and interesting history of signal flags. Upon sighting a vessel approaching, a signaller would hoist at Signal Hill a flag symbolizing its nationality and corporate owner. For more information, consult Mark Le Messurier, “The Signal and Commercial Flags of St. John’s, Newfoundland c. 1500–c. 1900” in Raven: A Journal of Vexillology, Volume 7 (2000), pp. 19–36 .
Scott D. Mainwaring, Canadian City Flags, Raven 18, 2011