As additional provinces entered Confederation, armorial bearings assigned to them were added to the federal shield, creating an unsatisfactory aggregation. A Canadian committee appointed in 1919 had decided within a year on the basic elements of a new design, which was forwarded to the College of Arms in London, England, for its consideration. On 21 November 1921 King George V, by royal proclamation, assigned armorial bearings for Canada.
The blazon (heraldic description) of Canada's arms is as follows. Tierced in fesse: the first and second divisions containing the quarterly coat following, namely, 1st, gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or; 2nd, or, a lion rampant within a double tressure fleury-counter-fleury gules; 3rd, azure, a harp or stringed argent; 4th, azure, three fleurs-de-lis or; and the third division argent three maple leaves conjoined on one stem proper. Upon the royal helm mantled argent doubled gules a wreath of the colours surmounted by a lion passant guardant or imperially crowned proper and holding in the dexter paw a maple leaf gules nerved or; the whole ensigned with St Edward's Crown. Supporters: on the dexter a lion rampant or holding a lance argent, point or, flying therefrom to the dexter the Union flag; and on the sinister an unicorn argent armed, crined and unguled or, gorged with a coronet composed of crosses patée and fleurs-de-lis a chain affixed thereto reflexed of the last, and holding a like lance flying therefrom to the sinister a banner azure charged with three fleurs-de-lis or. (For a guide to the specialized vocabulary used here, see EMBLEMS, PROVINCIAL AND TERRITORIAL; HERALDRY.)
The design is traditional, with the shield displaying the arms of England, Scotland, Ireland and France to symbolize the nation's founding races. Underneath the 4 quarters, on a white field, is a sprig of 3 maple leaves to indicate the new nation of many peoples. Originally green, in 1957 the leaves officially became red, a common autumnal colour, and thus were in accord with Canada's national colours, red and white. The crest and the shield's supporters are strikingly similar to the royal arms of Great Britain. The motto A MARI USQUE AD MARE ("From sea to sea") is from the Bible's Psalm 72:8, "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth" (King James Version).
In 1987 a ribbon with the motto of the Order of Canada, "Desiderantes meliorem patriem" ("They desire a better country"), was added to the arms of Canada.
The red and white flag featuring a stylized maple leaf was proclaimed Canada's national flag by Queen Elizabeth II on 15 February 1965. Its adoption was the culmination of many years of discussion, hundreds of designs and the heated FLAG DEBATE in Parliament. Its blazon is "Gules on a Canadian pale argent a maple leaf of the first." The proportions of the flag are 2 by length and one by width, with a white square in the centre the width of the flag.
Before 1965 Canada did not have an official flag. During the French regime the flag flown was the royal banner of France, "Azure, three fleurs-de-lis or, arranged two and one." The golden lilies symbolized the Holy Trinity. After the CONQUEST in 1760 the flags most commonly flown were Great Britain's Union Flag (Union Jack) and the Canadian Red Ensign. The latter was the flag of the British merchant marine, red, with the Union Jack in the canton (ie, near the staff). In 1892 the British Admiralty authorized its use, with the addition of a shield for Canada in the fly, on vessels registered in Canada.
In 1924 a Canadian order-in-council decreed that the flag could be flown over Canadian government buildings abroad. The Red Ensign was later carried by Canadian athletes at the Olympics and by Canadian troops in WWII. In 1945 another order-in-council approved the flying of the flag over federal buildings within Canada. To many Canadians the Red Ensign was the national flag, and this led to intense feeling when Parliament proposed to replace it with a new design.
From 1678 the HUDSON'S BAY COMPANY (chartered 1670) possessed an armorial seal charged with 4 beavers and separated into compartments formed by a St George's cross. About the same time Governor Frontenac of NEW FRANCE suggested the beaver as a suitable emblem for the colony, but arms were never authorized. In 1690, to commemorate Frontenac's successful defence of the QUÉBEC CITADEL against the naval attack by Sir William Phips, the Kebeca Liberata MEDAL was struck. It bore a representation of France as a seated woman, and of Canada as a beaver at her feet.
The use of the beaver as a Canadian emblem declined in the second half of the 19th century, perhaps because Montréal ceased to be a major fur entrepôt. The animal's emblematic importance was revived by Sir Sandford FLEMING when he designed Canada's first postage stamp, the 1851 3-penny beaver. Today the beaver, noted for its industry and perseverance, qualities considered suitable for a nation to emulate, decorates the reverse of the Canadian 5-cent coin.
Along the St Lawrence the leaf of the indigenous common MAPLE, with its distinctive shape and beautiful autumnal colouring, seems to have been considered as an emblem by 1700. When the first ST-JEAN-BAPTISTE SOCIETY was founded in 1834, the maple leaf was made its emblem. In Toronto the 1848 issue of Reverend John McCaul's literary annual, Maple Leaf, referred to the leaf as the chosen emblem of Canada. In 1860 the leaf was incorporated into the badge of the 100th Regiment (Royal Canadians), and that year the leaves were used extensively in decorations for the Prince of Wales's visit.
In 1867 Alexander Muir composed "The Maple Leaf," a song which for decades was regarded as a national hymn. By royal warrant on 26 May 1868, the designs of arms granted to Québec and Ontario each incorporated a sprig of 3 maple leaves. The maple leaf was the badge of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI. When national armorial bearings were assigned in 1921, a sprig of leaves was an important feature, and in 1965 the maple leaf became the dominant element in the new national flag.
In 2011 the Canadian government selected the Maple Leaf tartan to be Canada's national tartan. The tartan design, featuring a distinctive green and red pattern suggesting the shifting hues of autumn leaves, was designed in 1964 by Toronto garment maker David Weiser as part of the lead-up to Canada's centennial celebrations. In a statement issued by Heritage Minister James Moore, "The Maple Leaf Tartan has been worn proudly and enjoyed by Canadians for decades, but has never been elevated to the level of an official symbol - until now. Our national symbols express our identity and define our history. The Maple Leaf Tartan represents the contributions that the more than four million Canadians of Scottish heritage continue to make to our country."
Author BRUCE PEEL
Links to Other Sites
The website for the Historica-Dominion Institute, parent organization of The Canadian Encyclopedia and the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. Check out their extensive online feature about the War of 1812, the "Heritage Minutes" video collection, and many other interactive resources concerning Canadian history, culture, and heritage.
Symbols of Canada
An illustrated guide to national and provincial symbols of Canada, our national anthem, national and provincial holidays, and more. Click on "Historical Flags of Canada" and then "Posters of Historical Flags of Canada" for additional images. From the Canadian Heritage website.
Watch the Heritage Minute about the Canadian flag from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
Top 10 Things Canadians Should Know About Canada
Click on the 101things.ca link to discover the top 10 things people should know about Canada, a list developed from a national survey of what Canadians felt were the 101 people, places, symbols, events and innovations that most define our nation. From the Historica-Dominion Institute.
The official website for the Canadian Heraldic Authority, which is responsible for the creation of new coats of arms, flags and badges for Canadian citizens and corporate bodies. Find out about heraldry and its role in Canada today. Learn how armorial bearings are designed and granted, and see examples of the work of the Canadian Heraldic Authority.
Governor General of Canada
The official website for the Governor General of Canada features biographies of current and former Governors General, a summary of official duties, and more.
The Great Canadian Flag Debate
This multimedia CBC website covers all sides of the great debates about the future Canadian flag.
Rare 1868 Red Ensign up for auction
A news story about the auctioning of a rare 1868 Red Ensign, Canada's former flag. From the torontosun.com.
The Flags of Canada
View a collection of various flags associated with Canada throughout its history. From "Historical Flags of Our Ancestors."
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...