Canadian symbols: THE SHIELD

Canadian symbols: THE SHIELD © David Watts, 12 May 2003


Canada’s shield is one of our less known symbols. It no longer appears on government stationery. Most government departments and ministries now use a simple logo based on the Canadian flag.

Canada’s shield used to be on the Canadian ensign, a flag that flew unofficially for a century before we adopted the red Maple Leaf flag. Like our country, our shield has changed many times

Our first shield was a combination of the shields of the first four provinces to join Confederation.

As additional provinces joined, it became more complicated and cumbersome.

Fifty-one years after Confederation a simpler shield was designed. It had five parts, and four of them held the symbols of the homelands that most of our founding European peoples came from.

The three lilies stood for France, the three reclining lions, for England. Scotland was represented by a single lion, rearing up on its hind legs, and Ireland by a harp.

Each of these four symbols was in a square and the four squares together made up a larger square. At the bottom, in a rounded triangle were three maple leaves, on a simple stem. This made up the bottom, pointed, part of the shield, and stood for the new Canadian homeland.

Today there are so many peoples who make up Canada—from first nations and every part of the world—that having just four European symbols on our shield may seem somewhat limiting.

Those four represent a country build on multiculturalism. Those four peoples —the Scots and English, French and Irish—had been at war with each other in Europe for hundreds of years.

Having them build a country together in the new world is the daring of the Canadian experiment.

In 1994 the shield was surrounded by a circle, with the words “They desire a better country.”

These words, from the Letter to Hebrews in the Bible, suggest that those who come here leave behind the struggles in their old homelands.

Their many cultures and traditions are welcome here if they do not denigrate any others: Catholic and Protestant, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu, French and English, Germanic and Jewish, are to live side by side

That has become the meaning of the Huron word “Kanata”: a village or meeting place for people.

The feature of Canada that stands out in outer space is an enormous enclosed bay near the centre.

Hudson Bay is Earth’s largest estuary: a meeting of waters from thousands of streams and rivers.

As a way to the gold of the Orient, Hudson Bay proved a dead end for the man it’s named after. As a gathering place for fresh water, it is one of Earth greatest treasures.

Hudson Bay is the heart of the Planet’s fresh water, at the heart of the Canadian Shield that runs south to the Great Lakes. So when we speak of Canada’s Shield, we can be talking of two things:

There is the shield or crest on our coat of arms and there is a rocky land form around Hudson Bay

There is also a third, spiritual meaning of the word “shield” that comes from a verse in the Bible:

Truth shall be your shield and defence.”

This means that our greatest protection is not arms or wealth but Truth—the way we live together

That brings us back to the symbols on our crest—the signs of peoples who were once continually at war with each other—completing the circle that surrounds the shield on our coat of arms.

Canada’s three shields—our multicultural crest, our central land form and our way of living together—symbolize who we are as a nation and what we offer our fellow citizens of Planet Earth