Ep. 22: Symbols of Ontario



May 4, 2023

15 minutes (audio)



Erin: Welcome to the ON Parliament Podcast, where we help spread the word on Parliament.



David: I have to say, I’m actually pretty excited for this month’s topic Erin.



Erin: Me too David! You might even say that this episode is going to be very… symbolic for us.



David: Ooh I see what you did there. Good symbols pun!



Erin: I’ve been restraining myself with the puns lately. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.



David: That’s quite alright. I do enjoy our puns and the games! Do you have another one for us today?



Erin: Indeed I do David! We’re going to play a version of 21 questions – but to save some time, you’re only going to get 3 questions to try to figure out what item I am thinking of. I’ll give you a clue though – the mystery item I’m thinking of will be one of the symbols that we’re going to be discussing today.



David: I might need a few more questions to figure it out. 3 doesn’t seem like enough!



Erin: I guess you’ll have to ask some very good questions then. Are you ready?



David: I guess so…



Erin: Ask away, question master!



David: Hmm. Okay. Is it a living thing?



Erin: Good question! No it’s not.



David: Not a living thing, okay. Does it contain the colour red?



Erin: Hmm, you know what? It actually does…



David: I’m getting the hang of this game! Okay, last question. Does it contain animals?



Erin: You definitely mastered this game David. Yes, it does contain animals.



David: I know what it is! It’s the Coat of Arms of Ontario!



Erin: Correctamundo!



David: I feel like a real whiz at that game.



Erin: Well, since you liked it so much, maybe it will come again in the future.



David: Looking forward to it.



Erin: The coat of arms seemed to be a good place to start when talking about Ontario’s symbols. Since it’s quite recognizable and we just did an episode on heraldry not too long ago.



David: Very true Erin. Ontario’s coat of arms was granted Royal Warrant by King Edward VII in 1909. You can find it in several places in the Legislative Building, for example in the stained-glass ceiling in the west wing as well as carved above the entrance to the north wing on the exterior. It contains a moose and a deer that are supporting the shield of Ontario which is a combination of two different elements.



Erin: At the top of the shield is the cross of St. George to show our earlier ties to England. Below that is a shield of green with three golden maple leaves in its centre. We believe that the maple leaves represent the province’s ties to Canada.



David: Fun fact: the original coat of arms proposed by the Heraldry Office in England had a sheaf of wheat instead of the maple leaves. But the province returned it and requested the maple leaf be used in its place.



Erin: On top of the shield is a black bear standing on a wreath of green and gold. Both of those colours, green and gold, are also the official colours of Ontario.



David: Fun fact: the three animals used in the coat of arms are the most common animals found throughout the province.



Erin: You’re crushing it with the fun facts today David!



David: What can I say, I’m on a roll!



Erin: That you are. At the bottom of the coat of arms is a pink ribbon with a Latin inscription. Now my Latin is pretty rusty so I’m just going to go with the English translation. It says: As loyal she began, so she remains.



David: The Latin inscription is actually the official moto of the province and refers to the United Empire Loyalists who helped found the British Colony of Upper Canada, later to become the province of Ontario.



Erin: Fun fact: E.M. Chadwick, a barrister from Toronto, is credited with having designed the supporters and suggested the motto that was used in the coat of arms.



David: Interestingly enough, the shield of arms actually existed before the coat of arms. The shield of arms being just the centre portion of the coat of arms encompassing the Cross of St. George and the green and gold shield.



Erin: That’s right David. The shield of arms received Royal Warrant in 1868 from Queen Victoria, King Edward VII’s mother. Fun fact: the shield of arms can be found on all of the original doorknobs in the Legislative Building. And it also appears on our next symbol, the flag of Ontario.



David: Ontario’s flag came to be through an act of the legislature. It was introduced by the Premier of the time, John P. Robarts, in 1965.



Erin: The discussion around a provincial flag was launched after the national flag of Canada was proclaimed earlier in the year.



David: Mr. Robarts, felt that Ontario should have its own distinct flag. Especially after it was pointed out that the province hadn’t had a unique flag since the time of Confederation.



Erin: Ontario’s flag is the Red Ensign, also the flag of the British Navy. It was used as Canada’s national flag up until the maple leaf flag was introduced in 1965. The Red Ensign was never made the official flag of Canada, but variations became associated with land under British control since it was flown as a sign of Royal authority. The flag consists of a red background with the Union Jack in the upper left corner and the shield of Canada in the lower right corner.



David: To make it represent Ontario, the shield of Canada was replaced with the shield of Ontario – the one we just described when discussing the coat of arms.



Erin: Fun fact: Queen Elizabeth II had to approve the use of the Union Jack within the flag design. Luckily, she did, and the flag was raised for the first time at the Legislature, on May 21, 1965. Today, the flag can be seen inside the Chamber as well as above the main entrance to the building.



David: Erin, over the years I’ve always been pleasantly surprised that so many people know what province’s floral emblem is – the white trillium.



Erin: I know David! It’s definitely well-known. The movement to establish a floral emblem began with the Ontario Horticultural Association in the early 1930s. Botanists from the Association formed a committee to determine which flower would be the best representation of the province.



David: Other flowers that were under consideration were the blue violet, the wild columbine, the white water-lily, the shamrock, and even the dandelion.



Erin: Seriously? Isn’t the dandelion just a weed?



David: That was one of the main knocks against it for sure, but we would have ended up with a symbol that was potentially edible. Have you tried one?



Erin: I can’t say that I have. But I do know that you can make a salad with it.



David: Kind of bitter though.



Erin: Well in the end, they chose the white trillium for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it’s not edible but also, the trillium can be found throughout the province in early spring. Its delicate white flower can be seen across forest floors, since it prefers shady, wooded areas.



David: Another compelling argument for the trillium is its distinct look. The three large petals that make up the flower make it particularly distinctive, especially when it is turned into a logo or stylized design, as used by the provincial government.



Erin: Fun fact: the trillium has been known by various other names throughout the years including the “Herb True Love of Canada” and also the “Wake-Robin” because of its early spring blooming period.



David: The trillium officially became the floral emblem of Ontario through a piece of legislation that was passed in 1937. Today, there is a trillium garden located on the grounds of the Legislature.



Erin: Fun fact: While there are no laws that specifically prohibit the picking of trilliums in Ontario, the Provincial Parks Act does state that it is illegal to pick any kind of vegetation within the boundaries of a provincial park. So, while there is no law about not picking them specifically, there is a law about where you can and can’t pick them.



David: Our next couple of symbols also represent the wilderness of Ontario, including the official tree and mineral of the province: the eastern white pine and the amethyst.



Erin: Amethyst was adopted as Ontario’s official mineral in 1975 to represent the mineral wealth of the province. It’s a semi-precious gemstone that can range in colour from light lilac to deep purple. In fact, we have a committee room in the legislative building that derives its name from the mineral too. The Amethyst Room is used regularly by committees and contains a large piece of amethyst.



David: Amethyst is a form of quartz that’s found in clusters throughout northern Ontario. Its highest concentration can be found in the area surrounding Thunder Bay.



Erin: Quartz is formed in volcanic rocks called basalt. Some of these rocks form a cavity or air bubble in the centre where crystals can form. To make amethyst, you need a basalt rock, water with silica in it, and intense heat and time.



David: Fun fact: Amethyst gets its distinctive purple colour from oxidized iron found in the water present during its creation.



Erin: It wasn’t until May 1st, 1984, when the eastern white pine became the official arboreal emblem of Ontario. You’ve likely seen this tree before if you’ve done any travelling in the province. It’s the tallest type of evergreen to grow in eastern Canada and can live for up to 500 years!



David: What makes the eastern white pine distinct are its needles which grow in bundles of five.



Erin: This tree was chosen over all others, including the maple, because of its historical importance and ecological value. Its wood was used in shipbuilding, which was instrumental for trade in the early days of the province. And many Indigenous groups have used its bark as food and its resin to seal canoes.



David: It was also the unanimous choice of the Ontario Tree Council, a group that represents over 30 tree and forestry organizations in the province. There are actually 3 Eastern White Pines planted within Queen’s Park in front of the Legislative Building. Fun fact: Ontario was the first Canadian province to adopt an official tree.



Erin: While Ontario may have been the first to choose an official tree, it was one of the last to proclaim an official bird.



David: You’re right Erin. Until 1994, the province didn’t have an official bird. That’s not from lack of trying though. There had previously been Members of Provincial Parliament who had introduced bills to name a provincial avian emblem, but none of them had passed.



Erin: It wasn’t until 1994 when Sharon Murdock, a former Member that we had the great fortune to interview in one of our previous episodes, introduced the Avian Emblem Act which named the loon as the official bird of Ontario.



David: Okay Erin, are you ready for my loon impersonation? My call?



Erin: Oh boy.



David: Ooh, ooh. Well okay. You can find the loon in many lakes across the province throughout the summer months. This aquatic bird is known for its distinctive call and black and white plumage. Fun fact: while most birds have hollow bones to make it easier to fly, the loon has solid bones which help it dive and stay underwater longer.



Erin: Our two most recent symbols only came to be in the last 20 years or so. The tartan and the Franco-Ontarian flag both became emblems of the province after the year 2000.



David: While it might seem strange for the province to have its own tartan, it’s actually quite common. All of the provinces and Territories have their own official tartans, designated through an act of the Legislature, except Quebec.



Erin: A tartan is an ancient form of dress used by the Scottish Highlanders. They’re made up of repeated patterns of threads in specific colours. Ontario’s tartan includes four colours: blue, green, red, and white.



David: It is said that the combination of colours represent the vast forests and lakes within the province, along with the wide open sky, and its diverse peoples.



Erin: While tartans can be used to signify different things, the tartan of Ontario is a district tartan, meaning that it can be worn by anyone who calls Ontario home to show that is where they are from.



David: Last but certainly not least, is our newest symbol, the Franco-Ontarian flag. First flown at Laurentian University in 1975, the Franco-Ontarian Flag has been a symbol that reflects the diverse languages and people of Ontario for some time.



Erin: The flag is comprised of two sections: one colour block of green surmounted by a fleur-de-lys, and another colour block of white surmounted by a green trillium.



David: The Franco-Ontarian Emblem Act received royal assent on September 24, 2020, making the Franco-Ontarian flag the most recent provincial emblem to be recognized in the province. If you’ve never seen this flag before, you can find it int eh Legislative Chamber and outside of the building too, just above the main entrance.



Erin: Look at that David. We started with flags and ended with flags. We made it full circle yet again.



David: You’re right Erin! It’s been a real treat getting a chance to delve deeper into our provincial emblems. And who knows? Maybe there will be more joining their ranks in the future.



Erin: You never know David. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a few more added in the future. Especially as the province continues to evolve and grow.



David: I really wasn’t keeping count, but I have a really good feeling about our fun fact count this time. It felt like we had tons!



Erin: Drum roll David. We finally did it! We broke our fun fact record! This time we had a total of… 10!



David: Amazing! What an accomplishment. Maybe we could “symbolize” this victory with a symbolic trophy!



Erin: Ooh I like that idea a lot! Fun Fact experts! It has a nice ring to it don’t you think?



David: You’re right. It does.



Erin: Thanks for listening to the fun fact experts at 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.