At the time this article was written
Douglas J. Blain was Clerk Assistant in the Alberta Legislative Assembly. This
article is based on a paper delivered at the annual meeting of Canadian
Clerks-at-the-Table in Charlottetown in September 1980.
In Canadian legislative chambers there are
displayed, by ancient tradition, two symbols of sovereignty. The first, vital
to the existence and function of a legislative chamber is the mace, symbol of
royal and legislative power. The second symbol which is complementary to the
mace but without its popular significance is the Arms of Sovereign. Although
they are less well known, arms and seals reflect principles of Canada's past
and continuing constitutional development. This article describes a recent Alberta
experience relating to the display of the Arms of the Sovereign.
In 1980 to commemorate the 75th Anniversary
of the founding of the Province of Alberta the City of Edmonton presented to
the Legislative Assembly an arched canopy to the Speaker's Chair. In order to
install this very handsome gift it was necessary to remove the Royal Arms
which, in the form of an enamelled plaque in high relief, had been displayed
above the Speaker's Chair since 1911. It was accordingly decided that this
plaque should be replaced by a carving of the Royal Arms mounted on the arch of
the presentation canopy as an integral part of the structure. The question then
arose as to what Arms were proper to be displayed and an opinion was sought by
the Speaker from the Officers of the Assembly.
Research and inquiry by the Table officials
indicated that the Royal Arms are displayed in the majority of, if not all,
Canadian Legislative Chambers. The officials also concluded that provincial
Legislative Assembly Chambers are Royal Chambers in that the Speaker's Chair is
the Throne of the Lieutenant Governor representing the Sovereign and thus
presumably of the Sovereign herself so that it is only proper that the
Sovereign's Arms should be displayed. After close scrutiny it was established
that the Arms installed above the Speaker's Chair in 1911 were the Royal Arms
of General Purpose borne for Canada from 1837 to 1921 as described by Dr.
Conrad Swan, York Herald of the College of Arms of the United Kingdom, in his
book Canada: Symbols of Sovereignty.
Further reference to Dr. Swan's book
established that in 1921 the present Arms of Canada properly described by the
York Herald as Armorial Bearings of Dominion and Sovereignty and General
Purpose were approved by His Majesty King George V. These arms were assumed by
the present Sovereign on her accession as Queen in right of Canada. It was the
Table Officers' view, therefore, that upon removal of the old arms then
displayed in the Legislative Chamber they should be replaced by these Armorial
Bearings of Dominion and Sovereignty, and General Purpose which would be
incorporated in the carving of the presentation canopy for the Speaker's Chair.
In order to support these conclusions two
conversations were held with officers of the College of Arms in London. The
first, by telephone with Mr. Glyn-Jones, Blue Mantle Pursuivant, elicited
concurrence in the conclusion described above. A subsequent letter of
confirmation, however, was not completely unequivocal. A meeting was then
arranged between the author and Dr. Swan.
I was warmly received by Dr. Swan and was
able to place before him in detail and at leisure, the circumstances prompting
my visit. Dr. Swan listened attentively to all I had to say. Before giving his
opinion he asked two questions: Was the location of the existing arms such that
they could, for purposes of history, be retained as part of the arch? Was the
colouring or composition, of the existing arms such that they would not clash
with the structure of the arch? My answer in both instances was in the
On receiving my reply, Dr. Swan gave his
opinion that as it was necessary to replace the existing arms that it was
proper that they should be replaced by the arms proclaimed by King George V in
1921 and assumed by the present sovereign on Her accession. His opinion was
unequivocal and he emphasized it by stressing that these arms are borne by the
Sovereign as Queen in right of Canada.
Dr. Swan then reviewed with me the relevant
portion of his definitive work on symbols of sovereignty and drew my attention
to a point which I had overlooked in my own research. On the accession of Queen
Elizabeth 11 the new Great Seal of Canada displayed the same arms as those
incorporated in the arch above the Speaker's Chair as did the Great Seal of Canada
of King George VI.
In view of the definitive opinion rendered
by, Dr. Swan, invested as it is by the authority of his position as York
Herald, I concluded that the original analysis was correct in every detail and
that the Arms now displayed above the Speaker's Chair are true and proper to be
The conclusions of the Officers of the
Assembly, were accepted by the Speaker and the Armorial Beatings of Dominion
and Sovereignty and General Purpose of Queen Elizabeth II are now incorporated
in the canopy above the Speaker's Chair.