The shield at the centre of the Coat of Arms is
the most important part of the design. In heraldry, it is the shield "that
tells the story" of a country. In Canada's shield, the first and second divisions depict four emblems that symbolize
the four founding peoples of Canada. The third makes it distinctly Canadian.
The Three Royal Lions of England
The first quarter consists of the three gold lions of England walking
and shown full face, on a red background. The lion is the oldest device
known in heraldry and, as "king of beasts", was adopted by
kings of Leon, Norway and Denmark as their emblem. However, the origin
of the three royal lions of England still remains a mystery.
In the 11th century, Henry I, known as "the lion of
justice", may have been the first English king to use a lion. It is
uncertain as to why a second lion suddenly appeared. When Henry II married Eleanor
of Aquitaine, whose family emblem was also a lion, it is believed that he added the third lion. There is no
question that, when
he led his English troops in the Crusades, Richard I, "the Lion-Hearted" carried a shield emblazoned with three
golden lions on
a red background. To this day they have been the royal symbol of England.
The Royal Lion of Scotland
The second quarter consists of a red lion rearing on the left hind foot, within a red double border with fleurs-de-lis, on
a gold background. The royal lion of Scotland was probably first used by King
William, who was known as "the lion". However it was certainly
used by his son, Alexander III, who made Scotland an independent nation.
The Royal Irish Harp of Tara
The third quarter is a gold harp with silver strings, on a blue background. North of the present city of Dublin, there is a
hill called Tara which for centuries was the religious and cultural capital
of ancient Ireland. If you visit the site, you will see a 750 foot earthen work
that is said to have been the site of the banqueting hall of Irish kings. Thomas Moore recalls the
history of this site in one
of the most famous of all Irish lyrics that begins: "The harp that
once through Tara's hall the soul of music shed..." There is a
legend, recorded in C.W. Scott-Giles monumental work The "Romance of
Heraldry", that this harp was found and came into the possession of
the pope. In the 16th century, Henry VIII suppressed the Irish people in
his attempt to become the lawful successor to the kings of ancient
Ireland. The pope sent the harp of Tara to England whereupon Henry added
its likeness to his royal shield. From this time it has remained a symbol
The Royal Fleurs-de-Lis of France
The fourth quarter depicts three gold fleurs-de-lis, on a blue background. The fleurs-de-lis was the first heraldic
emblem raised in
Canada. On July 24, 1534, Jacques Cartier landed at Gaspé and erected a
cross, affixed with the symbol of his sovereign and the royal house of
The Three Maple Leaves
To complete the design of the shield, a Canadian symbol was required.
Three red maple leaves conjoined on one stem, on a silver or white
background, were then added. Throughout the 19thcentury, the maple leaf
had gradually become closely identified with Canada. The maple leaf had
been worn as a symbol of Canada during the visit of the Prince of Wales
in 1860. The song "The Maple Leaf Forever", written by the
Toronto school teacher Alexander Muir in 1868 had become Canada's
national song. During World War I, the maple leaf was incorporated into
the badge of every Canadian regiment. It was most appropriate that three
maple leaves were given a commanding position within the shield, which made it unmistakably "Canadian".
On the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada,
Her Majesty The Queen has approved, on July 12, 1994 that the Arms of
Canada be augmented of a ribbon with the motto of the Order of Canada:
"Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam" (They desire a better
The Helm and the Mantling
The helm (heaume or
helmet), which in heraldry is usually placed above the shield of arms,
not only serves as a means of displaying 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
wearer from the sun's heat. It has become a decorative accessory to the crest
The Arms of Canada 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.
On the royal helmet is the crest. This symbol consists of a wreath
or ring of twisted white and red silk on which stands a crowned gold lion holding in its right paw a red maple leaf.
The lion is a symbol
of valor and courage.
The crest is used to mark the sovereignty of Canada. It is now the symbol used on the Governor General's Standard.
The figures that stand on either side of the
shield are known in heraldry as "supporters" and are often
depicted in a ferocious manner. The King of England chose two lions while
Scotland chose two unicorns.
When James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603, he chose
one lion and one unicorn as the supporters of his royal shields. Canada
adopted the same pattern and used a lion on the shield's right holding a
gold pointed silver lance from which flies the Royal Union flag, and a
unicorn with gold horn, mane and hoofs, on the shield's left. Around its
neck is a gold and chained coronet of crosses and fleurs-de-lis. The
unicorn holds a lance flying a banner of royalist France, namely three gold fleurs-de-lis, on a blue background. The two banners
represent the two principal founding nations that had established Canada's enduring
laws and customs.
Canada's motto "A Mari usque ad Mare"
is based on biblical scripture: "He shall have dominion from sea to
sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth" (Psalm 72:8). The
first official use of this motto came in 1906 when it was engraved on the
head of the mace of the Legislative Assembly of the new Province of
Saskatchewan. The wording of the motto came to the attention of Sir
Joseph Pope, then Under Secretary of State, who was impressed with its
meaning. He later proposed it as motto for the new design of the coat of
arms, which were approved by order in Council on April 21, 1921 and by
Royal Proclamation on November 21, 1921.
The Four Floral Emblems
At the base of
Canada's Royal Arms are the four founding nations of Canada.
The rose first became the symbol of England when Henry III married Eleanor of Provence and the golden rose of
Provence became England's new
floral symbol. From this golden rose eventually came the red rose of the
House of Lancaster and the white rose of the House of York.
There is a legend that, in 1010 when they attempted to capture Scotland, the Danes landed secretly at night. As they
approached Stains Castle they removed their shoes to avoid making any
noise. When they reached the castle's moat, they jumped in not realizing that
the moat was dry and overgrown with thistles. The screams of the bare-footed Danes roused the garrison. The castle
and Scotland were both saved and, according to legend, it is in memory of
that night that the thistle became the floral emblem of Scotland.
In Irish legends, it is said that when he brought Christianity to Ireland, Saint Patrick used the three petals of the shamrock
to illustrate the Holy Trinity. As a result, the shamrock became the floral emblem of Christian Ireland.
The French Fleurs-de-Lis
Following its adoption as the symbol of France's king, the fleurs-de-lis
also became the symbol of Christian France. By the13th
and 14th century, the three petals of the lily of France were being
described by writers as symbols of faith, wisdom and chivalry. As in
Ireland, they also came to be seen as symbols of the Holy Trinity.
The Imperial Crown
On top of the "achievement of the Arms of
Canada" is the Imperial Crown which is indicative of the presence of
a monarch as Canada's Head of State.
The shapes of symbols in a coat of arms can be altered by an artist since heraldry is an art as well as a science.
However the symbols
themselves can never be changed without formal approval. In 1957, when
Canada's arms were slightly modified to produce a cleaner more
contemporary design, the Government replaced the original Tudor crown of
the 1921 design by a crown that would represent not just one of the royal
families of English monarchs, but centuries of kings and queens of
England. To comply with the wish of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Saint
Edward's crown is now used for the Arms of Canada. It is that Crown that has been used for the coronation of kings
and queens in
Westminster Abbey for centuries.
The Use of the Arms
The Arms of Canada are the arms of the Sovereign; they signify national
sovereignty or ownership. They are used by Canada on federal government possessions such as buildings, official
passports, proclamations, publications, etc.; as well as rank badges of
some members of the Canadian Forces. The design of the shield of the arms
was Canada's badge in the Canadian Red Ensign, 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 unauthorized commercial
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 the intended use.
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 the advantage
of newspaper portraits, moving pictures, or the thousand other ways we now possess of recognizing and
identifying people. 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 utilized bright colours in developing a system
of heraldry that was not only ingenious and practical, but also very
Despite printing, photography and other modern inventions, we still make use of emblems, badges and other symbols. The
maple leaf at once
suggests Canada; the thistle, Scotland; the rose England; the shamrock,
Ireland; the leek, Wales; the lily, France. Each one is used and regarded
as an emblem. The people of the Middle Ages transformed this method of
appealing to the eye into a system in which the coat of arms was the most elaborate
form. In fact the system became a science.
It is curious to note that no country has abandoned the practice of using armorial bearings, emblems and symbols being
important for preserving traditions and inspiring love of country. Of these
the coat of arms and the flag are the chief elements. Although the flag
is more frequently used, the coat of arms is the oldest and often serves
as the foundation for the flag.