Where the History of Canada's Navy Comes Alive!   
Ship's Badges

Naval Museum Badge Collection 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 frequently confused.

HMCS STETTLER 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 placenames.

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.

HMCS ASSINIBOINE 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 Heralds.

HMCS ST. CHARLES 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.



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