Coat of Arms of British Columbia: A Brief History
Robert D. Watt, fellow of the Heraldry Society of Canada
for the official granting of the Coat of Arms of British
Columbia, October 15, 1987.
ceremony brings to completion a lively and intriguing story
that stretches back over a century. Our Coat of Arms is
a symbol of sovereignty as these are the arms of Her Majesty
in right of British Columbia and a symbol of our co-sovereign
status as a province of the Canadian federation.
the beauty of heraldry, an ancient and honourable form of
identification, important elements in the character of our
province are revealed: our heritage as a constitutional
monarchy; our historic position in the Empire and now, the
Commonwealth, and the riches of our natural environment.
surprisingly, the evolution of the Coat of Arms has taken
over ninety years and has at times provoked some rather
heated debate. When British Columbia joined Canada in 1871
it had no official heraldry although in the colonial period
the Royal Arms, including the Royal Crest of the crowned
lion standing on the imperial crown, was widely used on
official documents. This was general practice throughout
the Empire. However, in this province, from the 1870s the
Royal Crest flanked by the initials "B.C." began
to be used as a type of provincial insignia.
this use of the Royal Crest was undertaken without any authorisation
by the Sovereign, it was undoubtedly meant to express the
strong tie British Columbians felt to Britain and particularly
to Queen Victoria, who had taken a special interest in the
creation of the colony of British Columbia.
the early 1890s the need to review the Great Seal of the
Province seems to have provided an opportunity for the Provinces
first heraldic enthusiast, Canon Arthur Beanlands of Victoria,
to encourage the government of the day to adopt a more elaborate
device. In 1895 he designed a Coat of Arms for the Province
which was adopted by Order-in-Council on July 19th that
year and which Cabinet directed be used as the Great Seal
of the Province. This armorial device, shown opposite, is
quite similar to the completed arms being assigned by Royal
symbolism of Beanlands design reflects sentiments
and beliefs widely held in turn-of-the-century British Columbia.
The Union Jack, then the national emblem, was placed in
the lower part of the shield to represent unity with the
British nation by descent and government. The wavy blue
bars and the setting sun symbolized the sea and the assured
permanence and glory of the Province, the latter point reinforced
by the motto which freely rendered means "brilliance
without setting". The two supporters, the wapiti stag
of Vancouver Island and the big horn sheep of the Mainland
represented the Union of the two colonies in 1866. Above
the shield was the Royal Crest, used, in Beanlands
opinion, as an expression of loyalty to the Crown.
had a good grasp of heraldic design but less understanding
of the legal principles involved. The dependence of provincial
officials on his views led to a prolonged and sometimes
acrimonious battle with officials in London when the Province
attempted, as it did in 1897, to register the arms at the
College of Arms, the part of the Royal Household which administered
the Sovereigns armorial prerogative in England and
the colonies. At the heart of the dispute which then unfolded
lay misunderstanding about the difference between devices
appearing on a Great Seal and Coat of Arms.
designs appearing on the Great Seal were fully within provincial
control under the terms of a federal statute of 1877. However,
Coats of Arms were grants of honour from the Crown created
via an exercise of the Royal Prerogative. For the government
of a British territory arms had to come into being via a
Royal Warrant drawn up on the advice of the Crowns
armorial officers, that is the Heralds at the College of
apart form misunderstandings about these matters of principle,
there were some problems with Beanlands design. The
heralds pointed out that the Union Jack was in an inferior
position on the shield. As well, the Royal Crest could not
be granted to the Province as this would infringe the Sovereigns
exclusive right to the symbol and violate an essential element
of heraldic practice, that no arms or parts of an armorial
achievement could be borne by another.
at that time, the Heralds felt that a grant of the honourable
distinction of supporters to British Columbia was premature
since no other province had yet received them. Resolution
of the various issues took several years and letters flowed
steadily between Victoria and London from 1904 to 1906.
Joseph Pope, Undersecretary of State for Canada, was a deeply
interested bystander since he hoped for agreement so that
official arms for the province could be included in the
Canadian Coat of Arms.
in 1906, the Province received arms by Royal Warrant of
Edward VII on March 31st. Interestingly, only the shield
and motto were granted. Beanlands concept survived
but with the sun and Union Jack reversed to conform to proper
heraldic practice and with a golden antique crown in the
centre point of the Union Jack. For the time being the Province
decided not to seek a grant of the crest and supporters
which had also been adopted in 1895, although they continued
to be used and in fact have been used down to the present
its adoption in flag form in 1960, the shield has become
the most widely recognized provincial symbol. For over 70
years the full arms, with official shield and motto and
unofficial crest and supporters have been the principal
device to identify British Columbias government and
its services. As such it is a most important element in
our visual heritage appearing on countless documents, proclamations
and as a decoration on public buildings.
several attempts to regularize the situation, the difficulty
posed by the use of the Royal Crest seemed insurmountable.
Happily, as todays events prove, a beautiful and historic
solution has been found and in the process, the Province
has been uniquely honoured by the Sovereign. With Her Majestys
agreement, the Royal Crest is for the first time in history
being granted, with an appropriate differencing mark, to
another sovereign entity. Henceforth the lion will bear
a garland of dogwoods, the Provinces official flower.
other changes are being made. The golden helmet of sovereignty
is placed between the shield and the crest as a mark of
British Columbias CO-sovereign status in Confederation,
an appropriate signal of the completion of the patriation
the helmet are the traditional heraldic elements of a wreath
and mantling. These are red and white, Canadas national
colours as established in the Canadian Coat of Arms granted
in 1921. The provincial flower is featured a second time
by entwining dogwoods around the motto scroll.
evolution of the arms of British Columbia is now complete.
It is fitting that this has taken place in the same year
that the Canadian government has hosted the first national
forum on Canadian heraldry in recognition of the ongoing
importance of heraldry in this country. It marks the granting
of the Provinces augmented Coat of Arms as a unique
occasion in Canadian history. This is the first time that
the Sovereign and Her representative in a province, the
Lieutenant-Governor, one of Her Majestys Officers
of Arms, a Premier and his Ministers, and the Secretary
of State have all been present to witness the signing of
a Royal Warrant.
completed arms are both beautiful and historic. They symbolize
important traditions and the bounty of a magnificent land.
May they continue to serve and to inspire us in the future
as they have in the past.