Heraldry in a Canadian Context
Heraldry crossed the Atlantic when English and French explorers reached our shores in the late 15th century. These forebears initially borrowed the heraldic devices that had been created by European authorities, using them to identify sovereign states, businesses or private citizens. The first official devices registered specifically to the “colonies” came into use when the heraldic authority for Scotland granted arms to Nova Scotia in 1625, and the College of Arms in London granted arms to Newfoundland in 1638. By the second half of the century, France’s authorities granted the first arms to private citizens for service to Louis XIV in New France. In the 19th and 20th centuries, coats of arms were granted to Canada and each of the provinces by the heraldic authorities in Great Britain.
pride in the heritage
and values that speak
Throughout the 1900s, the popularity of heraldry in Canada spread far and wide. Municipalities, corporations, societies, the military, as well as individuals, obtained grants of arms in ever-growing numbers to represent their authority, history and identity. In 1988, the Queen of Canada authorized the Governor General to establish a heraldic authority unique to this nation. This led to the creation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, to be administered from the Governor General’s official Ottawa residence, Rideau Hall.
The Vice-Regal "Tour"
All vice-regal representatives since Samuel de Champlain have used personal armorial bearings. Until 1952, the great majority of Governors General used inherited arms, so there was generally nothing about them personally in the designs.
The first 12 Governors General appointed after Confederation are commemorated in the Gothic-style dining room, outer office and private study that make up the Speaker’s chambers. Their coats of arms are displayed in the form of plaster carvings at the top of the walls. In turn, they are separated by 32 figures in Tudor form known as “corbels.” These carvings represent allegorical characters holding escutcheons (small shields) that display the years covering each respective term in office. There was only enough room at this location to accommodate the armorial bearings of the initial group of twelve: the story that unfolds through these plaster carvings ends with the tenure of Lord Byng, who served from 1921 to 1926.2
The heraldic display contains an interesting element of historic symbolism: these were the last Governors General to be politically involved in the actual governance of Canada. Until 1926, they had been the representatives of the British government as well as the Crown. After the term of Lord Byng, the Governor General would serve Canadians strictly as the representative of the Crown, fulfilling the constitutional and ceremonial duties that the sovereign assumes as the head of state who speaks for, and acts on behalf of, the people.
In the following pages, the 12 titles printed in bold face are those that each vice-regal representative held at the time of his appointment in Canada. As is the case today, they were styled “Your Excellency” during their time in office. Their brief biographies are followed by the technical description of their coat of arms (or blazon).
Worth noting is the way in which the various elements of the armorial bearings have been arranged within the decorative frieze of the room. Armorial bearings are generally shown with the crest on top of the shield and supporters on either side. For peers, their coronets of rank are placed directly on top of the shield, often with the crest above. In the case of the arms in this room, these elements are separated: each shield of arms is shown with one of the supporters, generally on the (viewer’s) right. The crest is placed on another shield, flanked by the other supporter, to its left. In many cases, the crest is placed on the coronet of rank, which indicates the type of peer the Governor General was (duke, marquess, earl, viscount or baron). In the following descriptions, the elements of their armorial bearings not shown in the sculptures have been indicated in italics.
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2 These chambers were completed in 1922 as part of a massive restoration project. A disastrous fire had destroyed much of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill in 1916, killing seven people.