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Governor General of Canada / Gouverneur général du Canadaa




The Coat of Arms of
The Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson

Description and symbolism

ImageShield: The phoenix rising from flames is a blend of Eastern and Western symbolism: the Chinese-style phoenix represents Mme Clarkson's family's roots among the Toysan and Hakka people in Southern China, as well as her birthplace, Hong Kong. This Chinese phoenix is linked with the Western cultural symbolism of the bird rising from the flames, representing rebirth and re-creation. Her family has long valued this idea because it recalls how they arrived in Canada with nothing and rebuilt their lives from the ashes of the Second World War. The maple leaf in the flames indicates their new beginnings as Canadians. The Chinese phoenix is modelled on a fabric decoration example from the Qing Dynasty of the 18th century. This model was proposed by Dr. Suan-Seh Foo, a Toronto physician and artist. In Chinese culture the "feng huang" (phoenix) is a magical bird embodying the Yin (female) principle and is associated with the element of fire. As the Chief of Birds, it is one of the four spiritual animals, along with the unicorn, chief of all quadrupeds; the tortoise, chief of all creatures with shells; and the dragon, chief of all scaly animals. Of these four, it is deemed the most auspicious. It also represents the five cardinal virtues: Benevolence, Righteousness/Justice, Reverence, Wisdom, and Trust/Integrity. (The four Western cardinal virtues -- Justice, Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance -- and three theological virtues -- Faith, Hope and Love -- show some linkage with the five Chinese virtues.) Thus the phoenix is also linked to another important notion for Mme Clarkson, that the governor generalship must embody a balance of ethics, experience and compassion. Mme Clarkson's long career as a television journalist is represented by the lightning flash. The Royal Crown symbolizes her service as Governor General, and as the Sovereign's representative.

Crest: The helmet has mantling and a wreath in red and gold. The trilliums represent both Mme Clarkson's home province, Ontario, and the meaning of her Chinese first name, which is a metaphor for "ice flowering branch". The loon is commonly found around her island cottage on Georgian Bay. She and her husband, John Ralston Saul, have long admired the loon and participate in efforts to protect and conserve the local population of loons and other wildlife. She feels it also symbolizes the magnificent nature of the North and has resonance for many Canadians who admire its call and its beauty.

The Supporters and Compartment: The tigers are Mme Clarkson's favourite animals. She was born in the Year of the Tiger according to the ancient Chinese astrological calendar, and she has long been fascinated by the grace, courage and power of this animal. The cross and white disc are a symbol of her faith, based on the badge granted to the Anglican Church of Canada in 1995. The rocks and trees represent the landscape of Their Excellencies' cottage at Georgian Bay, similar to the windswept pines and granite slopes immortalized by several of the Group of Seven. This setting also symbolizes her love for the North.

Motto: On a scroll at the base of the design is the phrase "VERUM SOLUM DICATUR . VERUM SOLUM ACCIPIATUR". This is derived from a prayer, "May only the truth be spoken, may only the truth be heard". Here it can also be translated as "May only truth be spoken, may only truth be received through hearing". This is a favourite phrase of Mme Clarkson's, which embodies a very important element of what she feels all Canadians should expect to receive and hear: truth and integrity. Translation assistance for the motto was provided by Professor Ian McDonald of the University of Toronto at Scarborough.

(December 2004)

Updated: 2019-03-29
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