Does Tradition Matter?

As Charles III is officially crowned on Saturday, the Government of Canada is allegedly quietly changing its royal coat of arms to move it away from its British and Christian heritage. I’m not sure what to think about that.

Coats of arms aren’t static. Canada’s has been amended before, most recently in 1995. Nobody pays much attention to small changes. I’ll admit, I don’t remember the 1995 one.

The idea supposed is to remove all royal and Christian symbols, replacing them with maple leaves, snow flakes and stars, which I guess are things considered quintessentially Canadian.  I’m wondering, why not a beaver? Who doesn’t love the beaver?

The changes have me thinking. What though is the purpose of a country’s coat of arms? Is it to display a snapshot of the present or pay tribute to the nation’s heritage? If the former, shouldn’t there be frequent revisions as times change? If the latter, why eliminate symbols that explain who we were, even if that is no longer who we are?

I’m sure there are those who think this is a subtle move on the government’s part to decouple Canada from the British monarch and eventually become a republic. Some Commonwealth countries have already done so. Certainly the people don’t feel the same way towards Charles as they did towards his mother. Dumping the monarchy might find a fair amount of support.

Others might suggest the government wants to remove any trace of Canada’s Christian heritage from official symbols. The cross is offensive to an increasing vocal minority and perhaps there are votes to be gained in making the change.

I consider both theories to be quite possible. This government, which was elected on promises of transparency, has shown a tendency to do things in secret wherever possible. Which may be why there was no public input into the proposed change.

Dumping the Christian symbols from the coat of arms is easy. The government can do what it likes. But to de-Christianize the coat of arms completely requires more than just changing the symbols. Becasue, as I have mentioned here before, words matter. And the words of the coat of arms are all very Christian.

Canada’s motto, since the country gained independence in 1867, has been Ad mari usque ad mare – Latin for “from sea to sea.” Which describes Canada, which stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Though these days people usually throw in the Arctic Ocean, making us from sea to sea to sea.

Latin is the language of heraldry, which is why it was used in the motto. Using it also solves the English/French problem we would otherwise have becasue there really wouldn’t be room for the phrase in both official languages.

In 1867 Canada did not yet stretch from sea to sea, but that was the dream of the founding politicians, a dream they accomplished in short order. The slogan was take from The Bible, specifically Psalm 72:8, so if this government wants to purge Christianity from the coat of arms, that phrase has to go too. 

But, as they say in the television infomercials, there’s more! The last revision to the coat of arms, in 1995 added the words Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam– desiring a better country. That fits in nicely with us as a nation of immigrants and is a sentiment pretty much everyone can agree with. Don’t we all want a better country, even if we don’t agree what that looks like?.

I wonder if those in government t realize that the phrase is more than just the motto of the Order of Canada, which is where it was taken from when the arms were revised last. It is actually taken from The Bible as well, from Hebrews 11:16. Of course the better country in that instance is not Canada but Heaven. Much as I like my homeland, it isn’t Heaven. Not with our winters.

.There are those who will be angry if the government goes ahead with this change. I just find it sad.

They can try and scrub our heritage and pretend we are living in George Orwell’s 1984. But some people will still remember.

How about you? If you are Canadian, how do you feel about this change? And if you aren’t, how do you feel about changing your national symbols?

The comments section is open.



  1. Neil Remington Abramson · · Reply

    One time when I was president of the faculty association, Simon Fraser University administration decided to change the coat of arms to make it more inclusive, perhaps, but also less Christian. They planned to dump the two crosses at the top of the heraldic shield, replacing them with three books.

    In my monthly tete-a-tête-à-tête with the president and his chief minions I asked, “What are the three books, if someone asks?” They didn’t know! No one had thought of this question!

    I said I supposed one was Darwin and perhaps one was Freud? But the third – certainly not the bible or they could have kept the crosses. Fraught symbolism replaced by empty marketing.

    They didn’t care. Their job was done. We got the three books and no one in authority thought an explanation necessary. The books are whatever a customer (student) wants to believe who we were. I guess we were willing to fulfill their wish fantasy!

    Maybe all three were Freud?

    1. My alma mater, Carleton University has a book on its coat of arms also. Looking at the heraldic info, it is identified as a book.

      So yes, the book can be what you want it to be. If it looks a little like a Bible opened to the Psalms, feel free to imagine that.

      I guess the theory is that books denote learning. Wonder if they’ll update the arms and replace the book with a phone.

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