Loyalist Heraldry in Canada

A short article of mine has just appeared in The Loyalist Gazette. I reprint it here.

It stands to reason that Canadians of Loyalist descent would be well disposed towards heraldry, a symbol-system that both identifies and serves as a mark of honour from the Crown. Prior to 1988, Canadian persons or corporations wishing to receive a legitimate grant of arms would apply to the College of Arms in London (or, if especially Scottish, to the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh). The United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada certainly did: in 1972, it received a grant of arms through the College of Arms which is doubtlessly familiar to all UELAC members.1

It’s a beautiful composition, and its meaning is straightforward. On the shield, thirteen swords and one tomahawk, all extending outwards, surround a crown, neatly symbolizing Loyalists from the thirteen colonies, and their Indian allies, who defended the monarch against the American revolutionaries. The symbolism is repeated on the crest: a colonist’s arm and a native’s arm both hold up the eighteenth-century British flag under which the Loyalists fought.

Photo by the author.

The UELAC was also granted a badge, a secondary mark useful for when a full coat of arms might be a little too elaborate. The UELAC badge consists of a cypher of King George III (1760-1820), surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves and oak leaves. I was pleased to see the badge in use on a sign for a UEL cemetery in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, last summer. As John Ruch once noted in the Loyalist Gazette: “the Royal Crown, the old Union Banner, and the Royal Cypher of George III can be granted only with Her Majesty’s permission. To receive any one of these is regarded as an especial honour, but to be given three is very rare indeed.”2

Persistent lobbying by the Heraldry Society of Canada paid off in 1988 when Prime Minister Brian Mulroney arranged for the foundation of the Canadian Heraldic Authority as a Canadian alternative to the College of Arms or the Court of the Lord Lyon.3 Since the CHA is headquartered in Ottawa, and not in London, and since the fees it charges are much lower than those required by the College of Arms, heraldry has become a lot more accessible to Canadians, whether individuals or corporations. By any metric the CHA has been a great success, having granted or registered over three thousand different arms, flags, and badges to worthy citizens over the course of its 32-year history. A new and enthusiastic Chief Herald of Canada, Samy Khalid, took office in June 2020 and is set to continue this legacy.

Canadians of Loyalist descent are understandably interested in recognizing their heritage, and the three symbols established by the grant of arms to UELAC in 1972 have all made appearances in grants of arms from the CHA. The most obvious is Great Britain’s eighteenth-century flag, a combination of the Cross of St. George and St. Andrew’s Saltire, the product of the parliamentary union of England and Scotland that went into effect in 1707. Since this flag was modified in 1801 by the addition of St. Patrick’s saltire for Ireland, in recognition of the Irish parliamentary union which took place that year, the previous version is now historic, and used quite a lot by UELAC to honour those who fought under it, as a perusal of this magazine demonstrates. Settlements with Loyalist connections have also availed themselves heraldically of the flag. The Town of Gananoque, Ontario (arms granted 2000) displays it on the top left of its shield.

One of the lion supporters in the arms of the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (granted 2013) also holds it:

Loyalist-founded towns can also have it included it as a canton on their flags, as do the Town of Picton (1989) and Village of Bath (1997), both in Ontario. This design makes for a handsome flag, in the mode of Ontario’s flag or the old Canadian Red Ensign.

Our second symbol, the royal cypher of King George III, is also definitely historic, as it represents the actual king whom the Loyalists fought for. The Anglican Church in St. Andrews, N.B., founded by Loyalists, received a cypher of “GR” (for “Georgius Rex”) on its coat of arms, granted in 2006.

Photo by the author.

But as far as I am aware this is the only CHA grant to include this mark. It would be nice to see more use made of it. One might say that it is a little too detailed, and purists claim that letters do not belong on coats of arms, but the cypher does help to rescue George III from the calumny heaped upon him by the U.S. Declaration of Independence. (It would have been great if George III had a royal personal badge parallel to Richard II’s White Hart, Edward IV’s rose-en-soleil, or Richard III’s boar. However, this essentially medieval custom was abandoned by the eighteenth century in favor of royal cyphers.)

Yet the Loyalists were not just fighting for a particular king, but kingship in general. Our third symbol, the royal crown, unambiguously represents the monarchy as a concept, and not just a particular monarch. Insofar as Canada is still a monarchy, however, that also presents us with a slight problem. The crown is not just historic, it is current, and used by many official agencies to represent the power they exercise on behalf of the ultimate guarantor of it. It is likely that significant overlap exists between descendants of Loyalists and supporters of Canada’s monarchy, but these are two separate things, and it is good to maintain a symbolic distinction between them. Furthermore, the royal crown, as an emblem, is not available to just anyone. Generally, the only people allowed to put it on their own coats of arms are Governors General. What’s a good Canadian Loyalist to do, if he wants to represent his heritage?


The answer: use one of the two Loyalist coronets devised in the early days of the Canadian Heraldic Authority. The great thing about a coronet is that it references a crown without actually being one. The coronets consist of alternating maple leaves and oak leaves, as suggested by the wreath surrounding the royal cypher in the UELAC badge. This is a great combination: since they’re both leaves, they’re graphically parallel to each other; furthermore, the oak leaf is royal, representing a political principle; it’s not ethnically “English” necessarily. It is true that the Loyalists themselves might not have recognized a maple leaf as symbolic of their new homeland, but the maple leaf was certainly in use by 1867 to represent Canada and has remained a preeminent national symbol ever since. Finally, the Queen’s permission is not required to use a Loyalist coronet – only proof of descent of the sort required by UELAC.

As a graphical mark it has several advantages. It can be shown in any color or combination of colors. It can be shown on the shield in two dimensions, or on the crest or supporters in three dimensions – and since it is circular, it can surround some other object. A separate “military” coronet (with pairs of crossed swords) is reserved for the descendants of those who actually fought for the king in the Revolution; otherwise, the “civilian” coronet can be used by individuals or corporations alike. Several Loyalist coronets may be seen in the grants of arms above. Others appear in the shield of the City of Quinte West, Ontario (1998):

On the supporters of the arms of Albert College in Belleville, Ontario (2017):

And on all three of the shield, supporters, and crest of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society of Shelburne, N.S. (2006):

Four examples of Loyalist coronets in personal arms may be seen on the shields of Robert Bengry (2011), Kenneth Calder (2000), David Dorward (2004), and Kawartha Branch member David Rumball (2002). This is only a small sample of the many Loyalist coronets that the CHA has granted to Canadians of Loyalist descent.

One more heraldic symbol may be mentioned. As you can see on the arms of Gananoque above, Loyalist-founded settlements can sometimes depict actual Loyalists as their supporters. Gananoque’s is designated “a Loyalist woman tempore 1784.” The Village of Bath and Loyalist Township (formed from the amalgamation of Bath, Amherst Island, and Ernestown in 1999) both show a “woman habited as a Loyalist settler” and a “man habited in the uniform of the Jessup’s Loyal Rangers tempore 1784.” (Loyalist coronets and the 1707 Union Flag may also be seen in these grants.)

The problem with human supporters, however, is that they come with a very high opportunity cost. Any person depicted automatically excludes everyone else! Thus does the CHA tend to discourage them, although there can be no doubt, in these cases, whom they are supposed to represent.

Anyone interested in the possibility of a grant of arms (with or without any Loyalist symbolism) should contact the Chief Herald of Canada at Rideau Hall, 1 Sussex Dr., Ottawa, ON K1A 0A1, or by email at armorial@gg.ca.

Except where noted, all illustrations are from the Online Register of Arms, Flags, and Badges of Canada. Used by permission.


1. See Conrad Swan, “The Armorial Bearings of The United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada,” The Loyalist Gazette 10.2 (Autumn 1972).

2. John E. Ruch, “The Canadian Heraldic Authority and the Loyalists,” The Loyalist Gazette 28.2 (Autumn 1990).

3. See John E. Ruch, “An Heraldic Authority for Canada,” The Loyalist Gazette 26.2 (Autumn 1988).