Why Does the SSC Have a Coat of Arms?

Why does the Statistical Society of Canada have a Coat of Arms and how did we come to need one?

By Geoff Hole, SSC President 1989-1990
September 2, 2004

Coat of Arms of the SSC

How we came to need one begins with Martin B. Wilk suggesting to the then President, Robert Cléroux (1988-1989), that it might be a good idea for the SSC to send greetings to the American Statistical Association (ASA) on the occasion of its sesquicentennial on November 27, 1989. At the time I was the President-Elect and in those days there did not seem to be any duties for this office apart from learning from the current president’s example. So I asked Bob if I could be of any help and Bob suggested I take up Martin Wilk’s suggestion and run with it. A text was drafted in both official languages for the SSC Executive’s consideration and it was duly sent in good time. However we wanted to send a formal greeting which the ASA would be proud to display in a prominent place in its office. For this purpose we needed something more than the abbreviation SSC to stand between the greeting printed on each side in English and French. The acronym SSC had been used since the Society’s creation and fortuitously works for the name of the Society in both languages. The hunt was on and ideas were explored of using a Krieghoff or Group of Seven painting as a “background” to the formal greeting document to help flesh out our identity. Ultimately it was agreed that what we needed was our own emblem and a committee was struck that I led with Peter Macdonald and George Styan as members. We contacted the Canadian Heraldic Authority at Rideau Hall and were fortunate to have Charles Maier, Athabaska Herald, assigned to work closely with us to come up with an appropriate design. Once we had a design, the Society’s Board of Directors petitioned for a grant of Arms, Crest and Motto.

Coats of Arms are essentially a means of readily identifying an individual or an organisation, and what he or it stands for. We looked at what other statistical societies are using. The American Statistical Association has what is essentially a seal: an eagle set on a pedestal with snakes rearing up sinuously and symmetrically on either side of its outstretched wings, all enclosed in an oval with the surrounding text “American Statistical Association founded 1839”. The Royal Statistical Society uses a circular seal: a standing sheaf of wheat circumscribed by the text “Royal Statistical Society founded 1834”.

Some of the symbolism in our coat of arms deserves to be explained. But we should also take note of the comment by Charles Maier that symbolism is always open to new and fresh interpretation.

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: one a white square charged with a red maple leaf, like that in the Canadian flag. The Latin square brings to mind statistical ideas of randomization and orthogonality, fundamental in designing statistical experiments. The shield seems to be divided into two triangles (one top left and one bottom right) by a line recalling regression.

Above the shield is a helmet to which, in medieval times, was attached another distinctive identifying element called the crest. In the case of our 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. The bolt of lighting in the owl’s claw perhaps symbolizes modern statistical computing, the flashes of insight that statistical work generates and “a time series”.

The Snowy Owl is a bird with exceptional vision and acute hearing and can detect prey at several miles distant. It is a bird of open country and unlike many owls is active during the daylight hours. In the Far North, where it breeds, it depends largely on the lemming supply for food. Lemmings undergo periodic population changes due to population explosion and subsequent epidemics (a stochastic process).

The female owl is depicted, shown by its dark markings, and reminds us of the increasing number of statisticians who are women. This female interpretation nicely balances the masculine shield.

The Latin motto “Scientia Sapientia Consilium” recalls the key features of the statistical profession: science, wisdom and counsel. The motto’s initial letters, SSC, happily correspond with the abbreviation of the Society’s name in both English and French. At an executive meeting, once it was suggested we have a Latin motto it was amazing how quickly ideas tumbled out and agreement was reached. Science reflects and emphasizes the Latin square, wisdom similarly the owl, while counsel picks out the searching yellow eyes, the vision our Society needs and the role it must play to maintain the common and statistical weal. Indeed our motto underscores the scientific basis of statistical research and practice which can generate wisdom when combined with the ability to provide sound statistical advice.

The Letters Patent, an honour from the Canadian Crown, were presented by Athabaska Herald, Charles Maier, to the Society’s President, Geoffrey Hole, on June 5th, 1990 at Memorial University of Newfoundland during the 1990 Annual Meeting of the Society. At the same meeting, Geoffrey Hole presented the “SSC’s Sesquicentennial Greetings to the ASA” to Janet L. Norwood, 1989 President of the ASA and Commissioner, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, who had also kindly accepted Geoffrey Hole’s invitation and delivered the “President’s Invited Address”.

These greetings were the motivation for the Society to seek a coat of arms. They begin with a statement of our shared objectives: “We seek to foster statistical research as well as its applications, we promote and support the interests of statisticians and the profession and we contribute to debates on important issues where statistical analysis can shed some light.” Hopefully these objectives will come to mind whenever our coat of arms is displayed.

The coat of arms is now displayed by the Society on its newsletter (SSC Liaison), letterhead and on proclamations and presentations. A painting of the Arms is on permanent display at Memorial University of Newfoundland, to commemorate the fact that the Letters Patent were proclaimed there.