bannières / banners

[bientôt en français]

These are images of banners that announced affiliation during the hundreds of mass protests, that were hung above demonstrators as they walked under overpasses, that denounced tuition increases and government corruption, that were unravelled down building facades, and announced solidarity during the 2012 Québec student strike.

The most common banner used during the student strike was usually carried across the width of a demonstration behind which people converged to claim affiliation to the group, association, union, ideology, political party represented on the strip of textile. Primary organizers of a protest march usually dispatch their banner(s) at the front of the procession as means of identification, while others follow with their own respective banner further back.

The banner’s origin in Western culture stems from early trade organizing influenced by Britain’s 1799 Combination Act, which made membership in trade societies illegal. Threatened by industrialization, the precursors to trade unions secretly met to protect their interests in “highly ritualized secret meetings [that] were held in pub rooms where, amongst other items of regalia, textiles demonstrated the trade’s ancient and respectable past.”1 Their banners were characterized with imagery of tools of the trade assembled similarly to coats of arms.2

Une bannière contre l'indexation du gouvernement péquiste porter par l'ASSÉ le 26 février 2013. AuteurE inconnuE.

Une bannière contre l’indexation du gouvernement péquiste porter par l’ASSÉ le 26 février 2013. AuteurE inconnuE.

The abrogation of the Act in 1825 led the way to the creation of trade unions, and the use of banners for public identification became a common feature in union-organized rallies during Britain’s electoral Reform Crisis (1829-32). The onset of the trade union movement, which after the 1889 Great Dock Strike included unskilled workers, increased the production of trade union banners. The unions with sufficient budgets had their banners produced by London’s regalia and silk manufacturer George Tutill (Gorman 1973, Logan 2012). The company initially produced ceremonial banners hand-painted on silk woven in-house. It continues producing ceremonial banners but now includes advertising banners and flags in its list of products and now uses “a range of materials from flame retardant cotton to silk [with] a variety of image transfer techniques including sign-writing, dyeing, screen printing, hand sewing, appliqué or digital printing.”3

An early image of a banner in Québec dates from a photo of the 22nd Annual Convention of Fire Engineers taken in 1894 and now archived in the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ)4. Philosophies, values and practices of Canadian unionism was inherited from unionism in Britain as exemplified during a banner unveiling on May Day in 2000 by the Brandon [Manitoba] and District Labour Council to commemorate “the struggles and gains of trade unions over a century and a half. Its theme, ‘Strength in Solidarity,’ reflects an appreciation of the fact that advances are only achieved when workers act together in their places of work and in society” (Black & Silver 2012).

Beyond labour organizing, banners are also used for large-scale propaganda purposes by popular movements that use public processions to transmit their message and gain support. The women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries used banners broadly. Unlike the more industrial approach of trade unions, women’s suffrage banners were most often created collectively from within the movement using traditional skills to hand sew, embroider, stencil or appliqué their slogans onto textile. Approximately 150 suffrage banners were produced in Britain between 1908 and 1913, many by the Artists Suffrage League.5

"Education is not for sale. Yes to the general strike." Photo March 22, 2012 by David Widgington.

“Education is not for sale. Yes to the general strike.” Photo March 22, 2012 by David Widgington.

Banners have been common features over the last century to claim civil rights, indigenous self-determination, environmental sustainability, immigrant rights, to oppose neoliberal globalization and a range of other issues. Banners within the Artéfacts Archive tend to be hand painted on strips of textile of varying length, although a couple included hand-sewn lettering and several of the larger ones were commercially printed.

Grande bannière faites par l'École de la montagne rouge lors de la manifestation du 22 août, 2012 à Montréal.

Grande bannière faites par l’École de la montagne rouge lors de la manifestation du 22 août, 2012 à Montréal.

Banners are not only used to identify a group. They are also used to flank demonstrations as symbolic barriers between protesters and the police to dissuade intervention. Banners are also dropped to foment motivational uproar to a passing demonstration when hung from adjacent building rooftops, overpasses or balconies as rallying expressions of opposition. At the March 22, 2012 protest, the demonstration entered Montréal’s Old Port through the Notre-Dame street overpass to reach the demonstration’s destination at Place Jacques-Cartier. From above, a massive banner was hung that read, “L’éducation n’est pas à vendre. Oui à la grève générale !”.6 It was so huge that it nearly touched the ground, forcing protesters to lift the banner and bend under its call for a general strike in a collective ritual of passage.

Another, even larger banner was created by the student union coalition and protest organizers, the Coalition large pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (CLASSE). Its width spanned an entire street and its length was twofold its width. It was carried overhead as a canopy that could be read by onlookers from high-rise windows that read, “March 22nd is only the beginning”.

A banner drop in Montréal's Centre de commerce mondiale. 2011. Photographer unknown.

A banner drop in Montréal’s Centre de commerce mondiale. 2011. Photographer unknown.

Greenpeace is well known for its banner drops from challenging locations like bridges, construction cranes, power plant smoke stacks and famously from the roof of the Canadian Parliament. On December 7, 2009, two massive banners were dropped from the roof to denounce government inaction and gain public awareness during the United Nations Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. They both read, “Harper/Ignatieff. Climate inaction costs lives”7.

The banner is the only genre of protest artefact from the Maple Spring that I purposefully collected actual physical samples. As of writing this, I have collected and indexed 46 banners of varying size, most of which I still have in my possession.


1 From Banners of the British Labour Movement by Dr. Myna Trustram. BBC. (viewed May 16, 2013).
2 An important collection has been indexed at the People’s History Museum in Manchester, UK with images of banners from their collection as well as images from the National Banner Survey. (viewed May 16, 2013).
3 Quote taken from Goerge Tutill website: (viewed May 16, 2013).
4 (viewed May 17, 2013).
5 From Banners of the British Labour Movement by Dr. Myna Trustram. BBC. (viewed May 16, 2013).
6 “Education is not for sale. Yes to a general strike!”.

7 (viewed May 12, 2013).

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