Who trusted in God first, New Westminster or the United States of America? How many animals on New Westminster’s coat of arms? Wait…New West has a coat of arms?
The answers to all of these questions and more are the topic of two free workshops at the Anvil Centre this month by local heraldic artist and graphic designer Allan Ailo.
The first session – this Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. – is for kids aged eight to 12.
Titled Coats of Arms: Knights, Shields and Flags, the session will walk kids through the process of creating their own coats of arms, with help from members of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada – of which Ailo is the Vancouver branch president.
Grownups get their turn on Feb. 27 at Introduction to Heraldry, a three-hour session that will explore heraldry by looking at coats of arms in New West and Canada and give participants a chance to explore what their own coats of arms might look like and how to acquire them.
“Most Canadians don’t realize that they can petition for a coat of arms and create a legacy for their children and future generations,” Ailo said.
A coat of arms is basically a shield with a design, he said, following some traditions that date back 900 years.
Examples can be found all over New West, like the Bank of Nova Scotia’s corporate coat of arms on the deposit box of the bank on the corner of Begbie and Columbia streets; and the Bank of Montreal’s coat of arms which survives above a bridal shop on the corner of Church and Columbia streets – once the site of a bank.
Then, of course, there’s the city’s own civic coat of arms, the earliest version of which was conceived in 1860 by a Cpl. White of the Royal Engineers.
He first came up with city’s motto – In God We Trust – in 1860, six years before the American government first used the motto on coins in 1866 and long before the U.S. adopted it as that country’s official motto in 1956.
The city’s current coat of arms – not officially granted by the Canadian Heraldic Authority until 1992 – has four animals on it: two red lions, a gold bear and two salmon.
Canadian heraldry follows the English tradition, according to Ailo, with some unique Canadian twists.
Besides using local flora and fauna as emblems, like orcas and dogwood flowers, there’s also more of a multicultural flavour to Canadian coats of arms being designed today.
“I’ve seen a couple of very attractive ones for people of Chinese descent who use a Chinese dragon, which works very nicely,” Ailo said. “It’s attractive and it provides a link for that person to their past and their family.”
Canada also broke with tradition by granting both men and women the right to bear arms, Ailo said. In Europe, coats of arms have been a traditionally male affair, with fathers passing them on to sons, and women displaying their father’s and then husband’s arms.
Ailo’s workshops are free, but registration is required for Saturday’s event. Call 604-527-4640 to sign up and cite registration number 146656.