Better know a Canadian functionary: the Chief Herald

Tabard of the Chief Herald.

Tabard of the Chief Herald.


The fancy jacket in the fancy case is the tabard, or ceremonial coat, of the Chief Herald of Canada, the de facto leader of the Canadian Heraldic Authority. (Technically, it is under the command of the Chancellor of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, a post given to the Undersecretary to the Governor-General.)

Being for a herald, this tabard is made of satin. Kings of arms get velvet tabards and pursuivants (a rank junior to herald in the English and Scottish colleges) have tabards made of damask silk. The Canadian herald’s tabard has a lot of maple leaves and Native animal pictogram things up the front, with sleeves depicting the Canadian coat of arms. It was clearly the concerted work of many heraldic experts or something a staffer in the Liberal Party dreamt up over lunch. In this it is unique: the traditional British tabards have full-body depictions of royal escutcheons, making it look like they’re wearing the world’s most elegant sandwich boards. You can see in the bottom of the case the uniform’s accessories: shiny black shoes, white gloves, and the requisite funny hat with a big feather on top.

For most of Canada’s existence anybody wanting a coat of arms in Canada usually had to go to jolly old London and deal with the College of Arms there. Controlled by the Garter Principal King of Arms, it remains the heraldry-granting authority for most of the Commonwealth, even though its power only extends in theory to grant arms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland still has its own college of arms in Edinburgh, the Court of the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

The first new heraldic authority created in the Commonwealth since medieval times was when the Republic of Ireland created the Chief Herald of Ireland (Genealogical Office, National Library of Ireland) in 1943. South Africa came next in 1963 when it made the position of the State Herald (now called National Herald) of South Africa (Bureau of Heraldry, National Archives and Records Service).

The Canadian Heraldic Authority (Chancellery of Honours, Office of the Governor General of Canada) was the third and so far last of these new heraldry authorities, established in 1988, and the first and only one that isn’t a republic. From what can be gathered, the main two benefits of this is that 1) the new Authority has a lot more expertise on all sorts of Native semiotics and 2) the bar to getting your own coat of arms in Canada is set that much lower.

There are a few other little differences: for example, the CHA’s rules on inheritance of arms are based  on gender equality. Also, any arms issued by the CHA are able to be protected under the Trade-Marks Act of 1985.

The first Chief Herald, a man named Robert Watt, was Chief Herald from 1988 to 2007 and quit to become a citizenship magistrate in Vancouver. His successor, the current Chief Herald, is a woman named Claire Boudreau.



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