Not any more

Decoding the Governors’-General coats of arms

In Canada on October 7, 2010 at 08:45

The new Governor-General touched off a firestorm of controversy with his new coat of arms, which contained a pattern of binary numbers that some figured could be a coded message. OK, maybe not a firestorm. More like a brush fire. Not even that, really. A nice little fire, like in a chimenea. Anyway, Rideau Hall has since confirmed that David Johnston is not signalling aliens or cyborg overlords or giving the Prime Minister a thumbs-up for prorogation-on-demand. They are just some 1s and 0s. But it got us to thinking: Just what is with these G-G coats of arms, anyway? Scott Stinson reviews some of them.


The numbers are kind of a subtle way to evoke the digital age, actually. It beats sticking an iPhone or a BlackBerry on there. The books and well-used candle, which suggest hard study, are a nice touch. Not crazy about the unicorns, though. They should appear on merry-go-rounds and My Little Pony books, and that’s about it.


This one seems very personal. The broken slave chain, the female “water spirits,” the palm tree and the pine tree: You could guess a lot about Ms. Jean’s roots based on this coat of arms alone. The Latin motto means “breaking down solitudes,” which is a lot catchier than “ask for one prorogation and get the second for free.”


You can tell Mr. LeBlanc held the office after the Cold War was over, otherwise that yellow star on a red background would have raised all kinds of Manchurian Candidate questions. As it was, it signals his Acadian roots. But, dolphins? Kinda cutesy, no? Apparently they note his ancestral roots to what was once called Riviere Dauphin. Good thing he didn’t grow up near Keg River.


Tigers! Yes! Now, there’s an animal that seems worthy of a coat of arms. Also, the phoenix rising from ashes is pretty cool. And one figures the lightning flash, which represents Mme. Clarkson’s “long career as a television broadcaster,” was a better choice than a test pattern. There are several shout outs to Her Excellency’s cottage on Georgian Bay: the rocks, the trees and the loon. I guess a Muskoka chair and a beer cozy would be too low-brow.


Man, Ray Hnatyshyn’s coat of arms would totally beat Romeo LeBlanc’s in a fight. Three lions, plus an angry deer and a snorting bull? You do NOT want to get on the bad side of this coat of arms, let me tell you. The forests and grains represent Saskatchewan, natch, and the Latin motto means “Moderation in all things,” which we have to say isn’t the most inspiring thing we’ve seen etched on a piece of heraldry. Still, it’s better than “The ‘H’ is silent.”

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