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Canada - Coat of Arms (Canada)

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Coat of Arms of Canada

[Coat of Arms of Canada] by Kevin Wharton


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In 1922, the shield of the arms of Canada replaced the quartered shield badge on the Canadian Red Ensign, Blue Ensign and the flag of the Governor-General.

A decision to apply for arms had been made early in 1919, but it was two and a half years before there was agreement on the design and form of authorisation, mainly due to objections from the College of Arms and legal opinions of British Law Officers.

26 March 1919. Canadian Order in Council PC 668. A committee was appointed, "for the purpose of enquiring and reporting on advisability of requesting His Majesty for Armorial Bearings."

January 1920. Agreed design forwarded to Sir Henry Farnham Burke, Garter King of Arms. Three red maple leaves joined at the stem, on a white band, above the quartered royal arms of England, Scotland, Ireland and France. This represented Canada as the heir of the four older kingdoms. The arrangement was based on the mistaken belief that putting the white band at the top of the shield was analogous to the label of an eldest son on the arms of his parents.

Garter did not like it. He thought the design was too complicated, technically incorrect, and that the lower part was merely a variation of the Royal Arms, with the English lions in the fourth quarter replaced by fleur-de-lis. If this was correct the design would infringe the Union with Ireland Act, 1800, which governed the Royal Arms. He began consultations with various government officials and Law Officers.

13 July 1920. A revised device was approved by a Canadian Order in Council, with the colour of the leaves changed from red to green. Some members of the committee had thought that in relation to leaves, red, being an autumnal colour, suggested decay, while green, a vernal colour, represented vigour and growth. On 17th July this design was sent, not to the College of Arms, but to the Colonial Office, asking that the King should be requested to grant the arms. It is probable that an approach on behalf of the Canadian government was also made by an uncle of the King, the Duke of Connaught, who had been Governor-General of Canada from 1911 to 1916.

The Colonial Office were anxious to have the matter settled and pressed for a decision; but only the College of Arms could draw-up the necessary document. Garter refused to do this.

30 April 1921. Privy Council of Canada amended the design "on account of heraldic objections of a technical nature", putting the maple leaves below the quartered arms. A description of the revised proposal was telegraphed to the Colonial Office, and the design was provisionally approved by the King. In an effort to force the pace, Winston Churchill, who was Colonial Secretary, passed this information to the Governor-General, and then wrote to the Earl Marshal, that the design had been approved and that the Canadian government had been informed.

10 May 1921. The Governor-General mailed the Minute approving the arms to the Colonial Office and "requested that the device might be laid before His Majesty, and that His Majesty might be pleased to direct the College of Arms to record it as the Arms of the Dominion of Canada."

To quote from a Colonial Office letter:

The next step would normally have been for Garter to prepare for the King's signature, a Warrant granting the proposed Armorial Bearings to the Dominion of Canada; a Royal Warrant being the form of instrument by which all existing grants of Arms to the Dominions and Colonies has been made. The proposed new device for Canada however differs from the Arms granted to other parts of His Majesty's Dominions beyond the Seas in incorporating a portion of the Royal Arms, and Garter felt himself unable to proceed with the preparation of the usual Royal Warrant on the ground that an alteration of the Royal Arms was involved, and that any alteration in the Royal Arms would necessitate a formal instrument under the Union with Ireland Act, 1800.

Churchill did not accept this view but Garter was adamant that "an instrument under the Act was necessary before the Royal Warrant could be issued." The opinion of Sir Gordon Hewart, Attorney General was sought and on 24 Oct 1921 he wrote, "The proposed grant to Canada of ensigns armorial, containing a modification of the Arms of the United Kingdom, is within the scope of the First Article of the Union With Ireland Act, 1800, and His Majesty may properly be advised to proceed in the matter by Royal Proclamation."

28 Oct 1921. Colonial Office wrote to the Attorney General setting out the full circumstances surrounding the matter and ending; "It will thus be seen that the question which has arisen is not so much whether His Majesty could be properly advised to proceed by Royal Proclamation under the 1st Article of the Union with Ireland Act, 1800, as whether such procedure was necessary in the circumstances. It would be desirable, if it could be avoided, not to have recourse to such procedure as, in the present constitutional position, it would be undesirable to treat Canada as still being a dependency of the United Kingdom. ........ In the circumstances the Secretary of State would be obliged if you could take the matter again into your consideration, and advise him whether a Proclamation under the Act of Union authorizing the proposed device is in fact necessary before a Royal Warrant granting the proposed Arms of Canada can be issued, or whether there is no legal impediment to the issue of a Royal Warrant without further formality.

4 November 1921. Attorney General replied. "The expression 'United Kingdom and its Dependencies' in First Article of Act of Union, includes all Colonies and Dominions of His Majesty and consequently a Proclamation under the Act is necessary before a Royal Warrant granting the proposed Arms to Canada can be issued."

The Colonial Office had to admit defeat and the Arms of Canada, were granted by Royal Proclamation on 21 November 1921 and include; "... in exercise of the powers conferred by the First Article of the Union With Ireland Act, 1800, appoint and declare that the Arms and Ensigns Armorial of the Dominion of Canada shall be ..."

[Details from Alistair Fraser's 'Flags of Canada', Conrad Swan's 'Canada : Symbols of Sovereignty', and Public Record Office document PC 8/931.]

On 25 February 1931, slightly in advance of the Statute of Westminster, which gave legal form to Balfour's 1926 definition of Dominion status, the 1922 flag of the Governor-General was replaced by the royal crest on a blue flag, to show that he now represented the sovereign, and not the British government.
David Prothero, 9 February 2003


Proposal January 1920. Red maple leaves above the quartered arms.

New proposal 13 July 1920. Green maple leaves above the quartered arms.

Changed proposal 30 April 1921. Green maple leaves below the quartered arms.

As granted 21 November 1921. Green maple leaves below the quartered arms.

As changed 8 October 1957. Red maple leaves below the quartered arms.

In 1957, no alteration to the 1921 grant of arms was necessary, as the leaves had been blazoned as "proper", which meant that they could be green, yellow or red.

This reminds me of a 1930 proposal for a Canadian Flag that was obviously inspired by the Australian/New Zealand Flags. White flag, Union canton, large blue star in the upper fly, and seven smaller blue stars in the lower hoist and fly, arranged in the pattern of the Great Bear.
David Prothero, 18 February 2003


Although the flags were probably altered in 1922, two different dates have been given for the authorisation of the change to the Red Ensign.

In 'Flags of Canada' by Alistair Fraser; " On April 26, 1922, by order-in-council, the government authorized the shield of the recently granted arms to be used as the badge on both the Canadian Red and Blue Ensigns." End-note reference to, Charles P.Band and Emilie L.Stovel, Our Flag (Toronto: Musson, 1926).

However in an article by Hugh Savage in MacLeans Magazine, 15 September 1929; "The new shield was not authorised for the Red Ensign flag until 21 April 1925 by Order in Council Ottawa."

The Seal of Canada on the Governor-General's Flag and on the Blue Ensign was approved in Council in 1870, but its use on the Red Ensign was authorized in 1892 by Admiralty Warrant under powers granted by an Act of Parliament (Merchant Shipping Act 1854).

Assuming that both Fraser and Savage are correct, I would guess that the words in the 1922 Order did not amended the Red Ensign in a manner that conformed with the way in which it had been granted, and that the 1925 Order corrected the error.
David Prothero, 22 February 2003


Coat of Arms of Provinces

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