THE NEW ARMS FOR A MEGA TORONTO
By John J. Kennedy, PhD.
of the Académie internationale d'héraldique
On 29 October, 1998, the Toronto Star, ran a short story on the approved version of a new armorial achievement for the amalgamated cities, some of which once proudly bore independent arms, but are now all part of what Mayor Mel Lastman calls "Mega Toronto". Gone is any direct reference to such armorial cities within the Greater Metropolitan Toronto Area as East York or Scarborough (though some oblique references seem to survive). Clearly, given the increasing diverse and cosmopolitan populace of Mega Toronto, gone too are the earlier references to the Royal Arms of England, industry, steamboats, crosses and maple leaves, though the white Rose of (‘Muddy'?) York seems to survive as a charge on the crest's mural coronet and the columbine for Scarborough seems to be on the pendant of the bear supporter.
Instead, the new arms may be described as a much more simple and easily recognized blason: Or, a pale and a chief Azure. The Crest: on a wreath of the colours issuant from a mural coronet Or, masoned Sable charged with a human heart Gules between two Roses Argent, buttoned Or, slipped proper, on a grassy mount Vert, a Golden eagle stantant, wings elevated and expanded proper. The supporters are, on the dexter a beaver sejeant proper, collared with a torse Gules, therefrom on a hexagon Or an ash leaf(?) Vert, on the sinister, a brown bear rampant proper, collared with a torse Gules, pendant therefrom a hexagon charged with a columbine (?) Flower proper. Both Supporters are placed on a grassy mount from which at the base of the shield three wavy streams in pairle reversed Argent each surcharged with another Azure flow into a barry wavy ‘lakefront', below which is placed the Scroll with the Motto: Diversity Our Strength between two Maple Leaves Gules, veined Or at the extremities of the Scroll.
The designer of the arms, which the City Councillors voted to adopt by 32 to 17, was the Chief Herald of Canada, Mr. Robert Watt. At this late date, I assume that the arms have likely been granted, but I have heard nothing further of their status. The article in the Toronto Star mentioned the sometimes uninformed comments of the City Councillors about the symbolism of the arms, but it appears that the large blue 'T' shape on the shield recalls the so-called "T,O" maps of medieval times, where the world (a large ‘O' shape) was divided up basically in a ‘T' shape with Jerusalem at the centre of the known globe. Such early christian medieval maps therefore were used to play on the common everyday nickname of Toronto, "T O". Personally, I like the design of the shield: it is refreshingly uncrowded and eyecatching.
Apparently, the City Councillors wondered loudly about the eagle in the Crest being altogether too American. Yet, if I am not mistaken (I am only working from the article's photo), the eagle in question is the same as the golden badge used in various RCAF badges and distinctly Canadian.
The one thing that I find somewhat incongruous are the supporters. First, the beaver, even given artistic licence, is huge and stands as tall as the brown bear. Even for Toronto, that is some exaggeration. As for the bear, I suspect it picks up an allusion to the Crest device of the Province of Ontario, since the Provincial legislature at Queens's Park is situated in Mega Toronto.
Moreover, it was humorous to read that some Councillors preferred raccoons, red foxes or even the offensive-smelling skunk as worthy supporters for the new arms, all of which have the commonplace virtue of being found within the Megacity's limits and grubbing in our backyards or garbage pails or dashing though our parks at odd hours. Some too questioned the very need for a civic coat of arms for Toronto, though these same Councillors curiously voted in favour of Mr.Watt's design when the question was put to the vote. Still other Councillors complained that the entire achievement reminded them of a label on a bottle of vodka - revealing yet again just what some City Councillors do in their off hours.
In any case, one of the most-often asked questions concerns the fate of the old civic arms still carved on many buildings. The answer seems to be that they will revert to the Crown and likely become a treasured part of Toronto's identity within a city museum or City Hall.
(Reference: Heraldry in Canada/L'héraldique au Canada, Vol.XXXIII, No.3, September 1999)
John J. Kennedy