Swords at the Ready
Kerry Barrow, Collection Cataloguer,
Many objects comprise the House of Commons Heritage
Collection, from fine art and furniture, to sculpture
and ceremonial objects. Ceremonial objects can be
integral to the function, processes and traditions of
the House, such as with the Mace. Whilst other
ceremonial objects serve as a reminder of the past and
provide continuity between the historical roles once
played and the positions as they are today. This is
never more apparent than with the ceremonial swords
still worn by the officers of the Office of the
When Parliament was in its infancy in the 13th and 14th
century in England, the wearing of swords was a part of
everyday dress for many of those who attended these
gatherings, and so remained up until about the 18th
century. Today however, only the officers of the Office
of the Sergeant-at-Arms are permitted to carry swords
into the Chamber, although the once common practice of
MPs wearing swords still resonates. For example, an
existing practice in both the Canadian and the British
Parliaments of standing for prayers in the Chamber is
attributed to the difficulty Members would have faced
trying to kneel whilst wearing a sword.
A History Revealed
Through research using historical photographs and
documents, Curatorial Services has found that at least
thirteen swords have been officially used in the Canadian
House of Commons, six of which have been used by
successive Sergeants-at-Arms since Confederation in
1867. It is unknown at this time what happened to four
of the six swords, as photographic evidence is all that
remains of them.
In 1932, two years into H.J. Coghill’s (1930-1934)
tenure as Sergeant-at-Arms, the third sword came to be
used, first by Coghill and then Sergeant-at-Arms M.F.
Gregg (1934-1944). This third sword is still part of the
House of Commons Heritage Collection and is a 19th
century, cut steel court sword with a trefoil
(three-fold) blade. It is stamped with the mark of J.R.
Gaunt and Son of London, England and was purchased in
January 1932 from their Montreal office. Established in
1750, J.R. Gaunt and Son was a well known and respected
supplier of military buttons, swords and accessories.
Sergeant-at-Arms, W.J. Franklin (1945-1960) wearing the fifth sword in 1950.
Sergeant-at-Arms, K. M. Vickers
(2006-present) wearing the sword from 1978.
The “Gaunt sword” was subsequently replaced for unknown
reasons by a fourth and fifth sword which were used
by Sergeant-at-Arms, W.J. Franklin (1945-1960) and
Sergeant-at-Arms D.V. Currie (1960-1978), until for
unknown reasons, they too were replaced. The replacement
sixth sword has been used by successive
Sergeants-at-Arms since 1978 and is the sword still used
by the Sergeant-at-Arms today. This sword is also a 19th
century, cut steel court sword with trefoil blade. The
maker is unknown, as there is no maker’s mark, but
research has determined that the sword was refurbished and the blade was re-etched by
Wilkinson Sword (est. 1772-2005), the pre-eminent
British sword maker, as it contains one of their design
Circa 1990, the seventh sword in the collection was
purchased for use by the Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms. This
sword is stamped with the maker’s mark of WKC Solingen
(est. 1883) and was made in Germany. WKC Solingen is a
renowned and traditional sword maker and one of the few
remaining in the world.
Circa 1990-1996, three additional swords for use by the
three Assistant Deputy Sergeant-at-Arms, were acquired
from a Toronto company and were modelled after the
“Solingen sword”. Unfortunately due to non-traditional
methods of manufacture, these swords are no longer
functional and had to be retired. They remain in the
Heritage Collection, but now as part of the research
Sword making was and remains a specialized, time
consuming and skilled craft undertaken and undertook
today, by only a small number of companies in the world.
For swords to be worn daily and stand the test of time,
traditional methods of manufacture need to be employed.
Traditionally, each component of a sword was handmade
individually by craftsmen who specialized in that
particular part. Once all of the individual parts were
ready, they would be assembled by a sword cutler.
In 2008, to replace the three now unusable swords, three
new swords were commissioned. As there were no makers of
traditional ceremonial swords in Canada, or any to be
found in the U.S.A. that could meet the specific needs
of the House of Commons, a British firm, Crisp & Sons,
Sword Cutlers (est. 1975), was found and duly
“Crisp” sword and scabbard.
Crisp & Sons refurbished swords for Wilkinson Sword,
until that company’s closure in 2005. Subsequently Crisp
& Sons are now the only remaining specialist military
sword manufacturing and refurbishment company based in
the United Kingdom, that make custom design swords
following the traditional sword manufacturing process.
The new swords were individually made to meet the
specifications and requirements of the House of Commons.
Their detailing is unique with the words “Canada”,
“House of Commons” and “Chambre des communes” acid
etched into the blade and an image of the maple leaf
depicted on two components.
“Crisp” sword, stencil detail of custom etching on
Although the swords in the Heritage Collection no longer
have an active role in the maintaining of order and
security in the Chamber, they remain an important part
of the ceremony and uniform of the Sergeant-at-Arms.
Customs and traditions that have evolved from their
original purposes to their modern day practices, further
aid in linking our past with our present, and in turn,
our present with our future.
Sergeant-at-Arms and the five swords that have
been used since Confederation in 1867:
Sword and Date
D. W. Macdonnell
Sword 1: 1867-1892
Sword 2: 1892-1932
Sword 3: 1932-1944*
Sword 4 and 5: 1945-1978
Sword 6: 1978-present*
A.E. O’Brien (Acting)
*Sword still in use and a part of the House of Commons