The symbols of Canada’s military heritage are largely inherited from British military traditions. Central symbols include the white, blue and red ensigns used in the First and Second World Wars, at Canadian military bases, and in NATO and peacekeeping operations until 1965. At that time, they were replaced by the new Canadian flag and later by newly developed military flags.
In addition, many of the symbols traditionally associated with Canada – like the maple leaf, the beaver and the Crown – are a prominent feature of the military’s identity system. Aboriginal symbols and animals, including the Canada goose and the muskox, also appear in military badges.
Military badges and flags
A number of popular Canadian symbols can be seen in this brief selection of badges and flags. Visit the National Defence and Canadian Forces galleries to view more military badges and flags.
National and provincial honours
Established by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is at the heart of the Canadian Honours System; it recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. While contributions are varied, they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country. Since its creation, more than 6,000 people from all sectors of society have been invested into the Order of Canada.
Starting in the 1980s, the provinces began to create their own highest honours. Known as the Provincial Orders, these honours celebrate outstanding service to the provincial community. Although Provincial Orders are not part of the Canadian Honours System, they have their place in the Canadian Order of Precedence of Orders, Decorations and Medals.
Order of Canada
The Order of Canada – our country's highest honour for lifetime achievement – was established on July 1, 1967, the 100th anniversary of Confederation. From local citizens to national and international personalities, all Canadians are eligible for the Order of Canada.
Appointments are made by the Governor General based on the recommendations of the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada. The Advisory Council meets twice a year under the chairmanship of the Chief Justice of Canada to consider nominations submitted by members of the public.
There are three levels of membership:
- Companion (C.C.), recognizing the highest degree of service to Canada or humanity;
- Officer (O.C.), recognizing national service and merit of a high degree; and
- Member (C.M.), recognizing outstanding contributions at the local or regional level or in a specialized field of activity.
The number of living Companions is limited to 165 by the Order’s constitution; Companions may be appointed only when a vacancy occurs, while those honoured at the Officer or Member level may be upgraded.
The Order of Canada’s badge is a stylized, six-pointed snowflake bearing the Crown and a maple leaf. It is worn at the neck by Companions and Officers, but on the left breast by Members. Recipients are entitled to place the initials of their level of appointment after their names: C.C., O.C., or C.M. Also, they all may wear a small replica of the badge on street clothes.
The motto of the Order of Canada is Desiderantes meliorem patriam, meaning “they desire a better country.”
Ordre national du Québec (Order of Quebec) – French only
In 1984, the Quebec legislature created the Ordre national du Québec to honour individuals who have helped gain recognition for Quebec. Whether in the scientific, artistic or social spheres, the order recognizes their accomplishments.
The motto of the Ordre national du Québec is Honneur au peuple du Québec (Honour to the people of Quebec).
The insignia is awarded once a year by the Premier of Quebec on the advice of a special nine-member elected council. There are three levels of decoration in the Order:
- Chevalier/Chevalière (C.Q.), which is a knight;
- Officier/Officière (O.Q.), which is an officer; and
- Grand officier / Grande officière (G.O.Q.), which is a grand officer.
Saskatchewan Order of Merit
The Saskatchewan Order of Merit (S.O.M.) is the province’s most prestigious honour. It was established in 1985 to recognize individual excellence, outstanding achievement and exceptional contributions to the social, cultural and economic well-being of the province and its residents. The Order is awarded to a maximum of 10 individuals each year by the Lieutenant Governor, based on the recommendations of the Saskatchewan Honours Advisory Council.
The Order recognizes Saskatchewan residents who have made their mark in such areas as the arts, agriculture, business and industry, community leadership, the occupations or professions, public service, research, and volunteer service.
The insignia worn by members of the Saskatchewan Order of Merit includes a silver and enamel medal representing a stylized western red lily (Saskatchewan’s floral emblem), bearing the Crown and shield of arms of the province. It is surrounded by a circular band with the provincial motto, Multis e gentibus vires, meaning “From many peoples strength.”
The medal is worn with a ribbon of gold and green, the official colours of the province. There is also a miniature of the full-size medal and a lapel pin representing a stylized lily with the Crown. Recipients of the Order are entitled to use the letters S.O.M. after their names.
Order of Ontario
In 1986, the Government of Ontario established the Order of Ontario (O. Ont.). It is awarded every year to Ontario residents who have demonstrated excellence and achievement in any field of endeavour, and whose contributions have enriched the lives of others and benefited their communities.
All nominations for the Order are considered by an advisory council that includes:
- the Chief Justice of Ontario, who is Chairperson;
- the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario; and
- the Secretary to the Cabinet and Clerk of the Executive Council.
The Lieutenant Governor is the Honorary Chairperson of the Advisory Council. Members of the Order may use the letters O.Ont. after their names.
The insignia of the Order is a stylized trillium (Ontario’s floral emblem) in white and green enamel, edged in gold. In the centre of the trillium is the coat of arms of the province, surmounted by the Crown. The ribbon of the Order is red (the colour of Ontario’s flag) as well as white, green and gold, the colours of the trillium.
Order of British Columbia
The Order of British Columbia (O.B.C.) was created by the provincial legislature in 1989. It recognizes persons who have served with the greatest distinction and excelled in any field of endeavour, benefiting the people of British Columbia or elsewhere.
The honour is awarded each year by the Lieutenant Governor, based on the recommendations of a seven-member advisory council, chaired by the provincial Chief Justice. The Lieutenant Governor is Honorary Chairperson of the Advisory Council. Members of the Order may use the initials O.B.C. after their names.
The insignia is a medal in the form of a stylized dogwood (British Columbia's floral emblem), featuring a crowned shield of arms. The recipient may wear a full-size medal of the Order suspended from a ribbon of green, white, yellow and dark blue. A lapel pin button of the Order may also be worn.
Alberta Order of Excellence
The Alberta Order of Excellence (A.O.E.) was established in 1979 to recognize individuals who have rendered service of the greatest distinction and of singular excellence for, or on behalf of Albertans. It is the highest honour that can be awarded to an Albertan by the province.
The Lieutenant Governor of Alberta is Chancellor of the Order. The Council of the Alberta Order of Excellence, a volunteer body of six prominent Albertans, makes recommendations to the Lieutenant Governor as to which individuals should be honoured with membership in the Order.
The Order’s insignia consists of a silver, gilt and enamel medallion attached to a ribbon of blue, white, gold, and burgundy, which is presented to Members along with a miniature of the insignia design. The gold sections between the four arms of the medallion represent prairie wheat, and on them are depicted wild roses (Alberta’s floral emblem), while the central disc contains the provincial coat of arms. Members of the Order are entitled to use the initials A.O.E. after their names.
Order of Prince Edward Island
The Order of Prince Edward Island (O.P.E.I.), the province’s highest honour, is awarded to individual islanders whose efforts and accomplishments have been truly exemplary. The Order was formalized by the provincial legislature in 1997. It is meant to encourage and acknowledge outstanding achievements and contributions of individual citizens to the social, cultural and economic life of the province and its residents.
An independent advisory council considers nominations for the Order and makes final recommendations to the Premier as President of the Executive Council. The Lieutenant Governor, who is Chancellor of the Order, confers the honour to a maximum of three people at an annual ceremony at Government House.
The Order’s insignia includes an enamelled medallion that incorporates the provincial arms, suspended from a ribbon of rust red, white and green. Recipients are also given a stylized lapel pin and a miniature medal to be worn on less formal occasions. They are entitled to use the letters O.P.E.I. after their names.
Order of Manitoba
The Order of Manitoba (O.M.) was established in 1999 to recognize individuals who have demonstrated excellence and achievement, and have made a mark on Manitoba and its people. Recipients come from various fields of endeavour such as agriculture, business and industry, volunteer service, education and research, the literary, visual and performing arts, occupational and professional achievement as well as public and community service.
The appointments are announced by the Lieutenant Governor, as Chancellor of the Order, around the anniversary date that the Manitoba Act was passed by Parliament (May 12, 1870); investitures are held around the anniversary date that Manitoba entered Confederation (July 15, 1870). Members are entitled to use the initials O.M. after their names.
The insignia is a medal in the form of a stylized crocus (Manitoba's floral emblem) bearing the shield of arms of the province surmounted by the Crown. It is worn with a white, light blue and red ribbon.
Order of New Brunswick
Established in 2000, the Order of New Brunswick (O.N.B.) recognizes individuals who have demonstrated excellence and achievement, and who have made outstanding contributions to the social, cultural or economic well-being of New Brunswick and its residents. The Order may be conferred posthumously in exceptional circumstances. No more than 10 individuals may be appointed each year. Members of the Order are entitled to use the initials O.N.B. after their names.
The insignia is a medal in the form of a stylized purple violet (New Brunswick's floral emblem) bearing the shield of arms of the province surmounted by the Crown. It is worn with a red, gold and blue ribbon, the colours of the shield of arms.
Order of Nova Scotia
The Order of Nova Scotia (O.N.S.) was created by an Act of the Legislature in 2001 to encourage excellence by recognizing Nova Scotians for outstanding contributions or achievements. Members of the Order have distinguished themselves in many fields of endeavour, bringing honour and prestige to themselves and to Nova Scotia. They are entitled to use the initials O.N.S. after their names.
The insignia is a medal in the form of a stylized mayflower (Nova Scotia’s floral emblem) bearing the shield of arms of the province surmounted by the Crown. It is worn with a blue, white, red and gold ribbon, the colours of the provincial flag.
Order of Newfoundland and Labrador
The Order of Newfoundland and Labrador (O.N.L.) was proclaimed in 2002 to recognize individuals who have demonstrated excellence and achievement in any field of endeavour benefiting the province and its residents.
The honour is given each year by the Lieutenant Governor, who is Chancellor of the Order. The Advisory Council may recommend to the Chancellor up to eight Canadian citizens who are current or former long‑term residents of the province.
In addition, an individual who is not a Canadian citizen or current or former long-term resident of the province may be recommended to receive the Order as an honorary member. The individual must have demonstrated excellence in his or her field of endeavour, and his or her endeavours must have benefited in an outstanding manner the province and its residents. Recipients of the Order are entitled to use the initials O.N.L. after their names.
The insignia of the Order is a stylized pitcher plant (Newfoundland and Labrador’s floral emblem) with petals of labradorite (its mineral emblem). In the centre of the pitcher plant is the shield of arms of Newfoundland and Labrador surmounted by the Crown. The ribbon is green, white, blue and gold.
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