On today’s date in 1921, Canada’s coat of arms was adopted by proclamation of King George V.
Modelled after the U.K.’s royal coat of arms with both Canadian and French elements replacing or complementing those derived from the British version, the Arms of Canada have—since 1921—been the official coat of arms of the Canadian monarch. In 1994, a circular, red ribbon was added to display the motto of the Order of Canada, “Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam”—“They desire a better country”—which is taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews (New Testament) 11:16.
“In the Middle Ages, coats of arms served as a sort of identification card,” reads the Government of Canada website. “This was especially true on the battlefield where coat of arms made it possible to distinguish allies from enemies. Today, they are used to preserve traditions and inspire love of country.”
Prior to Canadian Confederation in 1867, the Royal Arms of the U.K. served as the symbol of royal authority in Canada.
Except for 17th-century grants to the colonies of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, arms were not granted to any pre-Confederation British North American colonies.
In 1868, however, arms were granted to Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The following year, the newly formed Dominion of Canada was authorized to use the arms of those four provinces together on one shield. This was intended to form part of the Great Seal of Canada rather than a coat of arms; however, it became the country’s de facto arms and was later modified as new provinces were added.
This version was used on Canada’s first gold coins struck from 1912-14.
Efforts to create a new, simpler coat of arms began in the early 1900s, but it wasn’t until 1920 a design was finalized based on the royal coat of arms with the incorporation of maple leaves and fleurs-de-lis.
At the same time the arms were proclaimed in 1921, King George V also recognized Canada’s official colours as red and white.
In the 97 years since the arms were proclaimed, the design has been updated twice—once in 1957 and again in 1994. In each case, Canada’s 50-cent coin, which depicts the coat of arms on the reverse, has been updated.
The current design of Canada’s coat of arms was drawn by Cathy Bursey-Sabourin and faithfully depicts the arms described in the Royal Proclamation of Nov. 21, 1921.
According to the government of Canada website, the design includes:
- symbols of the four founding nations of Canada, including the three royal lions of England, the royal lion of Scotland, the royal fleur-de-lis of France and the royal Irish harp of Tara;
- the lion of England holding the Royal Union Flag and the unicorn of Scotland carrying the flag of Royal France;
- the floral emblems of the four founding nations, including the English rose, the Scottish thistle, the French fleur-de-lis and the Irish shamrock; and
- the Royal Crown, indicating these are the arms of the Queen in Right of Canada, commonly called the “Canada Coat of Arms,” the “Coat of Arms of Canada,” the “Arms of Canada” or the “Royal Coat of Arms of Canada.”
Today, the arms are used on federal government possessions, including buildings, official seals, money, passports, proclamations and publications. They are also reproduced on the rank badges of some members of the Canadian Armed Forces. The Arms of Canada are also used by federal institutions, including the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Canada and the Tax Court of Canada to symbolize their judicial independence from the Government of Canada.