History of City Symbols
Learn about the City of Toronto flag, the city’s Coat of Arms and motto and the Mayor’s Chain of Office.
City of Toronto Flag and History
Elements of the Flag
- the twin towers of City Hall on a blue background
- the red maple leaf of the Flag of Canada represents the Council Chamber at the base of the towers
The City Hall symbol is incorporated in the flag design as an abstracted white linear graphic against a predominant blue (Pantone 287) background. A red (Pantone 186) maple leaf visually links Toronto to Canada and Ontario’s heritage, flag and symbols.
The flag dimensions are based upon a 2:1 horizontal proportion.
On August 28, 1974, City Council appointed a committee to help design a new Toronto flag. The existing flag, designed by art advisory committee chairman Professor Eric Arthur and his son Paul, featured the city crest on a white and blue background. The art advisory committee recommended Council adopt the flag as the official city banner. But Mayor William Dennison disagreed, saying, “It’s not really a flag at all. It’s just another good way of displaying the city’s coat of arms.”
And so, the City of Toronto Flag Design Committee was created. The committee was made up of Aldermen Paul B. Pickett, Q.C. and Reid Scott, Q.C. as co-chairs and Aldermen Edward Negridge, Colin Vaughan and Anne Johnston as members.
A competition to find a new flag was launched, open to residents of all ages in Metropolitan Toronto. On September 4, 1974, Council approved a $500 Canada Savings Bond to be awarded to the winning designer. Throughout the rest of the month, entry kits were distributed to the City Clerk’s Office, Toronto and Metropolitan Toronto Libraries, the Toronto Board of Education and the Metropolitan Toronto Separate School Board. The deadline for receiving entries was October 18, 1974.
More than 700 submissions were received from children and adults from across Toronto, ranging in age from six to ninety years old. The designs were varied in colour and theme – some included Toronto landmarks like the CN Tower and City Hall. Almost half of the designs incorporated the maple leaf while others focused on friendship and unity.
City Archivist Robert Woadden led the competition and was committed to maintaining a level playing field. He assigned each entry a number and locked all of them in the City Hall basement vault. The Flag Design Committee did not see any of the designs until judging took place on October 28 – 29, 1974.
On November 6, 1974, the Flag Design Committee submitted its selection to Council. With a unanimous vote, Council selected the design of 21 year-old George Brown College graphic design student, Renato De Santis. De Santis’ design included the letter ‘T’ for Toronto, the outline of City Hall on a blue background and a red maple leaf representing the Council Chamber at the base of the towers. The flag was proportioned 4′ x 6′.
An official flag raising ceremony was held in Nathan Phillips Square on November 7, 1974, where De Santis received his $500 prize. Letters from the Flag Design Committee were sent to residents who submitted a design for the competition, thanking them for their participation.
The first copy of the new flag was stolen from the flagpole where it flew outside of City Hall and had to be replaced.
With the amalgamation of the former cities of Etobicoke, Scarborough, North York, York and Toronto, the Borough of East York and the Metro level of government taking effect on January 1, 1998, a second competition was launched in 1997 to find a flag for the new City of Toronto. The public was invited to submit designs for a new flag but had to follow more specific criteria such as limiting designs to three colours and proportioned 3′ x 6′. The prize for the winning design of the new Toronto flag was a $3000 honorarium.
Council did not approve any of the 161 design submissions received from the public so asked City design staff to submit proposals.
During the Council review of staff designs, the designer of the original Toronto flag, Renato De Santis, suggested his design be approved with minor modifications to fit the 3′ x 6′ format. De Santis was now the head of an advertising firm specializing in logos and designs.
At a council meeting in November 1999, after months of heated debate, Deputy Mayor Case Ootes decided to let the public have a say in the flag design they preferred. Deputy Mayor Ootes, who was chairing the meeting, polled the audience in the Council Chambers as to what design they liked best – the slightly modified original flag designed by Renato De Santis or a design recommended by Councillor Brad Duguid. Councillor Duguid’s design received polite applause while the former Toronto flag evoked cheers and whistles from the audience, clearly the favourite.
Council adopted the modified old design with a vote of 31-14. The City of Toronto had its new flag.
Coat of Arms and City Motto
The City of Toronto Coat of Arms is an official symbol and is intended for ceremonial application only. Use of the Coat of Arms on business stationary is restricted to the Mayor and Members of Council and as authorized by Protocol Services.
The Coat of Arms was created after the 1997 amalgamation of the former cities of Etobicoke, York, North York, Scarborough, Toronto, the Borough of East York and the Metro level of government.
How it was created
- Members of the public were asked which symbols they would like to have included in the City of Toronto’s new Coat of Arms
- The questionnaire was distributed at the City’s Civic Centres, to Members of Council, libraries, community centres and posted on the City website during the month of July 1998
- More than 1,100 responses were received
- The design was created by the Chief Herald of Canada and granted by His Excellency Romeo LeBlanc, Governor General of Canada
- Council approved the new design on October 30, 1998
Meaning of each symbol:
|The Shield: This represents the two towers of Toronto City Hall with the blue sky between and above the towers which form the capital letter T.|
|The Eagle: The golden eagle is a symbol of our native background. It is known for its strength, bravery and power.|
|The City Wall: This is a symbol of the City’s responsibility to shelter and protect its people. On the wall are the symbols of the former City of York (a York rose with green thorns), the former City of North York (a heart for the “city with a heart”) and the former Borough of East York (also a York rose with gold centre).|
|The Intertwining Collar: The collar symbolizes added strength when working together. This is where the motto “Diversity Our Strength” came from.|
|The Honeycomb: This is a symbol of energy and productivity. It is hanging on the collar of the beaver in a gold hexagon shape.|
|The Green Alder-Leaf: An alder is the name of a tree. This is a symbol of the former City of Etobicoke whose name means a “place where alder grows”.
The Beaver: This is a symbol of the City’s history for industry and activity. From our history, fur trading made its way to downtown which became known as “Toronto” (the meeting place).
The Green Grass: This symbolizes the many parks and recreational facilities of which the City is proud.
|The Bear: The bear represents strength, determination, caring and protection of its offspring. The dark colour brown represents the colour of the earth.|
|The Columbine Flower: This flower is a symbol of the former City of Scarborough. It is hanging on the collar of the bear in the gold hexagon shape. The placement of the green alder-leaf and the columbine flower shows the geographic placement of Etobicoke on the west and Scarborough on the east.|
|The Three Rivers: This symbol represents the three rivers (Humber, Don & Rouge) flowing into Lake Ontario.|
Diversity Our Strength: This is the motto that describes the city. It refers to the combined strength of seven municipalities.
Chain of Office
For over a thousand years, originating with the Dukes of Normandy, civic authorities have borne an official seal incorporating the arms of the authority. This seal was originally worn on a gold chain around the neck of the chief official. This “decoration” has evolved into the modern Chain of Office. Although decorative, the practice of wearing a Chain of Office has become steeped in historic tradition, and is one that is followed not only by elected officials, but by the executives of civic organizations as well.
A modern Chain of Office is composed of several elements joined together with pieces of chain, from which hangs a medallion. Chains of Office are almost always sewn onto a velvet collar, which is not only decorative, but makes the chain much more comfortable to wear.
Upon inauguration of a new Mayor of Toronto, the Chain of Office is symbolically placed around the Mayor’s neck and traditionally worn throughout the inauguration ceremony at the First Meeting of Toronto City Council.
When the City of Toronto was amalgamated in 1998, the new Chain of Office utilized gold medallions to incorporate elements from the five former Cities and the Borough of East York, and the Municipality of Metro Toronto. The City of Toronto Chain of Office includes, clockwise from top:
- The Shield of Canada on a gold medallion
- Two golden maple leaves and the Canadian Flag
- The Civic Coat of Arms of the former City of York with a beaver on the left-hand side of the shield, a symbol of the city’s history for industry and activity
- The Civic Coat of Arms of the former City of Etobicoke featuring Etobicoke’s symbol, an alder tree, in the centre of the shield
- The Civic Shield of the former City of North York featuring North York’s motto, “Progress With Economy”
- The Civic Shield of the former Municipality of Metro Toronto featuring eagle wings in the top of the shield, a symbol of our city’s native background
- The Civic Coat of Arms of the former City of Toronto incorporated in 1834
- The Civic Coat of Arms of the former City of Scarborough featuring Scarborough’s symbol, the columbine flower, in the centre of the shield
- The Civic Coat of Arms of the former Borough of East York formerly Canada’s only Borough, featuring a Bulldog, East York’s mascot
- The Provincial Shield of Ontario and two golden maple leaves
- Hanging from the bottom of the Chain of Office, and worn in front, is a golden medallion with the amalgamated City of Toronto’s Coat of Arms.
The Mayor wears the Chain of Office on ceremonial occasions when he appears in his official capacity, as a mark of pride in the city in which we live. It also acknowledges the responsibilities, authority and dignity which are attached to the office of the Chief Magistrate of the city of Toronto.
Ceremonial events where the Chain of Office would be worn: First Meeting of Council, Mayor’s Levee and Official visits.
When not in use, the Chain of Office may be viewed in the display case located inside the reception area of the Mayor’s office.