A Short History of the Arms of Trinity College School, Port Hope, Ontario
By Jonathan Good ’90
The TCS coat of arms can be seen on stationery, buildings, and signs all over the school. It has been in use for over one hundred years in one form or another, but its meaning is not immediately clear. This piece will explain why the coat of arms appears the way it does – the story, however, is not a simple one! To fully understand the coat of arms one must know something about the history of both Trinity College School and Trinity College at the University of Toronto, as well as something about coats of arms in general, that is, about heraldry.
The TCS coat of arms does not appear on the school seal, which features a crown, a triangle, and a rose, and which would have been cut shortly after the school was founded in 1865.
The coat of arms was in use by 1908, however, when it appeared on the cover of The Record, a school magazine.
This version of the arms was used throughout the twentieth century, but other ones also appeared. One is carved on the south wall of Boulden House…
…while another is carved above the main doors of Trinity House.
Perhaps the best-known version was drawn by Toronto artist Alexander Scott Carter in 1959.
A sculpture of Scott Carter’s version may be seen on the library.
In 1992, TCS got a new coat of arms. The full version of these arms can be seen on the wall of the lower gym, and on bookplates in the library.
An abbreviated version of this coat of arms is the one currently in use on letterhead, envelopes, and publications of the school. It does not look much different from Alexander Scott Carter’s 1959 version of the TCS arms.
It is important to realize that there are really only two different coats of arms here. All of the pre-1992 coats of arms are merely different versions of the same one, as are the two different 1992 arms. Heraldry has a number of features, which this piece will explain when appropriate. Here, for now, are three:
1. As long as a coat of arms is drawn according to its technical description, or blazon, it can be drawn in any number of different styles.
2. Not all components of a coat of arms need to be displayed together – “abbreviating” is a common practice.
3. Although colour is important to heraldry, it is perfectly acceptable to draw a coat of arms in outline (hence the version from the 1908 Record).
What, then, is the essential form of this old coat of arms – and why was it replaced by a new one in 1992?
The shield of the old coat of arms is divided in half vertically. The left side has a blue field with an arrangement of objects on it that include a crown, a key, a bishop’s staff, two open books, and a dove holding an olive branch in its beak.
The right side is itself divided horizontally. The upper half consists of a white field with a black inverted-V shape, or chevron, charged with a white otter’s head. The lower half consists of a blue field with a white horizontal band, with two gold diamonds above the band and one below.
Over the shield is a bishop’s hat, or mitre, and underneath the shield, on a scroll, is the school motto, BEATI MUNDO CORDE, or “Blest are the pure in heart” (from Matthew 5:8), originally proposed by TCS’s first headmaster, the Rev. C.H. Badgley (1865-70).
This coat of arms is actually three coats of arms in one. Here is another feature of heraldry: several coats of arms can be joined together, or marshalled, on the same shield, in order to indicate different things. Joining two coats of arms together side by side is called impaling them and is used to show either marriage, or the holding of a particular office. In the case of marriage the coat of arms of the husband is put on the left, and that of the wife on the right. In the case of office holding the coat of arms of an institution comes on the left, and that of the person heading it is on the right. Examples:
1. Arms of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother), married to King George VI.
2. Hilda Swan, married to Conrad Swan.
3. The arms of Ian Campbell, as Principal of Renison College in the University of Waterloo.
TCS’s impalement falls into the latter category, that of office holding. Specifically, it is the coat of arms of a bishop of the diocese of Toronto. On the left side of the shield are the arms of the Anglican diocese of Toronto, the diocese that the school is in and, of course, the Church it is associated with.
Which particular bishop? On the right side of TCS’s coat of arms there are two coats of arms joined together horizontally. The chevron and otter on the top are the arms of the Scottish family Balfour, and the band and three diamonds on the bottom are the arms of the Scottish family Bethune. Coats of arms are not normally joined together horizontally like this, and in fact the right side of the shield is only one half of a “quartered” coat of arms that shows the arms of Bethune in the first and fourth quarters, and those of Balfour in the second and third. This quartered Bethune-Balfour shield can be seen carved on one of the doors to Osler Hall, and on Bethune house.
Quartering normally indicates descent: whereas a husband and wife will impale their coats of arms together, their children will quarter them, with the father’s arms in the first and fourth quarters, and their mother’s in the second and third. Below: the arms of Bethune, the arms of Balfour, arms of a marriage between Bethune and Balfour, and the arms of their first son.
TCS’s arms, therefore, are quite clearly those of the Rt. Rev. Alexander Neil Bethune, bishop of Toronto from 1867 to 1879: on the one side are the arms of the diocese of Toronto, and on the other, one half of Bethune’s personal arms. It should be noted that, over time, the hollow diamonds of the Bethune arms were filled in and made solid, and the gold band between them became white. This is not something that should have happened, but it is not significant beyond simple error.
The mitre on the top of the shield completes the picture. Coats of arms are often topped with a particular type of headgear, which helps to identify whose coat of arms it is. A mitre, of course, is a bishop’s ceremonial hat, and will be placed over a bishop’s coat of arms.
The question thus arises: why was TCS using the coat of arms of the Rt. Rev. Alexander Neil Bethune, bishop of Toronto?
The answer: No one really knows!
Bishop Bethune’s son, the Rev. Charles James Stewart Bethune, was TCS’s second headmaster from 1870 to 1891, and again from 1893 to 1899, and the person for whom Bethune House is named. Bishop Bethune himself, however, had no direct connection to the school at all. The only possible explanation seems to be that TCS started using the arms of the second bishop of Toronto, because Trinity College was using the arms of the first.
Trinity College is now part of the University of Toronto, but was founded independently in 1852 by John Strachan, the first bishop of Toronto, who governed the diocese from 1839 until 1867. Trinity College, of course, originally sponsored TCS, which is how the school got its name. Until 1987, Trinity College used the same coat of arms that John Strachan had used when he was bishop of Toronto: on the one side are the arms of the diocese of Toronto, on the other, a stag, for Strachan. A mitre rests on top of the shield. Trinity College did not use a motto, but simply labelled the arms “Coll. S.S. Trins. Ap. Toron,” or “College of the Most Holy Trinity at Toronto.” The most familiar version of these arms was also drawn by Alexander Scott Carter.
John Strachan founded Trinity College, and the College, in his honour, used his arms. But this is not actually something it should have done. Another feature of heraldry, and a rather important one, is that coats of arms are supposed to be unique: no two people, or institutions, should use the same one. By using the arms that it did, Trinity College was actually proclaiming that it was, physically, Bishop Strachan. What is more, John Strachan had no right to the personal coat of arms that he used. The stag comes from the arms of Strachan of Glenkinchie, but Bishop Strachan was from an entirely different family, Strachan of Glenbucket.
Many people associated with Trinity College over the years knew about these problems, and tried to get the College to change its coat of arms. It was only in the 1980s that these efforts were successful. By then, however, Trinity had been using Bishop Strachan’s coat of arms for quite a long time. People were familiar with it, even if it was not actually appropriate to the College. Trinity wanted to change its coat of arms, but it wanted to do so as subtly as possible, in order to maintain a connection with what had gone before.
What did it do? It started with the stag. By reversing the stag’s head, and changing the colours of its hooves and horns from red to white, it changed that coat of arms enough to differentiate it from the arms of Strachan of Glenkinchie. This changed coat of arms was then assigned, posthumously, to Bishop Strachan. Admittedly, this was a bit of a stretch, but since the Strachans of Glenbucket never had legitimate arms themselves, there was no harm in it. A gold border was then put around the entire shield, to indicate that the College was the foundation of Bishop Strachan, and was not actually claiming to be him.
A mitre still rested, inappropriately, over the shield, and the College replaced it with a steel helmet, the proper headgear for an institution. And as an institution, Trinity was entitled to a crest. A crest is a device placed on top of a helmet, and although people often refer to coats of arms as “crests,” a crest is really only the part of the arms that appears on top – just as a crest is the top part of a wave. The arms of the province of Ontario feature a crest of a black bear…
…while the arms of Northumberland County (Ontario) feature a crest of a blue lion, holding a wheel, and rising from a mural coronet.
The helmet has been omitted from the Ontario arms, but is visible in the Northumberland arms. The Northumberland arms also feature decorative mantling, a piece of cloth originally meant to keep the sun from overheating a helmet, and usually shown as though it has been hacked with sword blows, and blowing in the wind.
The crest that Trinity chose was a bishop’s mitre, resting on a book. Although a mitre was inappropriate as identifying headgear for the College, a mitre could work as a crest, again, to refer to Bishop Strachan, without claiming to be him. A twisted wreath, or torse, joins the crest to the helmet, and mantling flies on each side.
As an independent foundation, Trinity College was also entitled to supporters, figures that stand on either side of the shield and hold it up. The College opted for a stag and a unicorn. The symbolism is fairly simple: the stag refers to John Strachan, and the unicorn to Scotland, the country he came from. Both supporters look backwards over their shoulders, as does the stag on the arms. They stand on a piece of ground called a “compartment,” from which seven trillium flowers grow, symbolizing the seven faculties that Trinity College originally granted degrees in. (These flowers also appear on the mitre.)
Finally, Trinity also adopted its own motto, ΜΕΤ ΑΓΩΝΑ ΣΤΕΦΑΝΟΣ, Greek for “after the struggle, the crown.”
These new arms, therefore, are much more appropriate to Trinity College as an institution. They say “I am the foundation of the Bishop of Toronto, John Strachan of Glenbucket.” What is more, with the helmet, mantling, supporters, and compartment removed, the resulting “abbreviated” coat of arms looks almost exactly like the coat of arms Trinity had always used. (The torse under the book, and the book itself, indicate that the mitre is a crest, and not some sort of identifying headgear.) Here, therefore, is the best of both worlds: a unique and appropriate coat of arms that enjoys visual continuity with what went before.
One might wonder who supervised all this. Who advised Trinity about proper heraldic practice? The answer: one of the heralds at the College of Arms in London. Yet another characteristic of coats of arms is that, from about the early fifteenth century in England and its colonies, they have actually been grants of honour from the Crown. The Queen employs a number of people called heralds to grant arms on her behalf, to ensure that these arms are unique, well designed, and appropriate to the people who will use them. In England, these heralds are members of a corporation called the College of Arms, and are entrusted with regulating heraldry in England and much of the former British Empire. Prior to 1988 anyone in Canada who wanted a proper coat of arms would have applied to the College of Arms in England or its Scottish equivalent, the Court of the Lord Lyon. In 1987, therefore, Trinity College had arms granted to it by the Queen through Her Majesty’s College of Arms.
Inspired by Trinity College, TCS set out to change its own coat of arms. Some of its problems were the same as those of Trinity College:
1. By using the arms it did, TCS was claiming, heraldically, to be a bishop of Toronto.
2. Like John Strachan, A.N. Bethune had no right to use the personal arms that he did. Bishop Bethune was descended from the original Bethune-Balfour marriage recorded in his coat of arms, but he was not a direct, first-male descendant. To keep to the principle that a coat of arms should be borne by one person only, younger children ought to change, or “difference,” their coats of arms in some subtle way. This Bethune did not do.
Other problems, however, were problems of TCS’s own:
3. Marshalling. Even if Bishop Bethune was entitled to the arms he used, by rights he should have impaled the full, quartered Bethune-Balfour arms with the arms of his diocese. Such a coat of arms can be seen commemorating Bishop Bethune in St. Alban’s church in Toronto.
It is clear that someone wanted to save space when representing Bethune’s coat of arms. But when only half of Bethune’s personal arms were impaled with the arms of his diocese, the Balfour quarter ended up on top. This made it more important heraldically and declared, in effect, that Bethune’s name was really Balfour.
4. Colour. Coats of arms can be drawn simply in outline, but colour is fundamental to heraldry. The field of the arms of the diocese of Toronto, and of the Bethune quarter, are blue. But the school colours are maroon and black – and blue is the colour of archrival Upper Canada College! Many versions of the old coat of arms, therefore, substituted maroon for blue, to make it more “appropriate” to TCS. Below, a blazer badge from 1986 and a fridge magnet from 1990, both featuring the TCS arms in maroon.
Substituting maroon for blue may have been understandable, but it was also erroneous. One should not arbitrarily change the colours of a coat of arms – and doing so was not enough, in any case, to make the coat of arms unique to TCS. The marshalling, and the headgear, are still there, still saying, “I am a bishop.”
5. Finally, Trinity College may have been founded by John Strachan, but TCS had no direct connection to Bishop Bethune. (An interesting side note is that Bishop Bethune’s arms were also used by Bishop Bethune College, a girls’ school that existed in Oshawa, Ontario from 1889 to 1932. If Bishop Bethune College were still with us, that institution would arguably have a better claim to a version of Bethune’s arms, since it was actually named after him!)
In order to solve all these problems, TCS would have been quite justified in designing a new coat of arms from scratch. But despite everything, by the early 1990s TCS had been using its arms for over eighty years. People recognized them. As with the arms of Trinity College, any changes to the TCS arms would have to be done very gingerly.
It is safe to say that they were. The first problem to be overcome was finding some justification for using the arms of Bishop Bethune, for the man did not found TCS. That honour goes to the Rev. William Johnson, who founded the school in the rectory of St. Philip’s Church in Weston, Ontario, in 1865, two years before Bethune was consecrated bishop of Toronto. Johnson, however, had earlier been a curate under Bethune when Bethune was an archdeacon at Cobourg, Ontario, and Bethune was bishop when TCS moved to Port Hope in 1868. This, then, was the connection required to keep Bishop Bethune’s arms in play: TCS, it could be said, was refounded in Port Hope under Bethune’s watch in 1868. And since Bishop Bethune wrote to his son Charles that it was his “duty to accept” the headmastership offered to him in 1870, one can say that the bishop was an important, if indirect, influence in the early life of the school.
With that in mind, TCS started with the right side of the shield: the arms of Balfour and Bethune were combined by placing the gold diamonds on a blue field. In place of the white band formerly between them, the chevron’s colour was changed from black to white (and that of its otter’s head from white to black), and placed between the diamonds. The resulting, unique coat of arms was assigned posthumously to Bishop Bethune – John Bethune ’31, the bishop’s nearest descendant, gave permission for this to happen. One might also say that the new arms are a modest improvement, artistically, on what went before. A border was put around the bishop’s arms, to indicate that TCS is not Bishop Bethune himself but only something derived from him.
Two details should be noted: although the original arms of Bethune show three hollow diamonds, or mascles, over the years those diamonds were filled in in the TCS coat of arms. It was decided to continue using solid diamonds, or lozenges, in Bishop Bethune’s posthumous arms. Also, while the border around the arms of Trinity College is gold, the border around the arms of TCS is white, to indicate that a different sort of relationship exists between Bethune and TCS than the relationship between Strachan and Trinity College.
And speaking of colour, the arms of TCS are properly blue. The Toronto diocesan arms are blue, and the original Bethune arms feature gold diamonds on a blue background. The new, combined Bethune-Balfour arms have a black otter’s head on a white chevron on a blue field, between three gold diamonds. People might see this colour scheme as unfortunate, because the school colours are maroon and black, but it does not need to be. Maroon and black are actually TCS’s sports colours, and there is no reason why the school cannot have different corporate, or heraldic, colours. This situation occurs fairly often: the flags of Australia and New Zealand are red, white, blue, while their sports colours are, respectively, gold and black.
Similarly, the flag of the Netherlands is red, white, and blue, while its sports colour is orange; the flag of Italy is green, white, and red, while its sports colour is blue.
Closer to home, the colour of both sides of the Trinity College coat of arms is also blue, but the sporting and “undergraduate” College colours have always been red and black. Searching for absolute uniformity in identifying colours is misguided – and the reason why it is wrong for TCS to continue to show its new coat of arms with a maroon background, as it does in several places.
To return to the TCS arms, we see that, like the arms of Trinity College, the mitre above the shield was replaced with a helmet, but retained as a crest, with the further addition of a book. The mitre is charged with scallop shells, which were taken from the crest of a coat of arms used by Johnson. Taking a small part of this coat of arms and including it on the TCS coat of arms was thought to be a nice gesture in honour of TCS’s actual founder.
Like Trinity, TCS also wanted supporters. On the one side stands the stag of Trinity College, on the other a bear, TCS’s beloved sports mascot. To ensure that the supporters are unique, and appropriate, to TCS they wear collars of maroon and black. They stand on a compartment from which grow two maple saplings, symbolizing the education of Canadian youth.
The coat of arms in current, everyday use by the school is an abbreviated version of the full 1992 arms, and looks a lot like the arms as they were used prior to 1992. As with Trinity College, this was the whole point: the new arms are unique and appropriate to TCS, but enjoy visual continuity with what went before. The new TCS arms were drawn by Gordon Macpherson, who studied under Alexander Scott Carter, thereby providing even greater continuity.
The Queen granted these arms to TCS in 1992, but not through the College of Arms. In 1988, the Canadian Heraldic Authority was founded in Ottawa, in order that Canadian heralds could grant Canadian coats of arms on behalf of the Queen. TCS’s arms were presented to the school on October 17, 1992, by Robert Watt, Chief Herald of Canada.
As an aside, it is important to realize that since TCS sought visual continuity with the past in its new coat of arms, nothing on the shield itself relates directly to the school. This goes against previous explanations of the school coat of arms, where the books were “books of learning” or the key was the “key of knowledge.”
For the record, the arms of the diocese of Toronto were probably designed by Bishop Strachan himself, and although they have little to do with Toronto as such, they are a useful illustration of Strachan’s ideas of churchmanship, and of the political situation in Upper Canada in the wake of William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion of 1837. At the top is the royal crown, symbolizing the monarch’s position as head of the Church of England and, to people like Strachan, of Upper Canadian society. The key of St. Peter and the crozier are historically Anglican symbols of episcopacy, and they are placed between an open Bible and an open Prayer Book, the two fundamental texts of the Anglican Church. At the bottom is the dove that brought back an olive branch to Noah as the Flood was abating, from Genesis 8:11, and which can symbolize the peace and reconciliation that was to prevail in Upper Canada following the defeat of the rebellion.
The arms of Bethune and Balfour are somewhat different. While the arms of institutions like the diocese of Toronto can be full of symbolism, the arms of people often are not. All that is really needed for a personal coat of arms is a unique design, that itself symbolizes the person whose coat of arms it is. This is especially the case with older coats of arms, and the Bethune-Balfour arms are certainly old. They were first joined together when Robert de Betune married the heiress Janet Balfor around the year 1375. John de Betune, the son of Robert and Janet, was the first to quarter the arms of Bethune and Balfour, and in this form they were inherited for centuries. One of the more famous people to use it was David Cardinal Beaton (c. 1494-1546), archbishop of St. Andrews and Primate of Scotland, who condemned the Protestant George Wishart to death and was subsequently murdered by John Leslie, another Protestant.
David Bethune, 16th laird of Balfour (d. 1731), also bore the arms, and displayed them on a bookplate.
But if there ever was any reason why the Bethunes chose to represent themselves with diamonds (either hollow or, as in David Bethune’s arms, filled in), or why the Balfours chose an otter’s head on a chevron, it is probably long forgotten. So for the time being, the origin of the otter’s head will still be “shrouded in mystery.” For the purposes of TCS, the chevron, the otter’s head, and the diamonds are simply symbols that Bishop Bethune had used to identify himself.
To sum up, then, the new TCS arms say: “I am the refoundation [silver border] of the Anglican bishop of Toronto [left side of shield, mitre], Alexander Neil Bethune [right side of shield]. I am a school [open book on crest] founded by William Arthur Johnson [scallop shells]. I was named for Trinity College, Toronto [stag] and play sports under the sign of the bear [bear] and the colours maroon and black [supporters’ collars]. And I am Canadian, and dedicated to young people [maple saplings].”
The blazon of the coat of arms is: The Arms of the Diocese of Toronto of the Anglican Church of Canada impaling Azure on a chevron Argent between three lozenges Or an otter’s head erased Sable all within a bordure Argent. For the crest: Above a helmet mantled Azure doubled Or on a wreath of these colours an open book edged Or bound Gules resting on the pages thereof a mitre Argent charged with two scallop shells in fess Or the orphreys also Or the infulae Azure fringed Or. For the motto: Beati Mundo Corde. And for supporters: On a grassy mount bearing two maple saplings proper leaved Or dexter a stag also Or unguled and attired Argent and gorged with a torse Gules and Sable sinister a bear Or armed Argent and gorged with a like collar.
(The arms of the Diocese of Toronto are: Azure, a crozier in bend dexter, surmounted by a key in bend sinister Or, between an Imperial Crown in chief two open books in fess proper, and a dove in base Argent, holding in the beak an olive branch Vert. These arms were assigned through the College of Arms by Royal Warrant of Queen Victoria in 1839 and registered with the Canadian Heraldic Authority in 2012.)
Addendum: On December 15, 2016, Trinity College School received the grant of a flag from the Canadian Heraldic Authority. Here is the drawing that accompanies the letters patent, on display at the school.
And here is a close-up of the flag from the same document. Following British and Canadian custom, the flag is twice as long as it is high. The arms of TCS have been rendered on a central square (a “Canadian pale”), while the ends are in blue, matching the field of the arms.
TCS also adopted another flag, for sporting, everyday, and student use. This one has ends in black and maroon, the sports colours, and features a classic TCS monogram on the central Canadian pale.
Unfortunately, letters are frowned on in heraldry, so this flag could not be granted by the CHA. But as a design, it is much better than two previous flags that TCS has employed, which feature many more letters and/or small coats of arms.
Design-wise, both new flags match the national flag, and can be displayed together nicely.
Acknowledgements: Don Aitchison, Robert Black, Gordon Macpherson, George McNellie, Bruce Patterson, Chris Robert, and Jennifer Weymark of the Oshawa Museum Archives.