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Canadian Symbols

Woe, Canada! At first glance, your symbols seem to confirm many Americans’ worst fears—you’re a backwater land of forests and tundra where people spend their time playing hockey on frozen lakes. You don’t even have a national flower or bird, and your national animal is a rodent. (Continued below)

Canadian Symbols
Provincial Pages
Alberta Newfoundland and Labrador Nunavut Quebec
British Columbia Northwest Territories Ontario Saskatchewan
Manitoba Nova Scotia Prince Edward Island Yukon
New Brunswick      
Provincial Pages
Alberta Northwest Territories Prince Edward Island
British Columbia Nova Scotia Quebec
Manitoba Nunavut Saskatchewan
New Brunswick Ontario Yukon
Newfoundland and Labrador    
Provincial Pages
Alberta Nunavut
British Columbia Ontario
Manitoba Prince Edward Island
New Brunswick Quebec
Newfoundland and Labrador Saskatchewan
Northwest Territories Yukon
Nova Scotia  
Canadian Symbols Flag Canadian Symbols Coat of Arms
Flag and Coat of Arms (Arms: By Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, link.)
Nicknames & Slogans
Nicknames Great White North  
Symbols of State
Motto A Mari Usque Ad Mare (“From Sea to Sea”) 1921
Anthem “O, Canada” 1980
Royal Anthem “God Save the King”  
Colors red and white  
Arboreal Emblem maple (Acer) 1996
Mammal beaver (Castor canadensis) 1975
Horse Canadian horse (Equus caballus) 2002
Cultural Symbols
Winter Sport hockey 1994
Summer Sport lacrosse 1994
Tartan Maple Leaf Tartan 2011

Canada’s coat of arms has been described as a medieval emblem that admirably represents the British Isles. And who can take that maple leaf on Canada’s flag seriously?

I agree with those Canadians who want a new coat of arms. In a similar vein, I’ll pass on Canada’s royal anthem. To hell with the king. Otherwise, I think Canada’s symbols are far more respectable than those representing my country (the United States). I’ll take a wholesome maple leaf flag over the blood-drenched Stars and Stripes any day. Although I have nothing against bald eagles, generations of propagandists have transformed the species into messengers of war. Canada’s beaver is more wholesome.

Even the U.S. national anthem—written by a slave owner—is an ode to war. And who can sing the Star-Spangled Screamer to begin with? “O Canada” is a much more civilized song that ordinary people can actually sing.

While the 50 U.S. states seem bent on adopting 10,000 frivolous symbols—notably, milk, the honeybee, the square dance, and English as the official language—Canada’s provinces are much pickier. Canada is bilingual, of course, yet its rosters of symbols are lean and mean.

Symbols of State ˆ

Canada WordmarkOfficial Canada wordmark

Red and white have never been officially designated Canada’s official colors. Rather, they have simply been accepted as the national colors over time, buoyed by Canada’s red-and-white flag.

The maple leaf flag was adopted on January 28, 1965, by proclamation of Queen Elizabeth II. It was raised for the first time over Parliament Hill on February 15 of that same year. Today, February 15 is observed as National Flag of Canada Day.

Learn more about the National Flag of Canada, including its historydimensions, flag etiquette and rules for half-masting.

The Canada Coat of Arms, or Arms of Canada, were adopted by proclamation of King George V in 1921. In 1994, a circular, red ribbon was added to the arms, displaying the motto of the Order of Canada: Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam (“They desire a better country”).

The present artistic rendering of the Arms of Canada was drawn by Cathy Bursey-Sabourin, Fraser Herald at the Canadian Heraldic Authority. A royal crown, unicorn, lion (five of them, actually), and harp link the emblem to the United Kingdom, one country I would not want to be associated with.

The arms bears Canada’s national motto, A Mari Usque Ad Mare (“From Sea to Sea”). Some have suggested the motto should be changed to “From Sea to Sea to Sea,” including the native peoples who live on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

“O Canada” was first performed in the City of Quebec on June 24, 1880. It was proclaimed Canada’s national anthem one century later, on July 1, 1980. The original lyrics are in French. The version on which the official English lyrics are based was written in 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir.

The government of Canada’s website has information about the history of “O Canada”, the people behind the anthem, and the anthems of Canada.

Flower and Bird ˆ

Canadian National Flower and Bird

I could really care less if Canadians adopt a national flower or bird. Besides, everyone knows the Canada goose is the de facto national bird, right?

In fact, the Canada goose was one of five finalists in a 2016 national bird contest. Other heavyweights included the common loon, black-capped chickadee, and snowy owl. However, the winner was the gray jay (Perisoreus canadensis), also known as the Canada jay, camp robber, or whisky jack.

However, the gray (or grey) jay has not been officially adopted.

In 2017, as Canadians celebrated their 150th birthday, another contest was held to select a national flower, sponsored by Master Gardeners of Ontario.

Canada’s unofficial colors, red and white, are reflected in the bunchberry’s blossoms and berries.

The winner was bunchberry (Cornus canadensis). Like the gray jay, it has many aliases, including Canadian dogwood. It is known as quatre–temps in French and kawiscowimin in Cree. Its blossoms are incredibly similar to those of its tree-size relative, the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).

Like the gray jay, however, the bunchberry has not been officially adopted.

Mammals ˆ

Canadian horse

While the bison is the United States’ national mammal, Canada effectively has two national mammals. The most notable is the beaver, which was designated a symbol of sovereignty with the passage of the National Symbol of Canada Act on March 24, 1975.

Long before the birth of the U.S., Europeans were pursuing beavers, whose fur was for a time perhaps the most valuable commodity in North America. Like the bison, the beaver was saved from extinction before being proclaimed a national symbol.

Parliament declared the Canadian horse Canada’s national breed in 1909, though it wasn’t officially designated the national horse until 2002.

The breed’s origins date back to 1665, when the King of France sent horses from the royal stables to New France. In the New World, these horses developed in isolation from other breeds, eventually giving birth to the Canadian horse.

Cultural Symbols ˆ

Having learned to play hockey in Canada (Newfoundland, to be precise), I can confidently proclaim it the world’s most exciting team sport. It’s much faster than soccer, which is in turn faster than American football, a grossly over-commercialized sport featuring male athletes patting each other on the butt. Football is in turn miles ahead of baseball, the first letter of which is also the first letter of boring.

Hockey, football, and baseball were all invented in the New World by white people. Lacrosse, however, is the creation of Native Americans. Hockey and lacrosse both became national symbols with the passage of the National Sports of Canada Act on May 12, 1994.

The Maple Leaf Tartan (pictured next to the beaver at the top of the page) was declared an official national symbol on March 9, 2011. It was created by David Weiser in 1964 in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of Confederation in 1967. Weiser’s tartan reflects the colours of the maple leaf through the changing seasons. It nicely complements Canada’s national tree, the maple.

The Last Laugh ˆ

Canadian Flag

While many Americans look down their arrogant noses at Canada, they continue to sink deeper into a pit of irony. During the war in Vietnam, Canada became a mecca for draft dodgers. Today, far greater numbers of Americans dream of escaping a hell hole of their own making.

The U.S. has a national debt of over $34 trillion and growing. Even fabulously wealthy liberal cities like Seattle have become virtual sewers, littered with homeless derelicts, garbage, and vacant businesses. Adding insult to injury, the U.S. rivals Israel as the most hated country in the world.

Alaska is known as America’s last frontier, but Canada is far bigger, and it actually has a cultural scene, in places at least.

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