Friday, July 04, 2008

Symbolism of the Coat of Arms of Canada

The shield is divided into five sections:
The first division at the viewer's top left contains the three golden lions that have been a symbol of England since at least the reign of King Richard I. The second quarter bears the red lion rampant of Scotland in a double tressure border with fleurs-de-lis, used as a symbol of Scotland since at least the reign of William I. The third quarter shows the Irish harp of Tara. Legend states that this golden harp with silver strings was used in royal banquets at Tara, a capital of ancient Ireland, and was later given to Henry VIII by the pope during his attempt to succeed to the Irish throne. The gold fleurs-de-lis of royal France, the first European emblem raised in Canada by Jacques Cartier during his landing at Gaspé, fill the fourth quarter.The tinctures of the quarters are Gules (red), Or (gold), Azure (blue), Azure and Argent (silver) respectively.

The fifth charge, a sprig of red maple leaves at the bottom is a distinctly Canadian symbol that became gradually identified with the country throughout the 19th century. They were first proposed as a symbol in 1834, were established in 1868 on the arms of Quebec and Ontario and officially became the national emblem in 1965, with the proclamation of the Flag of Canada. Initially, the leaves were depicted as coloured green on the coat of arms because it was thought to represent youth, as opposed to the red colour of dying leaves in autumn (however, they are blazoned as "proper," so could be shown as either red or green, and it is the blazon, rather than any depiction, which is regarded as authoritative). The leaves were later redrawn in official depictions in 1957 with the current colour to be in line with the official colours of Canada. The shield forms the basis of the royal standard of Canada.

The ribbon is marked desiderantes meliorem patriam, meaning "desiring a better country." It is the motto of the Order of Canada. This component was added, by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, to the arms used to represent the Queen in 1987, after a new Canadian "law of arms" was created, which included the rule that the motto of the Order of Canada would be included around the personal coat of arms of any Canadian who received an appointment to the Order, while the arms used by government ministers and departments remained without the ribbon. Since 1994 the arms used by government ministers and institutions now reflect the personal arms of the Queen.

The arms show a royal helmet, which is a barred helm of gold looking outward, and draped in a mantle of white and red which are the official colours of Canada. The golden helmet facing the viewer symbolizes Canada's sovereignty.

Crest and crown
The crest is based on the Royal Crest of England but differenced by the addition of a maple leaf, and appears on the Governor General's blue flag denoting that the Governor General is a representative of the Sovereign.

It consists of a crowned gold lion standing on a twisted wreath of red and white silk and holding a maple leaf in its right paw. Above the crest is St Edward's Crown, the style preferred by the Queen. (See the article on the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom for a discussion of different styles of crown historically used in the Commonwealth.)

The 1921 design was a Tudor crown, and the style was modernized to its current form in 1957 by the Canadian government, although the Queen had indicated her preference in May 1952, shortly after ascending the throne in February 1952.

Supporting the shield on either side are the English lion and Scottish unicorn, which are also the supporters of the UK coat of arms. The lion stands on the viewer's left and holds a gold-pointed silver lance flying the Union Flag. The unicorn has a gold horn, a gold mane, gold hooves, and around its neck a gold, chained coronet of crosses and fleurs-de-lis; it holds a lance flying the three gold fleurs-de-lis of royal France on a blue background. Unlike the British version, the lion is not crowned, nor is it facing the viewer. Supporters holding lances displaying flags are elements adopted from the Royal coat of arms of Scotland.

The motto of Canada is in Latin a mari usque ad mare (From sea to sea), a part of Psalm 72:8. This phrase was first suggested by Samuel Leonard Tilley, a Father of Confederation. The motto appears at the base of the arms. The motto was originally used in 1906 on the head of the mace of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan. It was included in the Arms of Canada in 1921.

In March 2006, the premiers of Canada's three territories called for the amendment of the motto to better reflect the vast geographic nature of Canada's territory—Canada has three coastlines on the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans. Two suggestions for a new motto are A mari ad mare ad mare (from sea to sea to sea) and A mari usque ad maria (from the sea to the other seas). The motto remains unchanged.