Official Canadian symbols

Photograph of a young adult beaver at the edge of a lake.

adapted from Beaver Yearling  by Cheryl Reynolds, Courtesy of Worth a Dam.  CC BY-SA

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Does Canada come to mind whenever you see a maple leaf?

That makes sense because it’s closely tied to many things Canadian. You see it on the country’s flag as well as in sports teams’ emblems, company logos, and even on the currency. But have you ever wondered why the maple leaf is so identified with Canada?

For years even prior to the coming of European settlers, Indigenous Peoples have used the maple sap as a food staple. Maple was such an important product that the maple leaf was seen as Canada’s symbol as early as 1700 (Library and Archives Canada). Eventually the image of the leaf found its way into Canadian coins, emblems and coats of arms. The maple tree is also very important to Canadians and is the official arboreal emblem. Today, maple continues to be essential to Canada as it provides three-quarters of the world’s maple syrup output.

Did you know that Canada has a Strategic Maple Syrup Reserve? A warehouse in Quebec holds half of the world’s reserve supply of maple syrup amounting to more than 80,000 barrels of the sweet stuff. It is designed to stabilize the price and supply of maple syrup for the global market. Read about it here: Inside the global strategic maple syrup reserve, Jane Lindholm, VPR.

Aside from the maple leaf, the Government of Canada has formally adopted other official symbols over the past century. These include:

The beaver

The use of the beaver as a national emblem also dates back to the 1700s. This was when the lucrative trade of beaver pelts put Canada on the map. The Hudson’s Bay Company honoured the animal by putting it in its coat of arms. The beaver was also hailed as a Canadian symbol because it is known for its industry, skill and perseverance – all traits noteworthy of emulation. Today, its image can be found on the reverse side of the five-cent coin.

Coat of Arms of Canada

Coat of Arms of Canada by Gul Baiken on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY SA

Canadian Coat of Arms (or Arms of Canada)

This emblem was adopted by proclamation of His Majesty King George V in 1921. It is widely used on federal government possessions (such as buildings, official seals, and documents) and in badges used in the Canadian Armed Forces. Federal institutions such as the Supreme Court, Federal Court, and Tax Court also use the Coat of Arms to symbolize their judicial independence from the Government of Canada. Incidentally, the official colors of Canada, red and white, were designated on the same day the Royal Arms of Canada was proclaimed.

The national anthem

“O Canada” was proclaimed on Canada Day as recently as 1980 but was first sung in Quebec in 1880. The music was composed by Calixa Lavalee and the official English lyrics by Robert Stanley Weir, a poet. Meanwhile, the French lyrics were written by Adolphe-Basile Routhier, also a poet and a judge.

The national flag

The Canadian parliament officially launched the flag on February 15, 1965 (making Feb. 15 National Flag of Canada Day) after much debate and rigorous study. In the video below from Canada’s History, historian Allan Levine describes the development of the national flag’s design and the debates that ensued:

To know more about the creation of the Canadian Flag, read: 5 amazing facts about the creation of the National Flag of Canada.


Canada’s motto, A Mari usque ad Mare in Latin; D’un ocean a l’autre in French; or “From sea to sea” is inscribed in the Coat of Arms. The phrase comes from Bible verse, Psalm 72:8, and was used as an aspirational statement in the early days of Confederation. It was first used officially in 1906.

Maple Leaf Tartan pattern

Maple Leaf Tartan by Mr. Absurd on Wikimedia Commons. CC BY SA

The Maple Leaf Tartan

The Maple Leaf Tartan was created by David Weiser to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Canada’s confederation in 1967. It was declared an official symbol in 2011. The beautiful pattern is inspired by the colours of the maple leaf through the changing of the seasons. The Tartan has been used in official uniforms such as the ones worn by The Royal Canadian Regiment Pipes and Drums or by Canadians especially during special occasions like Canada Day and Tartan Day (April 6).

National sports

Canada has two national sports: ice hockey for winter and lacrosse for summer. This was passed through the National Sports Act of Canada which was launched on May 12, 1994.

National horse

The Canadian horse is a distinct breed that developed from a mixed origin that includes Arabian, Barb, and Andalusian. It is known for its great strength, endurance, resilience, intelligence, and good temper. The Canadian horse was recognized as the national horse of Canada by an Act of Parliament declared in 2002.

Sources: Official symbols of Canada, Government of Canada site; Emblems of Canada, The Canadian Encyclopedia; Library and Archives Canada

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