Speech Made at the Granting of the Arms, June 5, 1990

Presentation of the Coat of Arms

By Charles Maier, Athabaska Herald

Text of a speech made at the Annual Meeting of the SSC, Saint John's, Newfoundland, 5 June 1990

Coat of Arms of the SSCPresident Hole, Directors, distinguished guests and members of the Statistical Society of Canada:

It is a great pleasure to be here representing the Canadian Heraldic Authority which operates from Government House in Ottawa, under its head, his excellency Governor General Ramon Hnatyshyn. I am here to honour and recognize your society and the contributions it has made to Canadian life since its founding.

The society is having a coat of arms conferred upon it, thereby providing it with a very striking and beautiful symbol in which all of you here tonight share.

At the heart of this ceremony are two key concepts: honour and symbolism. With your indulgence, I would like to spend a little time talking about each of these and try to relate them to the important presentation that is being made to your society.

Let me begin by talking about honour. What a country chooses to honour says a lot about what that country's values are.In militarist states, it is often the medals and decorations pertaining to the waging of war that are most highly prized. In aristocratic societies, the heirs of particular bloodlines will often be entitled to special titles or other forms of honour. Societies that are predicated on materialistic values may only choose to honour the privileges that accompany the accumulation of wealth.

Canada has chosen a middle course through this field,which involves the public recognition of individual achievement. The order of Canada, for example, recognizes the Terry Foxes, the Karen Cains and Rick Hansens among us. And tonight the National Honours Systems is being used to recognize the practical and very laudable work that your Professional Association has made by providing a forum in which statisticians can share and exchange ideas and research, and speak at the national level on the many issues where a professional statistical perspective can be particularly valuable.

This kind of association is not created easily, or without much hard work and countless volunteer hours. It is not created without pain or controversy, and I would hope that the symbol that you are having conferred on you tonight can be seen as a way of recognizing the contributions made by so many of you over the years to the advancement of your profession and its national association.

I said that you are being honoured by having a symbol conferred on you. This symbol is in a form that traces its origins back to the middle ages and further into the mists of time.

The society's coat of arms comprises a shield, helmet and crest which recall the age of chivalry when knights encased in suits of armour looked to their sovereign to develop distinctive symbols for them so that they could be identified in time of war, and obtain recognition in peace time for their public service.

The symbols were originally painted on special coats or garments that were worn over the armour, thus leading them being described as “coats of arms”. These were not really all that different from the T-shirts Maureen Tingley has had printed for your meeting this year.

The Knights of Old also carefully painted their symbol on that all-important piece of defensive equipment, the shield. The knight’s life often depended on this, and it would be decorated with great care with his symbol to ensure that his friends would recognize him when the battle was at its height.

Clergymen, public servants, guilds and universities also had coats of arms granted to them as a way of honouring their community service.

Yet, for heraldry to work in a pre-literate society, it was essential that no two individuals might be found bearing the same symbols. This was a matter of great concern for the king who had responsibility for all aspects of feudal society Across Europe, reigning sovereigns asserted the principle that coats of arms were an honour to be bestowed by them. Records were ordered to be maintained of all symbols granted so that no two individuals would ever be awarded the same coats of arms. Kings appointed officials called heralds to keep these records and make grants of arms in their name.

Over the centuries, the military use of Heraldry dies out, but the representation of symbols on shields and helmets has continued, and these are still regarded as honours which may be granted to individuals, or to institutions like the Statistical Society of Canada, which have demonstrated their commitment to the community through their public service.

The shield granted to the statistical society of Canada is in the national colours of Canada, Red and White. It is in the form of a 3 x 3 Latin square, in which three images are repeated three times: a solid red square, a white square charged with a red Maple Leaf, and a square of red and white that is split diagonally. The repetition of these elements in the Latin square format only goes to show how attractive statistical concepts can be when well presented.

Above the shield is a helmet to which, in medieval times, was attached another distinctive identifying element called the crest. In the case of your society, this is the Snowy Owl holding a flash of lighting. This provincial bird of Quebec not only recalls the province in which the Society was first established, but it also calls to mind the wisdom that statisticians have to impart and the flashes of insight that their work generates. I am assured that the Owl has nothing to do with the late nights members of the profession are required to work.

This Coat of Arms was devised with the invaluable assistance of your emblem committee, Peter Macdonald, George Styan and Geoffrey Hole, who very patiently reviewed concepts and provided ideas and feedback. I believe their dedication and hard work is reflected in the symbol that has been created. Symbolism of course lies as much in the eye of the beholder as the symbol itself. I would very much welcome the interpretations of practising statisticians as to what meaning they see in these elements.

The Coat of Arms is granted under the Crown’s ancient prerogative to devise and confer heraldic insignia. Since 1988, these powers have been exercised in Canada by our country’s Governor General. This is now entirely a Canadian function under the Right Honourable Ramon Hnatyshyn, who is head of the Canadian Heraldic Authority.

The legal document conferring the Society’s Arms is called “Letters Patent”. It takes the form of an open letter from the chief herald of Canada, to all of you, and it formally honours the Society for its important work.

As Athabaska Herald, I have the pleasure of reading this document and presenting it to your President.