This web page describes the background behind the rich heraldry
behind the badges of the Canadian Navy. These badges provide
an emblem for ships, air squadrons, reserve divisions and
shore establishments and come directly from the long-standing
traditions of the Royal Navy.
These badges are symbols of
allegiance and represent the name, the origin and sometimes
the function of each vessel. As graphic devices of identification
they conform to the requirements of any badge, but are more
elaborate and individualistic than some devices. The rationale
of a badge originates in the context of combat where easy recognition
of friend and foe is vital. Symbols, or badges, have been identified
on shields, armour, flags, pennants, ship's castles and so on,
from earliest times. Badge and crest are two terms that are
Canadian naval badges demonstrate a number of directions that
can be taken in constructing a two-dimensional representation
of a name. Since a large percentage of these vessels are named
for a city, township or province the badge designer has been
able to use elements from an heraldic device associated with
the name. In the example of HMCS Saskatchewan, this is an original
Canadian source - the wheat sheaf from the provincial coat of
arms, but another direct but distant source is seen in HMCS
Digby where the ostrich is taken from the crest of William,
5th Baron of Digby, father of the Hon. Robert Digby, Rear-admiral
of the Red, Commander-in-chief in North America (I 781-1783)
in whose honour the town is named. This gives an authentic heraldic
connection. Digby also demonstrates how the function of a vessel,
in this case a minesweeper, is incorporated in the badge, for
the gold disc symbolizes a mine. Other directions are
More inventive. Take Antigonish
for example, a Micmac word to describe a place of broken branches,
the site of this Nova Scotia town. The badge shows a bear who
is presumably the one who broke the branches. A number of badges
represent the geographical feature of the place for which the
vessel is named. For HMCS James Bay the blue V slices down through
the white snowbound land; in HMCS Kapuskasing the green forest
is the background and the heraldic Y is the meeting of two rivers.
Rivers are often represented by blue and white wavy lines. It
is worth noting that many originators of the badges have paid
their respects to the spectacular geography of Canada.
Unlike other inanimate objects
- machines, material and edifices - over the centuries ships
have had personality attributed to them. Perhaps this is in
recognition of the relationship between men and their ship.
She supports them through the cruel and careless seas; unexpected
dangers can lead rapidly to disaster but the vessel nurtures
the men who nurture her. Personality of the ship implies appellation
and while there is no clear documentation of the origins of
this custom, one can recall the names Santa Maria, HMS Victory,
I'm Alone in the same breath as the names Columbus, Nelson and
Joshua Slocum. Over the centuries sources of names have been
changed, from Saints and latin phrases, Dominus Vobiscum for
example, to qualities or inspiring nouns such as Delight, Sunshine,
Victory, and Discovery, then later, names of eminent persons
and finally in the present context of Canadian warships, Canadian
The official issue of heraldic
badges and names is recorded from 1919 when the Royal Navy developed
four different frames to distinguish classes of vessels. Battleships'
badges were in a circular frame, cruisers'in a pentagon, destroyers'and
submarines'- a shield, and aircraft carriers' and miscellaneous
ships' - a lozenge. For Canadian ships this was amended because
names were reassigned to new vessels but not necessarily of
the same class. It was recognized to be simpler to retain one
form, the circular shape with a rope surround and surmounted
by either the naval or the royal crown. Canadian Naval badges
are distinctive through their use of three maple leaves at the
bottom of the surround.
No account of the early development of Canadian Naval badges
can ignore the proliferation of unofficial badges during World
War II which were an unexpected product of official policy.
At the beginning of the war Canada had only a handful of ships,
but over the next five years she developed a navy approaching
500 vessels. Finding names for all these was no small task and
for the development of suitable insignias, a committee was struck
under the chairmanship of Dr. Gilbert Tucker, the naval historian.
One person who also contributed to this committee was Lt. WP.
Wallace, RCNVR of the directorate of Naval Intelligence, whose
knowledge of heraldry made him realize that badge designing
was a job for experts. Since no one was available, he did yeoman
work himself during the war years, steering the RCN around the
numerous heraldic shoals that constantly developed.
Under these extraordinary
conditions where the demand for ships outstripped the possibility
of keeping up with official badge design, the committee recommended
a policy, which was promulgated by the RCN, that commanding
officers might devise their own badges. "These were to come
under the scrutiny of the Captain D or the Captain of the port,
to see that they contained nothing offensive to propriety or
good taste (reference to the enemy excepted). These, as yet,
unofficial badges were often humorous and risque; they included
cartoon characters such as Daisy Mae, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse,
renderings of U-boats half submerged, bulldogs, Winston Churchill
and Hitler, among others. They represented the spirit of wartime
effort and while they have no place amongst the official badges,
they should not be forgotten in the historic bias of officialdom.
Only one of these "unofficial" badges was adopted without change
and remains in the permanent collection - the badge of HMCS
Algonquin. Today the Director of Ceremonial, in his capacity
as Inspector of the Canadian Forces Colours and Badges, in consultation
with the Unit and the Environmental Commander, recommends each
to the Governor General, for his/her approval as Commander in
Chief. As the badges are not armorial bearings, they are not
required to be approved, amended or originated by the Queen's
All Canadian Navy badges are surmounted by either the naval
crown, which distinguishes HMC ships from other badges. This
ancient symbol is similar to the rostral crown of the Romans.
It consists of a circlet bearing the sterns of three ships of
the line, each with three poop lanterns and two squared sails
spread on a mast and yard, fully fitted and sheeted home. The
hulls and sails are placed alternately around the circlet. Its
use in England as a badge of naval distinction and honour dates
back three centuries, possibly longer.
We have illustrated but a
few badges that are in the Naval Musuem of Manitoba Collection.
An excellent source for further badge research is the Canadian
Navy Home Page. There you will find badges of most present and
past naval units.
- The Naval Museum of Manitoba - 1 Navy Way - Winnipeg Manitoba
- R3C 4J7