The royal proclamation of the national flag of Canada

Over the course of centuries, a multitude of national symbols and material items have arisen as uniquely Canadian or possessing uniquely Canadian characteristics. These symbols and items represent the culture of Canadaprotectionism of that culture, identity, values, nationalism, and the heritage of its inhabitants.[1]

Themes and symbols of nature, pioneers, trappers, and traders played an important part in the early development of Canadian symbolism.[2] Modern symbols emphasize the country's geography, cold climate, lifestyles, and the Canadianization of traditional European and indigenous symbols.[3]

A 2013 Statistics Canada survey found that more than 90% of those polled believed that the national flag and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were the top symbols of Canadian identity. Next highest were the national anthem ("O Canada"), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and ice hockey.[4] A similar poll by Ipsos-Reid in 2008 indicated that the maple leaf was the primary item that defines Canada, followed by ice hockey, the national flag, the beaver, the Canadarm, Canada Day, and Canadian Forces peacekeeping.[5]

Predominant symbols

Further information: Canadian identity, Canadian values, and Canadian folklore

The mother beaver sculpture outside the House of Commons
The mother beaver on the Canadian parliament's Peace Tower.[6] The five flowers on the shield surrounded by maple leafs each represent an ethnicity—Tudor rose: English; Fleur de lis: French; thistle: Scottish; shamrock: Irish; and leek: Welsh.

Canada's most well known symbol is the maple leaf, which was first used by French colonists in the 1700s.[7] Since the 1850s, under British rule, the maple leaf has been used on military uniforms and, subsequently, engraved on the headstones of individuals who have served in the Canadian Armed Forces.[8] The maple leaf is prominently depicted on the country's current and previous flags and on the country's coat of arms. The maple leaf has also been seen on the penny before circulation of that coin was stopped in 2013. Canada's official tartan, known as the "Maple leaf tartan", consists of four colours reflecting those of the maple leaf as it changes through the seasons—green in the spring, gold in the early autumn, red at the first frost, and brown after falling.[9]

Other prominent symbols include the national motto, A Mari Usque Ad Mare (From Sea to Sea),[10] the sports of hockey and lacrosse, the beaver, Canada goose, Canadian horse, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Rockies, the Canadian parliamentary complex, the Canadarm,[11] and, more recently, the Canadianization of totem poles and Inuksuks,[12] With material items such as Canadian beer, maple syrup, tuques, canoes, nanaimo bars, butter tarts, and the Quebec dish of poutine being defined as uniquely Canadian.[12][13] A six-pointed, hexagonal snowflake used as the insignia for the Order of Canada has come to symbolize Canada's northern heritage and diversity.[14] The country's institutions of healthcare, military peacekeeping, the national park system, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are seen as uniquely Canadian by its citizens.[15][16]

The Crown, displaying traditional cross pattées and fleurs-de-lis, symbolizes the Canadian monarchy[17] and appears on the coat of arms, the governor general's flag,[17] the coats of arms of many provinces and territories; the badges of several federal departments, the Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Military College of Canada, many regiments, police forces, on buildings, as well as some highway signs and licence plates. Also, the image of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is on Canadian stamps, $20 bank notes, and all coins, soon to be replaced by His Majesty King Charles III, King of Canada.[18] A poll taken in 2022 determined that 55 per cent of respondents agreed the country's monarchy helps define Canadian identity and six in 10 felt it helps to differentiate Canada from the United States.[19]

Official and de facto symbols

Further information: Canadian royal symbols

Further information: List of Canadian provincial and territorial symbols

The following is a list of official and de facto symbols, as recognized by the government of Canada.[20] They are not shown in any order of precedence.

Symbol Image Notes
National flag[20] Official symbol as of February 15, 1965[20]
Royal Standard of Canada[21] Royal symbol adopted in 1962
Governor general's standard Viceregal symbol adopted in 1981[22]
Royal Union Flag[23][17] Affirmed by parliament as a national symbol on December 18, 1964[24][25]
Canadian Royal Crown[26]
Royal symbol approved in April 2023 by King Charles III on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada[27]
Royal cypher[17] Royal symbol since 2022[28]
Royal Coat of Arms of Canada[20][29] Royal symbol as of November 21, 1921[20]
Canada wordmark[30]
Great Seal[20] De facto symbol since 1867 (current version since November 14, 1955)[20]
National anthem[20]
"O Canada"
Official since July 1, 1980 (song dates back to 1880)[20]
Royal anthem[17]
"God Save the King"
De facto royal anthem that dates back to 1745[31]
A Mari Usque Ad Mare
(From sea to sea)
Officially adopted on November 21, 1921[20]
National colours[20][32][33]



De facto symbol that dates back to George Stanley's rationale in the design of the Flag of Canada adopted February 15, 1965,[32] or to an order of King George V dated November 21, 1921,[20] or to the creation of Queen Elizabeth II's standard in 1961[33]
National tree[20]
Sugar maple
Official symbol since 1996[20]
Additional national symbol[20]
Maple leaf
De facto symbol since the 1700s[20]
National animals[20]
North American beaver
Official symbol since 1975[20]

Canadian horse
Official symbol since 2002[20]
National sport[20][34]
Lacrosse (summer)
Officially adopted on May 12, 1994[20]

Ice hockey (winter)
Officially adopted on May 12, 1994[20]
National tartan[20]
Maple leaf tartan
Officially adopted on March 9, 2011[20]
Royal Canadian Mounted Police[20] De facto symbol since 1920[20]
Parliament Hill[20] De facto symbol; built between 1859 and 1927[20]

See also


  1. ^ Michael Dawson; Donald A. Wright; Catherine Anne Gidney (2018). Symbols of Canada. Between the Lines. p. 32. ISBN 978-1-77113-371-5.
  2. ^ "Canada in the Making: Pioneers and Immigrants". The History Channel. August 25, 2005. Retrieved November 30, 2006.
  3. ^ Cormier, Jeffrey. (2004). The Canadianization Movement: Emergence, Survival, and Success. doi:10.3138/9781442680616.
  4. ^ "The Daily — Canadian identity, 2013". Retrieved January 10, 2015.Canadian Identity, 2013 - By Maire Sinha
  5. ^ Defining Canada: A Nation Chooses The 101 Things That Best Define Their Country "Unprecedented, Definitive National Survey Identifies Top People, Places, Events, Accomplishments and Symbols that Define Canada. As Chosen By Canadian. Ipsos Reid on behalf of the Dominion Institute and the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2008. PDF version
  6. ^ Monaghan, David (2013). "The mother beaver – Collection Profiles". The House of Commons Heritage. Archived from the original on December 22, 2015. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  7. ^ "Unofficial symbols of Canada". The Department of Canadian Heritage. Retrieved 2019-01-01.
  8. ^ Michael Dawson; Donald A. Wright; Catherine Anne Gidney (October 15, 2018). Symbols of Canada. Between the Lines. ISBN 978-1-77113-371-5.
  9. ^ "Maple Leaf Tartan becomes official symbol". Toronto Star. Toronto. March 9, 2011.
  10. ^ Reingard M. Nischik (2008). History of Literature in Canada: English-Canadian and French-Canadian. Camden House. pp. 113–114. ISBN 978-1-57113-359-5.
  11. ^ Canadian Heritage (2002). Symbols of Canada. Canadian Government Publishing. ISBN 978-0-660-18615-3.
  12. ^ a b Sociology in Action, Canadian Edition, 2nd ed. Nelson Education-McGraw-Hill Education. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-17-672841-0.
  13. ^ Hutchins, Donna; Hutchins, Nigel (2006). The Maple Leaf Forever: A Celebration of Canadian Symbols. Erin: The Boston Mills Press. p. iix intro. ISBN 978-1-55046-474-0.
  14. ^ "Canadian Honours > Order of Canada > Levels and Insignia". The Governor General of Canada. 2002.
  15. ^ The Environics Institute (2010). "Focus Canada (Final Report)" (PDF). Queen's University. p. 4 (PDF page 8). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 4, 2016. Retrieved December 12, 2015.
  16. ^ Nanos Research (October 2016). "Exploring Canadian values" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on April 5, 2017. Retrieved February 1, 2017.
  17. ^ a b c d e "The Crown in Canada". Department of Canadian Heritage. Archived from the original on 2011-08-27. Retrieved 2011-07-27.
  18. ^ "King Charles will replace his mother on Canadian $20 bill and coins". Retrieved 5 December 2023.
  19. ^ "Canadians Conflicted on Future Role of Monarchy as Half (54%) Say Canada Should End Ties to Monarchy". Archived from the original on September 21, 2022. Retrieved September 21, 2022.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Canadian Heritage (2002). Symbols of Canada. Canadian Government Publishing. ISBN 978-0-660-18615-3. Unofficial symbols of Canada, Official symbols of Canada, Royal symbols and titles
  21. ^ "Royal Emblems". The Governor General of Canada. Archived from the original on 2023-05-14. Retrieved 2023-05-08.
  22. ^ General, The Office of the Secretary to the Governor (12 November 2020). "Governor General of Canada [Civil Institution]".
  23. ^ "The Royal Union flag (Union Jack)". The Governor General of Canada. Retrieved 2023-04-05.
  24. ^ "Symbols of Canada" (PDF).
  25. ^ "Letters Patent registering the Royal Union Flag".
  26. ^ "Royal Emblems". Governor General of Canada. Archived from the original on 2023-05-14. Retrieved 2023-05-08.
  27. ^ "Canada unveils new crown with snowflake and maple leaves instead of religious symbols".
  28. ^ Heritage, Canadian (September 8, 2022). "Transition of the Crown — what it means for Canadians".
  29. ^ "The arms of Canada". Department of Canadian Heritage. Archived from the original on 2009-02-28. Retrieved 2011-07-27.
  30. ^ "Official symbols: Design Standard for the Federal Identity Program". Treasury Board of Canada. 13 December 2021. Retrieved 18 February 2023.
  31. ^ Heritage, Canadian (11 August 2017). "Royal Anthem". aem. 'O Canada' and 'God Save the Queen'/'Dieu sauve la Reine' were approved by Parliament in 1967 as Canada's national and royal anthems. However, legislation to this effect was passed only in 1980, and applied only to 'O Canada.'
  32. ^ a b "Dr. G.F.G. Stanley's Flag Memorandum to John Matheson". Alan Beddoe Papers. Library and Archives Canada. 23 March 1964. Archived from the original on 30 December 2023.
  33. ^ a b Tidridge, Nathan (2011). Thompson, Allister (ed.). Canada's Constitutional Monarchy. Toronto: Dundurn Press. p. 222. ISBN 9781554889808.
  34. ^ "National Sports of Canada Act, CHAPTER N-16.7". Code of Canada. Government of Canada. 12 May 1994. Archived from the original on 19 April 2012.

Further reading