Emblems of Canada

Every country has a particular handful of emblems and icons that help them celebrate their unique style of patriotism, and Canada is no exception. Canada’s national emblems run the gamut from proud to corny, and rare is the Canadian who doesn’t feel at least a little twinge of pride towards them.

The Maple Leaf

Joseph Donato with world's largest maple leaf

Little Joseph Donato of Ontario got into the Guinness Book of World Records for finding the planet's biggest maple leaf back in 2010. Photo: Graeme Roy.

The maple leaf is one of those symbols that’s been so famous for so long that no one seems to remember exactly where it came from or how it got to be so popular. These days, it’s usually recognized as a kind of broad, catch-all symbol for Canada that can easily represent any number of additional dignified values as needed, including nature, history, and even life itself.

Though hardly ubiquitous, maple trees can be found in most regions of Canada (if you look hard enough) and their multipurpose functionality as both a provider of lumber and syrup has proved useful to many generations of Canadians over the centuries. In one sense, it can be seen as a tree that rewards labour and perseverance, and embodies a sort of “taming” of the wilderness in a classical early-fur trade era sense. But to many others, it’s simply a pretty tree with a pretty leaf that has become associated with Canada — and that’s good enough.

The Canadian Flag

The flag of Canada

Along with being flown on poles, the Canadian flag can be seen on t-shirts, baseball caps, bumper stickers, pencil cases, ice cream cakes, tattoos, and virtually anything else you can imagine. As you might expect, there aren't a lot of taboos in Canada about inappropriate places to put the flag.

Like every other country on earth, Canada has a national flag suitable for flying, hanging or waving in any circumstance where a touch of patriotic pride is needed. Adopted in 1965, the official flag of Canada is known as the Maple Leaf, and consists of a stylized red leaf on a white background bordered by two red bars on either side. Unusually for a national flag, no part of the design actually represents anything; the stylized leaf was simply created as a neutral symbol of Canadian unity, and there is no official explanation of what the colors or bars are supposed to mean.

Every province in Canada has its own flag as well, as do many cities. The history and evolution of Canadian flags is actually a fairly large and interesting topic in its own right, so for more information, please check out the Canadian flags chapter.

Canadian Animals

The wilderness in general may be Canada’s most iconic symbol. Certainly, the allure of an enormous country with more untouched nature than any other on earth has been one of the main things drawing people to Canada over the years, so it’s unsurprising that anything associated with the great outdoors tends to feature prominently in the Canadian pantheon of symbolism. As the original residents of nature, Canada’s woodland creatures embody this spirit of nature in a fun and compact form.

Stuffed animals

Canada's rich biodiversity has proven quite a boon to the Canadian stuffed animal industry.

The beaver (Castor canadensis) is, of course, the most famous of these, appearing on the Canadian nickel and often used by cartoonists to personify the country as a whole, much like “Uncle Sam” or the Chinese dragon. Though the animal is now much celebrated for his plucky can-do spirit of chomping down trees to build elaborate live-in dams, the original Canadian attraction to beavers was much less respectful: they had good fur for making hats. Prized for its smooth, waterproof texture, beaver fur was one of Canada’s main exports to Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. So much so, in fact, that the animal was almost hunted to extinction by early Canadian fur traders. Saved by changing tastes in fashion, today they can be found lurking in riverbeds all across the country.

Less rich in specific symbolism are some of the beaver’s furry pals, such as the moose, the polar bear, the black bear, the mountain lion, the mountain goat, the Arctic wolf, the raccoon, the lynx and the buffalo, all of which are common sights not only in the Canadian wilderness, but also Canadian airport gift shops.

And of course, we cannot forget the birds of Canada, either, particularly the loon (Gavia immer) — the national bird of Canada and namesake of the loonie — and the not-quite-so beloved Canada goose (Branta canadensis). Every province has its own official bird as well, the most famous of which are probably the snowy owl of Quebec and the puffin of Prince Edward Island.

The Coat of Arms

Coat of ArmsLike most countries of British descent, Canada has a grandiose heraldic artifact known as the Coat of Arms that appears on things like passports, government notices and wax seals. It’s a very complicated and detailed thing that is almost entirely identical to the British coat of arms, which dates back to 17th century.

The coat’s symbolism is largely British: it depicts the English lion and the Scottish unicorn holding a crest displaying the icons of the English, Scotch and Irish peoples of the British Isles, plus the fleur-de-lis of the French and the maple leaves of Canada. You’ll see that the animals are also standing below the ancient flags of Britain and France, symbolizing the “two founding nations” of modern Canada.

Canada has two national mottoes, both of which are inscribed on the Coat in Latin. The first (on the red belt) is Desiderantes Meliorem Patriam, or “They Desire a Better Country,” which acknowledges the immigrants who have built Canada. The other (on the blue banner) is A Mari usque ad Mare, or “From Sea to Sea,” which celebrates the country’s vast geography.

The National Anthem

There have been a lot of patriotic songs written about Canada over the years (perhaps the most famous being The Maple Leaf Forever), but until 1981 none held the lofty status of official national anthem. At hockey games and things in the early days, they would usually just play God Save the Queen, but slowly another, more specifically Canadian song began to gain traction too. It was called O Canada, and by 1981 it had become so mainstream it was the obvious choice for the anthem nod.

The lyrics go like this:

O Canada sheet musicO Canada,
Our home and native land.
True, patriot love
In all of us command.
With glowing hearts
We see thee rise
The truth north, strong and free.
From far and wide
O Canada
We stand on guard for thee!
God, keep our land
Glorious and free.
O Canada
We stand on guard for thee.
O Canada
We stand on guard for three. 

Like most national anthems, there are several other verses as well, but these are never sung at public occasions since no one knows the words. If you’re at a particularly politically correct event, a few verses of the anthem may be sung in French.

Links About Canadian Emblem:

Quick Facts:

  • Since gaining independence from Britain, Canada has created unique symbols to reflect its status as a sovereign country.
  • Many of Canada's proudest national emblems relate to nature in some way.
  • Every Canadian province has its own set of official emblems as well.