The Arms of Canada

The Canadian Armories

The Arms of Canada

The Royal Grant

Image of the Great SealDuring the first decades after Confederation, questions relatingto the Arms of Canada had not received the attention theydeserved. The Royal Arms of the United Kingdom were then freelyused to identify the offices of the Government of Canada.

Shortly after Confederation, a Great Seal was required and adesign was approved by a royal warrant dated May 26, 1868. Thisdesign displayed, quarterly, the arms of the original fourprovinces of the new federation: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotiaand New Brunswick. It was never used as the Great Seal, but wasgradually adopted as the Arms of Canada. For a reason unexplainedby history, another Great Seal was adopted for Canadarepresenting Queen Victoria and the throne of her coronation;this Great Seal is however altered at the beginning of eachreign, so as to show the effigy of the Sovereign.

When other provinces joined Confederation, the attempt to add thearms of the new provinces to this federal composite designresulted in a crowded and confused appearance. For this reason,the Canadian Government submitted a request to the Sovereign fora grant of arms. This request was approved and the arms assignedto Canada were appointed and declared in the proclamation (texton next page) of His Majesty King George V dated November 21,1921. This action was proceeded with on the basis of an Order ofthe Governor General in Council (P.C. 1921-1496) dated April 30,1921.

By the King - A Proclamation

Proclamation of 1921

"By The King - A Proclamation

Declaring His Majesty's Pleasure concerning the Ensigns Armorialof the Dominion of Canada

George R.I.

WHEREAS We have received a request from the Governor General inCouncil of Our Dominion of Canada that the Arms or EnsignsArmorial herein after described should be assigned to Our saidDominion.

We do hereby, by and with the advice of Our Privy Council, and inexchange of the powers conferred by the first Article of theUnion with Ireland Act, 1800, appoint and declare that the Armsof Ensigns Armorial of the Dominion of Canada shall be Tierced infesse the first and second divisions containing the quarterlycoat following, namely, 1st Gules three lions passant guardant inpale or, 2nd, Or a lion rampant within a double tressure flory-counter-flory gules, 3rd, Azure a harp or stringed argent, 4th,Azure, three fleurs-de-lis or, and the third division Argentthree maple leaves conjoined on one stem proper. And upon aroyal helmet mantled argent doubled gules the Crest, that is tosay, On a wreath of the colours argent and gules a lion passantguardant or imperially crowned proper and holding in the dexterpaw a maple leaf gules. And for Supporters On the dexter a lionrampant or holding a lance argent, point or, flying therefrom tothe dexter the Union Flag, and on the sinister A unicorn argentarmed crined and unguled or, gorged with a coronet composed ofcrosses-patée and fleurs-de-lis a chain affixed thereto reflexedof the last, and holding a like lance flying therefrom to thesinister a banner azure charged with three fleurs-de-lis or; thewhole ensigned with the Imperial Crown proper and below theshield upon a wreath composed of roses, thistles, shamrocks andlillies a scroll azure inscribed with the motto A mari usque admare, and Our Will and Pleasure further is that the Arms orEnsigns Armorial aforesaid shall be used henceforth, as far asconveniently may be, on all occasions wherein the said Arms orEnsigns Armorial of the Dominion of Canada ought to be used.

Given at Our Court at Buckingham Palace, this twenty-first day ofNovember, in the year of Our Lord One thousand nine hundred andtwenty-one, and in the twelfth year of Our Reign.

God Save the King"

The Proclamation

The royal proclamation makes special reference to the request bythe Government of Canada and states that the grant of arms orflags is made on the advice of the Privy Council and by thepowers conferred by the first Article of the British statute "TheUnion of Ireland Act, 1800". Passed in the reign of King GeorgeIII, it empowered the Crown to grant, by proclamation, arms andflags to the United Kingdom and its dependencies.

A special committee was mandated by the Governor General in 1919to study the question on the Arms of Canada. It was composed of:

    Thomas Mulvey, K.C., Under Secretary of State, Chairman;
    Sir Joseph Pope, K.C.M.G., C.V.O., I.S.O., Under Secretary of State for External Affairs;
    A.G. Doughty, C.M.G., Litt. D., Dominion Archivist;
    Major-General W.G. Gwatkin, C.B., C.M.G., Department of Militia and Defence.

Image of the Arms of CanadaThe present design of the Arms of Canada was drawn by Mrs. CathyBursey-Sabourin, Fraser Herald at the Canadian HeraldicAuthority, office of the Governor General of Canada, andfaithfully depicts the arms described in the words of the RoyalProclamation dated November 21, 1921. The present design wasapproved in 1994 and shows a ribbon behind the shield with themotto of the Order of Canada. This version replaces a formerdesign drawn by Mr. Alan Beddoe.

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The Shield

Image of the shieldThe shield at the centre of the Coat of Arms is the mostimportant part of the design. In heraldry, it is the shield"that tells the story" of a country. In Canada's shield, thefirst and second divisions depict four emblems that symbolize thefour founding peoples of Canada. The third makes it distinctlyCanadian.

The three Royal Lions of England

The first quarter consists of the three gold lions of Englandwalking and shown full face, on a red background. The lion isthe oldest device known in heraldry and, as "king of beasts", wasadopted by kings of Leon, Norway and Denmark as their emblem. However, the origin of the three royal lions of England stillremains a mystery.

In the 11th century, Henry I, known as "the lion of justice", mayhave been the first English king to use a lion. It is uncertainas to why a second lion suddenly appeared. When Henry II marriedEleanor of Aquitaine, whose family emblem was also a lion, it isbelieved that he added the third lion. There is no questionthat, when he led his English troops in the Crusades, Richard I,"the Lion-Hearted" carried a shield emblazoned with three goldenlions on a red background. To this day they have been the royalsymbol of England.

The Royal Lion of Scotland

The second quarter consists of a red lion rearing on the lefthind foot, within a red double border with fleurs-de-lis, on agold background. The royal lion of Scotland was probably firstused by King William, who was known as "the lion". However itwas certainly used by his son, Alexander III, who made Scotlandan independent nation.

The Royal Irish Harp of Tara

The third quarter is a gold harp with silver strings, on a bluebackground. North of the present city of Dublin, there is a hillcalled Tara which for centuries was the religious and culturalcapital of ancient Ireland. If you visit the site, you will seea 750 foot earthenwork that is said to have been the site of thebanqueting hall of Irish kings. Thomas Moore recalls the historyof this site in one of the most famous of all Irish lyrics thatbegins: "The harp that once through Tara's hall the soul ofmusic shed..." There is a legend, recorded in C.W. Scott-Gilesmonumental work The "Romance of Heraldry", that this harp was foundand came into the possession of the pope. In the 16th century,Henry VIII suppressed the Irish people in his attempt to becomethe lawful successor to the kings of ancient Ireland. The popesent the harp of Tara to England whereupon Henry added itslikeness to his royal shield. From this time it has remained asymbol of Ireland.

The Royal Fleurs-de-Lis of France

The fourth quarter depicts three gold fleurs-de-lis, on a bluebackground. The fleurs-de-lis was the first heraldic emblemraised in Canada. On July 24, 1534, Jacques Cartier landed atGaspé and erected a cross, affixed with the symbol of hissovereign and the royal house of France.

The three Maple Leaves

To complete the design of the shield, a Canadian symbol wasrequired. Three red maple leaves conjoined on one stem, on asilver or white background, were then added. Throughout the 19thcentury, the maple leaf had gradually become closely identifiedwith Canada. The maple leaf had been worn as a symbol of Canadaduring the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1860. The song "TheMaple Leaf Forever", written by the Toronto school teacherAlexander Muir in 1868 had become Canada's national song. DuringWorld War I, the maple leaf was incorporated into the badge ofevery Canadian regiment. It was most appropriate that threemaple leaves were given a commanding position within the shield,which made it unmistakably "Canadian".

The Ribbon

Image of the ribbonOn the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada, Her Majesty TheQueen has approved, on July 12, 1994 that the Arms of Canada beaugmented of a ribbon with the motto of the Order of Canada: "Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam" (They desire a better country).

The Helm and the Mantling

Image of the helm and the mantlingThe helm (heaume or helmet), which in heraldry is usually placedabove the shield of arms, not only serves as a means ofdisplaying the crest, but also has a significance of its own,since its type denotes the rank of the person bearing the arms. On the helm lies a mantling or lambrequin. The mantle,originally, was to protect the head and shoulders of the wearerfrom the sun's heat. It has become a decorative accessory to thecrest and shield.

The Arms of Canada show a royal helmet, which is a barred helm ofgold looking outward and draped in a mantle of white and redwhich are the official colours of Canada.

The Crest

Image of the crestOn the royal helmet is the crest. This symbol consists of awreath or ring of twisted white and red silk on which stands acrowned gold lion holding in its right paw a red maple leaf. Thelion is a symbol of valor and courage.

The crest is used to mark the sovereignty of Canada. It is nowthe symbol used on the Governor General's Standard.

The Supporters

Image of the supportersThe figures that stand on either side of the shield are known inheraldry as "supporters" and are often depicted in a ferociousmanner. The King of England chose two lions while Scotland chosetwo unicorns.

When James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, hechose one lion and one unicorn as the supporters of his royalshields. Canada adopted the same pattern and used a lion on theshield's right holding a gold pointed silver lance from whichflies the Royal Union flag, and a unicorn with gold horn, maneand hoofs, on the shield's left. Around its neck is a gold andchained coronet of crosses and fleurs-de-lis. The unicorn holdsa lance flying a banner of royalist France, namely three goldfleurs-de-lis, on a blue background. The two banners representthe two principal founding nations that had established Canada'senduring laws and customs.

The Motto

Image of the mottoCanada's motto "A Mari usque ad Mare" is based on biblicalscripture: "He shall have dominion from sea to sea and from theriver unto the ends of the earth" (Psalm 72:8). The firstofficial use of this motto came in 1906 when it was engraved onthe head of the mace of the Legislative Assembly of the newProvince of Saskatchewan. The wording of the motto came to theattention of Sir Joseph Pope, then Under Secretary of State, whowas impressed with its meaning. He later proposed it as mottofor the new design of the coat of arms, which were approved byOrder in Council on April 21, 1921 and by Royal Proclamation onNovember 21, 1921.

The Four Floral Emblems

Image of the four floral emblems At the base of Canada's Royal Arms are the four founding nations of Canada.

English Rose

The rose first became the symbol of England when Henry IIImarried Eleanor of Provence and the golden rose of Provencebecame England's new floral symbol. From this golden roseeventually came the red rose of the House of Lancaster and thewhite rose of the House of York.

Scottish Thistle

There is a legend that, in 1010 when they attempted to captureScotland, the Danes landed secretly at night. As they approachedStains Castle they removed their shoes to avoid making any noise. When they reached the castle's moat, they jumped in not realizingthat the moat was dry and overgrown with thistles. The screamsof the bare-footed Danes roused the garrison. The castle andScotland were both saved and, according to legend, it is inmemory of that night that the thistle became the floral emblem ofScotland.

Irish Shamrock

In Irish legends, it is said that when he brought Christianity toIreland, Saint Patrick used the three petals of the shamrock toillustrate the Holy Trinity. As a result, the shamrock becamethe floral emblem of Christian Ireland.

The French Fleurs-de-Lis

Following its adoption as the symbol of France's king, thefleurs-de-lis also became the symbol of Christian France. By the13th and 14th century, the three petals of the lily of Francewere being described by writers as symbols of faith, wisdom andchivalry. As in Ireland, they also came to be seen as symbols ofthe Holy Trinity.

The Imperial Crown

Image of the Imperial CrownOn top of the "achievement of the Arms of Canada" is the ImperialCrown which is indicative of the presence of a monarch asCanada's Head of State.

The shapes of symbols in a coat of arms can be altered by anartist since heraldry is an art as well as a science. Howeverthe symbols themselves can never be changed without formalapproval. In 1957, when Canada's arms were slightly modified toproduce a cleaner more contemporary design, the Governmentreplaced the original Tudor crown of the 1921 design by a crownthat would represent not just one of the royal families ofEnglish monarchs, but centuries of kings and queens of England. To comply with the wish of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, theSaint Edward's crown is now used for the Arms of Canada. It isthat Crown that has been used for the coronation of kings andqueens in Westminster Abbey for centuries.

The Use of the Arms

The Arms of Canada are the arms of the Sovereign; they signifynational sovereignty or ownership. They are used by Canada onfederal government possessions such as buildings, official seals,money, passports, proclamations, publications, etc.; as well asrank badges of some members of the Canadian Forces. The designof the shield of the arms was Canada's badge in the Canadian RedEnsign, Canada's flag until the adoption of the National Flag in1965. The Trade Marks Act, chapter T-11, Revised Statutes of1985 (sect. 9), protects the Arms of Canada against unauthorizedcommercial use.

Permission to use the Arms of Canada in commercial activities maybe obtained by writing to the Manager, Ceremonial and Canadian Symbols Promotion,Department of Canadian Heritage [Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0M5, Fax(819) 997-8550], attaching a sketch or drawing showing theintended use.

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Development of Heraldic Arms

Armorial bearings came into use as a means of identification. They were important in both times of peace and war.

Centuries ago, few persons could read; nor had our ancestors theadvantage of newspaper portraits, moving pictures, or thethousand other ways we now possess of recognizing and identifyingpeople. Heraldry may be described as a form of picture-writing,worked out in the Middle Ages to afford a means of recognition. At that time, people had fine artistic perceptions, and utilizedbright colours in developing a system of heraldry that was notonly ingenious and practical, but also very beautiful.

Despite printing, photography and other modern inventions, westill make use of emblems, badges and other symbols. The mapleleaf at once suggests Canada; the thistle, Scotland; the roseEngland; the shamrock, Ireland; the leek, Wales; the lily,France. Each one is used and regarded as an emblem. The peopleof the Middle Ages transformed this method of appealing to theeye into a system in which the coat of arms was the mostelaborate form. In fact the system became a science.

It is curious to note that no country has abandoned the practiceof using armorial bearings, emblems and symbols being importantfor preserving traditions and inspiring love of country. Ofthese symbols, the coat of arms and the flag are the chiefelements. Although the flag is more frequently used, the coat ofarms is the oldest and often serves as the foundation for theflag.

© 1995 Department of Canadian Heritage

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