Where’s Our Coat of Arms?

It was a symbol of the Law School for nearly fifty years before being retired, it still pops up here and there, and you’ve probably spent dozens of hours staring at it without even realizing. It’s the UofT Law coat of arms, and I set out to investigate its story.

History of the Faculty of Law Coat of Arms

Original Law Coat of Arms

Original Law Coat of Arms

The coat of arms first appeared during the period when the modern Faculty of Law was establishing itself, still in temporary housing at Glendon Hall at the corner of Bayview and Lawrence Avenues. In a letter dated March 27th, 1956, then-Dean Cecil Wright (immortalized as that “other” head outside our library) confirmed the purchase from Henry Birks & Sons of a 10k gold key and crest, pursuant to a verbal order, that would become the first Dean’s Key. The Dean’s Key is an award given annually to a graduating student who has excelled in academic extracurriculars such as mooting and essay contests. What exactly was contained in that verbal order from Dean Wright is unknown; what is known is the design that came of it, the coat of arms that remains on the Dean’s Key to this day. The Faculty of Law paid $20 even for the Dean’s Key in 1956; in 2012, Birks charged $1050 before tax.

Coat of Arms on Dean's Key

Dean’s Key

The coat of arms on the Dean’s Key appeared in the University of Toronto yearbook (titled “Nensis”) between 1957 and 1963. Clearly, whatever had been in Dean Wright’s verbal order was also adopted as the Faculty’s official coat of arms. Faculty Council minutes from that era yield no mention of the coat of arms or of any official logo at all. In 1963, Nensis switched to a more modern layout that eschewed the baroque formality of coats of arms, so it is difficult to determine when the original coat of arms ceased being used.

In 1990, a modern version of the coat of arms emerged. It was designed by the University of Toronto Press for the UofT Law Alumni Directory. That coat of arms is the also found on lecterns in BLH and MCR (which is why you’ve probably spent hours staring at it). It was used until 2003-2004, when the Faculty bid a farewell to arms and switched to the infamous swooshy “roof-and-columns” logo. The roof-and-columns was created by DUO Strategy and Design Inc., a graphic design firm which appears to specialize in exceptionally unexceptional corporate branding.

This year, Simcoe Hall (the central University of Toronto administration) issued an edict that the roof-and-columns logo be decommissioned and replaced by the University-wide coat of arms. This was against the wishes of the Faculty of Law administration.

Symbolism of the Faculty of Law Coat of Arms

Modern Law Coat of Arms

Modern Law Coat of Arms

There are two versions of the Faculty of Law coat of arms: the original one used from 1956 to about 1990, and the modern one used from 1990 to 2004.

David Appleton, a member of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada, helped me decipher the significance of the modern coat of arms. The main part of a coat of arms is called the “shield” and the symbols on it are called the “charges”. The part at the top is called the “crest”. This is their meaning:

  • The maple leaves on the white background (“field”) of the shield symbolize Canada (obviously!).
  • The scales and sword symbolize the law – think of the statue by Walter Allward, in front of the Supreme Court of Canada, of Lady Justice holding a sword.
  • The book symbolizes learning and, possibly, the written law – think of Allward’s other statue, “Truth”, holding a book.
  • The crowned mace is symbolic of the Crown and of the Royal prerogatives embodied in the law.
  • The tree on the crest is the same as the crest of the University of Toronto: an oak tree with branches and golden acorns, sitting on top of a wreath in the blue and white of the University. The acorns hold promise of new life.

The motto below the coat of arms is “Regnum Juris Regnum Pacis”, which translated from the Latin means “Rule of Law, Rule of Peace”.

Interestingly, the Dean’s Key and the original coat of arms do not feature a mace on the shield. Instead there is a feather pen, a symbol of the art of writing and educated employment.

The modern coat of arms is monochrome black and white. However, the coat of arms on the Dean’s Key has a golden field, the scales and the dark part of the shield are a deep navy, and the oak tree and maple leaves are a striking emerald.

The University of Toronto Coat of Arms

UofT Coat of Arms

UofT Coat of Arms

Since the central University administration has ordered that the Faculty of Law adopt the University-wide coat of arms, I thought it prudent to include a little discussion of that coat of arms.

In 1917, the University’s Board of Governors applied to the College of Arms in London, England for a proper coat of arms. This was the description (“blazon”) that the College of Arms worked from:

“Azure two open Books and in base a Beaver all proper, upon a Chief Argent the Royal and Imperial Crown also proper, and for the crest on a wreath of the colours an Oak tree proper stemmed and fructed Or.”

The motto of the University is “Velut arbor aevo (crescat)”, a phrase adapted from one of Horace’s Odes. It translates to “As a tree with the passage of time”, something that always reminds me of Lord Sankey’s living tree.

The “Imperial Crown also proper” is that of George IV, in whose reign the University’s royal charter was granted.

Funnily enough, Dr. Daniel Wilson (then President of the University) wanted the tree on the crest to be an “umbrageous Maple” but it somehow wound up being a mighty oak. Also of interest is that the original beaver was pretty badass, with big claws and teeth, but successive generations of university branding schemes have emasculated the beaver into a weak shadow of the original beast.

Discussion: A Call to Arms

The forced branding of the Faculty of Law is part of a larger power struggle between the Faculty and the University. In my opinion, the Faculty should have its own coat of arms

The Faculty of Law deserves its own logo. A distinctive logo would separate law students (over-achievers, leaders of tomorrow, etc. etc.) from the run-of-the-mill Anthropology undergrad who spends most of the semester playing Farmville on the computers at Robarts (no offence to Anthro majors). The federated colleges use their own coats of arms, so why not let the Faculty of Law do so; it is far more siloed from the general University than any of the colleges.

Bora Laskin had a desire for a strong centralized University of Toronto, a mission that was substantially furthered in the 1960s when he convinced the graduate faculties to align with the central University and not with the constituent colleges. (If you hear echoes of Laskin’s views on federalism, it’s not coincidence.) But just like Canadian federalism, there has to be a balance, and at UofT that balance is off. Concentrating power in the central University makes administration clumsy and slow. Red tape proliferates. Things don’t get done. 600-odd law students are not a priority when Simcoe Hall has some 73,000 other students to worry about.

Two examples of UofT federalism gone awry: SLS clothing sales and CDO hiring. First, the SLS clothing sale was an unmitigated gong show this year largely because of the central University’s trademark licencing policy and its mandatory list of “approved vendors”. The regulations are Byzantine and every little glitch turned into a huge roadblock as the central University people were virtually incommunicado. Second, the Faculty of Law has not filled the vacancy in the Career Development Office since Jennifer Poon left last summer. That’s because that hiring must go through the central University, which has not responded to the Faculty’s pleas for a new hire. It’s simply unacceptable.

What does this have to do with a coat of arms? Giving the Faculty of Law its own logo would be symbolic of UofT Law’s distinct identity from the University at large. To have a proper coat of arms rendered and registered is not expensive, it costs about $1500. Such a move could also be instrumental in setting a precedent that sees more power housed in the Faculty and not the University – an essential ingredient for an efficient and adaptable law school.

The Faculty of Law deserves its own logo, and that logo should be the Faculty’s coat of arms. The roof-and-columns logo is more at home on a tube of toothpaste than the letterhead of a law school and should be jettisoned forever; a temporary gaffe that we will chuckle about one day in the future. But the coat of arms contains symbols linked to law, the University and the Crown. The motto “Regnum Juris Regnum Pacis” is as relevant today as when Dean Wright commissioned it, and for a host of new reasons: “Rule of Law” is a goal of developing democracies in the Global South, and is of increasing importance in Canada in the post-Charter era and with the concurrent growth of the regulatory state and executive government power.

I will end this article with a quote from Bishop Strachan, founder of the University of Toronto and leader of the Toronto Family Compact (for better or worse), writing in 1826, a mere 68 years after Sir William Blackstone had been appointed the first professor of English law:

“There are, it is believed, between forty and fifty young gentlemen in the Province studying the profession of Law – a profession which must, in a country like this, be the repository of the highest talents. Lawyers must from the very nature of our political institutions – from there being no great landed proprietors – no privileged orders – become the most powerful profession, and must in time possess more influence and authority than any other. They are emphatically our men of business, and will gradually engross all the colonial offices of profit and honour. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that they should be collected together at the University, become acquainted with each other and familiar, acquire similar views and modes of thinking, and be taught from precept and example to love and venerate our parent State.”

The Faculty of Law is not like other departments at the University of Toronto, and should have a distinctive coat of arms to identify itself.

[Thanks to the following people for helping with research for this article: Judith Lavin, Nancy Reid, Merrill Randall, Kate Hilton; and Donald Black and David Appleton, both of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada. The opinions expressed are my own, not theirs]