The Heraldic Traditions of British Columbia

I was very pleased to welcome Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette to Government House this past spring. To mark the visit of the Governor General, her heraldic shield has been installed on the along the wall of the main staircase, beneath the spectacular Rogers Window.

Her Excellency’s shield is displayed alongside the heraldic shields of members of the Royal Family and previous Governor Generals who have stayed overnight at Government House. The nearby Rogers Window depicts the heraldry of British Columbia, in addition to those of previous Lieutenant Governors. In the foyer, you can spot more shields of past Lieutenant Governors on display under their portraits. A wander through the main hall of Government House is a good visual summary of the heraldic traditions of the province.

Heraldry started in 12th-century Europe when knights painted their shields with emblems to symbolize their unique identity and interests when in full armour. Gradually, monarchs took control of the official granting and use of coats of arms, which allowed them to honour people and groups. Coats of arms thus developed as grants of honour received from a sovereign exercising his or her personal prerogative.

Her Excellency’s shield is a symbol of exploration and liberty. The open wing “embodies our desire to reach higher and expand our horizons”. As with birds protecting their young, the wing also conveys the strength and safety of family ties. It also represents Her Excellency’s career as an aviator and astronaut. The Royal Crown symbolizes the vice regal office and service to all Canadians.

A heraldry exhibit, created by the British Columbia branch of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada, is open to the public during the summer in the Cary Castle Mews. You can also learn more about heraldry on the website of the Governor General, as she’s head of the Canadian Heraldic Authority.

Thanks to Lesley Patten of the BC/Yukon branch of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada, for installing Her Excellency’s shield at Government House.

Does your family have a crest or coat of arms? Share it with me on my Twitter or Facebook. I’m looking forward to sharing mine in the near future.