Gov. Gen. Mary Simon unveils a highly personal coat of arms
Rideau Hall unveiled Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s coat of arms Friday — one that it says reflects her personal story and commitment to reconciliation.
Simon became Governor General last year, making history as the first Indigenous person to hold the ceremonial post.
Simon grew up in the Inuit community of Kangiqsualujjuaq in northern Quebec. Prior to her appointment as Governor General, Simon was a broadcaster, civil servant and diplomat.
In a news release, the Governor General’s Office said her coat of arms is a symbol of Simon’s northern upbringing, her heritage and her career as a diplomat.
“This coat of arms is my story, my true history, and it speaks of my lifelong commitment to bridge-building and family, and of my hopes for a future where we respect and share each other’s stories to help foster better relationships between peoples.” Simon said in the news release.
Canada’s Chief Herald Samy Khalid, who is responsible for official coats of arms, said in the release that Simon’s coat of arms is “simple in its composition and, at the same time, exquisitely complex in its meaning.”
“It is a personal emblem that serves a public purpose. It exemplifies how heraldry can express many layers of a person’s identity in a structured yet creative way,” he said.
Simon is the first Governor General to have a coat of arms with a motto in an Indigenous language. “Ajuinnata” is an Inuktitut word meaning “to persevere” or never give up.
“This motto inspires her own journey and embodies her message of hope to young people and to all Canadians confronted with adversity,” the release said.
A Rideau Hall description of the coat of arms says the motto is “a guiding principle for [Simon] and an indication of her hopes for the truth and reconciliation process.”
The shield is white — a colour which the coat of arms description says is meant to represent reconciliation, as well as the snow and sky of Canada’s North. The crown symbolizes Simon’s role as representative of the monarchy in Canada.
The shield is the shape of an amauti, a traditional parka worn by Inuit women.
A horizontal line in the shield’s centre represents Simon’s “trailblazing career in Inuit and circumpolar affairs” while the disc and circle around it represent “an inclusive relationship between Indigenous peoples and all Canadians.”
The Snowy Owl is meant to symbolize wisdom, agility and adaptability.
“It thus alludes to Her Excellency’s life experience and her diplomatic skills,” the coat of arms description said.
The caribou antlers represent the link between humans and nature. It’s also an important animal in Inuit culture.
Two arctic foxes flank the coat of arms. The animal is “famed for its endurance and long-distance migratory treks,” the description said. They represent Simon’s “career as a diplomat and advocate for circumpolar affairs.”
The mountain sorrel on the left fox’s pendant is a common plant Quebec’s Nunavik region, where Simon grew up. The strawberry flower on the opposite pendant is to honour Simon’s husband, Whit Grant Fraser. The flower is a symbol on the crest of the Scottish Fraser Clan and the name is derived from “Fraise,” the French word for strawberry.
Two kakivak harpoons separate the foxes. The spears represent Simon’s grandmother, “who taught her many traditional values and life skills,” the description said.
Simon enjoys picking berries in her spare time, according to her official biography. The blueberries at the bottom of the crest represent that hobby. The cottongrass that surrounds them is used to make the wicks of a traditional Inuit lamp called the qulliq.
The three insignia are, from left to right, the Commander of the Order of Military Merit, Companion of the Order of Canada and Commander of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces.
Coat of arms has unique elements
Khalid said in an interview that a Governor General’s coat of arms is usually revealed much closer to their installation date, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the process in this case.
Khalid worked with Simon to design the coat of arms and said he was grateful for the extra time.
“We wanted to do this at this pace this time around, and I think it gave us the opportunity to really develop something very meaningful for Her Excellency,” Khalid said.
He said several elements make Simon’s coat of arms stand out compared to those of her predecessors. One is the use of the colour white, while another is the Inuktitut motto, which is spelled in both the Latin alphabet and in syllabics.
“In this case what’s interesting, in my opinion, is that it’s a simple word that’s very difficult to translate,” Khalid said of the motto.
Khalid added that the use of three insignia is also notable. Most governors general opt for just one, the Order of Canada.
Khalid said he hopes the coat of arms helps Canadians get to know Simon.
“Heralds like to say that they’re storytellers, and there’s a lot of details here that will allow Canadians to learn a little more about the Governor General, her life and her career.”