“By River and Sea Rise Burnaby”: What makes Burnaby’s flag the best in BC?
Rated the No. 1 flag in BC, Burnaby's banner has a lot going on in its simple, effective, and instantly recognizable design.
An azure eagle on a yellow field, wings outstretched, displaying a pair of blue-and-white crests, and all of it sandwiched between two wavy lines.
So what’s the story behind Burnaby’s flag? What’s the idea behind the eagle and the simple colour scheme? And why was it voted the No. 1 flag in BC by a panel led by CBC journalist and prominent ranker of all things BC, Justin McElroy?
As it turns out, there’s a lot that goes into making a good flag. And in the case of Burnaby’s wavy display, the city has good reason to be proud of the banner that Canada’s premiere flag designer came up with.
A celebration of Burnaby’s history and beauty
As Burnaby was approaching its 100th anniversary back in 1992, the city wanted to commemorate the occasion by getting its own flag and coat of arms.
Up until this point, the city only had a logo, which it had developed in the ’70s, and a municipal seal for authenticating records and laws, which was nearly as old as the city itself.
In 1991, Burnaby’s then-mayor Bill Copeland submitted a request to have the federal authorities of heraldry design Burnaby’s “armorial bearings,” which included a new seal, as well as an official coat of arms and flag.
Chief Herald of Canada at the time, Robert Watt, would lead the design of both the city’s coat of arms and flag, assisted by other members of the Canadian Heraldic Authority. And while it’s difficult to obtain information about the design process itself, in many ways the priorities speak clearly through the design.
The flag design mainly pulls from the shield at the centre of the coat of arms—held aloft by a pair of deer supporters, which represent Burnaby’s natural heritage, the shield bears the iconic azure eagle at its centre. At the bottom of the coat of arms, a banner displays the city’s motto: “By River and Sea Rise Burnaby.”
There’s a clear motif of nature that’s going on here, without even mentioning the rhododendrons—the city’s official flower—worn by the deer, or the lion at the top, which is pulled directly from the coat of arms of the city’s namesake, Robert Burnaby, an early political figure and civil servant of BC in the mid-1800s.
The natural motif extends to the city’s flag, which is meant to encapsulate the key features of Burnaby’s geography. The eagle represents the “spirit” of Burnaby’s community, as well as Burnaby Mountain, while the crests on its wings represent the two major lakes of the city: Deer Lake and Burnaby Lake.
The eagle’s backdrop represents Burnaby’s broader geographic situation: the yellow background, or “field” as it’s referred to in vexillology—the study of flags—represents the land of Burnaby, while the wavy blue stripes at the top and bottom represent its watery boundaries of the Burrard Inlet to the north and the Fraser River to the south.
The Burnaby flag and the coat of arms both serve as a metaphor for the community’s history as well as its beauty and natural surroundings.
So, does it make for a good flag?
According to the North American Vexillological Association, one of the key principles of flag design is to use meaningful symbolism, including colours and symbols that resonate with what’s being represented. For McElroy, however, it’s the white tips at the end of the eagle’s feathers that make the flag a real “chef’s kiss.”
So it seems to hold up to at least some principles of good flag design, in addition to being a flag fan’s favourite. But perhaps it’s up to the people to decide whether their flag is the right fit for Burnaby.