Ep. 20: All about Heraldry



Tuesday, February 2, 2023 11 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast. Where we help spread the word on Parliament! We’re back with another exciting episode!



David: Yes indeed Erin. I can’t wait to get into another interesting topic with you!



Erin: Me neither David. As always, I thought it would be good to get warmed up on the topic with a fun little game.



David: May I ask what our topic for the episode is this month?



Erin: Today, we’re going to be talking all about symbols – specifically heraldic symbols associated with Ontario’s Legislature.



David: You know, I’ve always found heraldry to be a fascinating subject.



Erin: Then this episode should be right up your alley! Now about my game.



David: Yes of course. What did you have in mind?



Erin: I thought it would be fun for us to say what we would include in our own coat of arms, if we were to design our own.



David: Ohh that’s a great question! Actually, my father’s side of the family really did have their own Coat of Arms symbolizing the meaning of their last name. It consisted of an apple tree on a green background reflecting their heritage as farmers. I guess I would continue that tradition!



Erin: That sounds like quite the symbol! I like it.



David: What about you? What would yours look like?



Erin: Hmm… I guess I would have to go with a sable or black shield with an argent or silver bar through the middle, called a bend. As for animals, I like the idea of a badger, and a stag being the supporters in my coat of arms since badgers represent endurance, while stags embody wisdom.



David: Very striking indeed.



Erin: That’s the general idea with heraldic symbols though, right? To be striking and recognizable?



David: You’re correct about that one. We can trace the idea of heraldry back to 12th century England. With the evolution of military equipment, specifically the soldiers helmet, a coat of arms became extremely important on the battlefield to distinguish friend from foe.



Erin: How you may ask? Well, with the advent of a fully closed in helmet, knights were no longer able to recognize one another on the battlefield since they couldn’t see one another’s faces anymore. Enter the shield.



David: While shields were no doubt an important piece of equipment in battle, they became instrumental in identifying who was who. Knights began to use colours and symbols on their shields to distinguish each other.



Erin: But the battlefield wasn’t the only place where these individual symbols were becoming important. Since the majority of people could not read or write during Medieval Times, to authenticate a document individuals would use a wax seal instead of a signature. The seals were personalized to each individual, and often used – you guessed it – the same insignia as their shield.



David: With so many symbols floating around, there needed to be a person who could read them all quickly and accurately. Enter the herald.



Erin: The herald was an expert in coats of arms and understood the rules of heraldry intimately. Now we won’t get into all of the rules in our episode today because they are complex and incredibly detailed. It would take years for someone to become a full-fledged herald in the medieval ages. Fun fact: the term “herald” comes from a long-lost Germanic word that can be translated as "one directing or having authority over a body of armed men,"



David: Heralds were very important not only on the battlefield but at jousting tournaments and were in the employ of Princes and wealthy landowners too. Today, the roll of herald still exists. Individuals, families and corporations can submit a petition to be granted a coat of arms.



Erin: Nowadays, coats of arms are typically granted to honour civil or military commissions, university degrees, professional qualifications, or public and charitable services. They are all granted by the Canadian Heraldic Authority which was created in 1988 when the governor general of Canada was authorized to exercise the Sovereign’s powers related to heraldry in this country.



David: The governor general is the head of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, and appoints its officers, who are still called heralds.



Erin: But how does this all relate to the Legislative Assembly of Ontario? I’m really glad you asked.



David: In 1974, the Legislative Assembly Act was amended to create the Office of the Assembly – a legally separate entity from the Government that represents all of the individuals within the Legislature who help make Parliament function on a day-to-day basis.



Erin: In 1992, the Legislative Assembly, following the celebrations of the bicentennial of the first meeting of the Parliament of Upper Canada, petitioned the Chief Herald of Canada to be granted a unique Coat of Arms to emphasize the distinctive identity of our Assembly.



David: On April 26, 1993, the Coat of Arms was granted and presented to the Legislative Assembly by Governor-General Ramon Hnatyshyn in a ceremony in the Chamber. Fun fact: at the time, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario was the first legislature to be granted its own unique coat of arms.



Erin: The official flag or banner was also granted to the Assembly, as well as a badge for Members and Officers of the Assembly, and a badge of general purpose.



David: What do all of these symbols look like and mean? Let’s start in the middle and work our way out. In the centre of the coat of arms is a shield in green and gold. The shield itself is green and there are two golden maces which are crossed in its centre.



Erin: The mace on the left represents the current mace while the one on the right represents the original mace of Upper Canada. We discussed the importance of the mace in a previous episode but for a quick recap – the mace is a symbol of the transfer of power from the Monarch to Parliament and also a symbol of the authority of the Speaker. The mace must be present in the Chamber every time there is a meeting of Parliament.



David: The maces in the coat of arms are joined by the shield of arms of Ontario – which is a smaller shield that contains the Cross of St. George and three golden maple leaves. Fun fact: the shield of arms of Ontario can be seen in the lower right-hand corner of the provincial flag.



Erin: The maces and shield and surrounded by an embattled border – think the walls of a castle – which is a symbol of the physical location of the Assembly.



David: On top of the shield is a coronet, or crown, that represents the national and provincial loyalties of the Legislature. The rim of the coronet is studded with amethyst.



Erin: Fun fact: Ontario’s official mineral is amethyst, a purple stone which can be found largely in the north of the province. On top of the coronet is a griffin, a mythological animal that is part lion and part eagle. The griffin is an ancient symbol of justice and equity.



David: The griffin is holding a calumet, an Indigenous ceremonial pipe, honouring Ontario’s First Peoples and symbolizing the meeting and spirit of discussion, which accompanies the use of the pipe.



Erin: On either side of the shield are two deer - representing the natural riches of Ontario. In heraldic terms, the deer are referred to as supporters since their position within the coat of arms looks like they are holding or supporting the main shield.



David: Both deer wear coronets or crowns around their necks to honour the European settlers of Upper Canada who brought parliamentary democracy to the province. The crown on the deer on the left is the Royal Crown of 1992. While the one on the right is the Royal Crown of 1792. The crowns represent Ontario’s heritage as a constitutional monarchy and are a physical representation of the bicentennial of the legislature in Ontario.



Erin: The deer and shield rest on a base that represents the lawns of Queen’s Park. Represented in the base are maple leaves for Canada, trilliums for Ontario and white roses for York - the original name for Toronto, the province’s historic capital. Fun fact: the trillium was adopted as Ontario’s official flower in 1937.



David: At the very bottom of the coat of arms there lies a banner inscribed with the Assembly’s motto: “Audi Alteram Partem” or “Hear the Other Side” in Latin. This is one of a series of mottoes which appear in the carvings inside the Legislative Chamber as a reminder to the Members to listen to both sides of the democratic process. Fun fact: this motto is inscribed in one of the diamonds that is in the centre of the current legislative mace.



Erin: Along with the coat of arms, the Legislative Assembly was also granted its own unique flag or banner. If you have ever walked by the Legislative Building in Toronto you’ve most likely seen it. It’s the same depiction of the two crossed maces that can be found within the coat of arms. An embattled border also surrounds the maces on the flag.



David: Both the flag and the coat of arms were developed to represent an integral part of the Assembly’s unique identity as the centre of Ontario’s democratic process. They can only be used for official business of the Office of the Assembly.



Erin: If you’d like to see what all of these symbols actually look like that we’ve been talking about today, you can go to the Legislature’s website, www.ola.org and look in the Visit and Learn Section.



David: It always helps to see it in person.



Erin: That was quite the journey that we went on David. If you had to pick, what is your favourite part of our coat of arms?



David: Hmm. That’s a tough one Erin. But I guess I would say the significance of the calumet, as it brings in Indigenous element to this important symbol. What about you? What’s your favourite part Erin?



Erin: I guess if I had to pick, I would say that my favourite part are the maces. I love the history of them as a symbol and what they represent within parliament. Plus they’re such a unique feature in the building and the Chamber. I think the coat of arms would be missing something fundamental to parliament if they weren’t there. Plus they’re front and centre on the flag too!



David: Very true. I know that heraldry can seem like a daunting topic, but hopefully our episode today made it a little easier to understand its history and continued importance, even today.



Erin: And I hope we managed to make it a little bit fun too!



David: I’d say we met that goal Erin. But did we manage to beat our fun fact count from the last episode?



Erin: I think it was actually a tie! By my count we had 6 fun facts again!



David: Even more motivation to add in some more next time.



Erin: Definitely. Thanks for listening to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on parliament. But we’ve got to go. I think I hear the bells.



David: Bye for now.



Erin: The ON Parliament podcast is produced by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Social media by Parliamentary Protocol and Public Relations for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Additional research provided by the Table Research Office for the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed today’s episode, please support the podcast by sharing it with others and subscribing. For more fun facts about Ontario’s parliament, follow us on Twitter and Instagram : @onparleducation. Et en français: @parloneducation . Thanks again and see you next time