2017 -Symbols & Emblems

By: Rachael, Michael, Jessica, and Ryan


If you had to define Canada with one symbol, what it would be? The Canadian flag, National Anthem, maple syrup are a few that might come to mind. The symbols and emblems you have just thought of all represent Canada’s identity as a nation.

Official and unofficial symbols and emblems of Canada can be found on many artifacts at the  Dufferin County Museum & Archives. Stories of our national history, identity and culture are waiting to be told through simple objects. Canada’s journey to nationhood and as a nation can be found in the Beaver Pelt hat, Canoe, Railway Spike and the Toy Playset.


A95-085-1-1A  Beaver Felt Hat, William Rintoul

The beaver pelt hat has always been an important symbol in Canadian history. The fur trade in Canada did not become popular until the late 16th century when fashion influences from European countries created a demand for beaver fur.

In the end of the 16th century European hat makers discovered the North American beaver and its desirable coat and uses. The beaver had a major impact on the founding colonies of Canada and the expansion of the country through the fur trade.

The beaver has been used in important symbols and coats of arms, such as The Hudson’s Bay Company and Sir William Alexander, who was granted title to Nova Scotia. The beaver pelt top hat was an emblem of the fur trade and was an important item for someone to own because it gave them a upper class status, beaver pelt hats were owned by people all across Canada and other countries.

This beaver pelt top hat was owned by William Rintoul who was a politician in Dufferin County, he was the treasurer of Amaranth Township Council. Rintoul lived in Whitton, lot 16, con 3, Amaranth Township, Dufferin County and owned the hat around 1900. The hat would have been used for functions where formal attire was needed.

William Rintoul (left), Source: Dufferin County Museum and Archives Collection, P-5017.

It is unknown as to where Rintoul bought this top hat, there is a gold crest inside the hat that is an unknown manufacturer’s mark. Rintoul would have likely owned this particular hat because it was fashionable at the time, part of proper attire and a symbol of social status.

The style of beaver hats have changed over the centuries with this particular style of top hat being popular near the end of the fur trade in the early 20th century.

Source: Jennifer S.H. Brown “Beaver Pelts” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Eds. Toronto: Historica Canada, 2006. Web. 5 Mar. 2017.

The impact of the beaver has been felt across Canada since the 16th century and has left its mark. The beaver became an official emblem of Canada 1975.


DCMA.EDU-164  Railway Spike, Provenance Unknown.

There was one railway that ran through Dufferin County, which was the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway (established in 1863). It was later bought out by the CPR (Canadian Pacific Railway) in 1881. Railway building was a costly venture, but in the 1800s, before major highways and motorized vehicles, it was the most effective means of transportation.

Source: Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway: 1863- 1884 by Thomas F. McIlwraith (LH-0270)

The Toronto Grey & Bruce railway used a cheaper gauge that was 3’6” and it costed $3 000 less than the 5’6”. In 1878 on there was an issue because most trains used the 5’6” gauges, and they wouldn’t be able to travel on a route that had the 3’6” gauge track.

The CPR ended up purchasing the struggling Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway, and changed the the gauges to match other railways. Since the former TG&B pathway was a valuable line, the government payed to have their gauges changed to the Canadian standard gauge  (4’8 1/2”).

The construction of the Trans-Continental Railway by the CPR was initiated by Prime Minister John A. Macdonald who wanted a railway to connect Western and Eastern Canada. To learn more, click here.

The Last Spike Donald Smith driving the Last Spike to complete the Canadian Pacific Railway on 7 November 1885. (courtesy Alexander Ross/Library and Archives Canada/C-003693)
Telegram to Prime Minister John A. Macdonald announcing the “last spike” 1885. Library & Archives Canada: Ref. No.: e000009485

The railway is important to Canada as a symbol of unity because it connected the country together politically to create a country from “sea to sea”. Thanks to the role railway systems played in connecting people, aiding communication, encouraging settlement, and developing economies, it has had a significant impact of Canadian history, culture and identity. As such, even though much of the railway has disappeared from the Canadian landscape, it maintains and enduring legacy.


A95-385-1-1 A-C   Toy Canoe, Noble Arnold Smith, Orangeville, 1936.

In 1936, Noble Arnold Smith hand-carved a toy canoe. At the age of 14 he hand-carved and painted the canoe and paddles. On September 8, 1938, Noble died of a malignant brain tumor when he was 16 years of age. He was buried with the rest of his family in Greenwood Cemetery, Orangeville.

The canoe is a symbol of Canada due to its strong ties with First Nations and European settlers trade and travel. The canoe was fully conceived by the North American Aboriginal peoples. The original word for canoe, “kenu”, meaning dugout, was reflective of its overall shape. North American native peoples are responsible for the most well-known model, a frame of wooden ribs covered with the lightweight bark of birch trees.

The canoe was critical to everyday life, as it was the main method of transportation for anyone who lived outside of the Plains. Tribes would be easy to differentiate as they would decorate their canoes with designs designs and materials. Larger crafts would be constructed for trade, war and hunting large creatures. Smaller ones would be used for creeks and small waterways. Being made of a light material made the canoe easy to transport (portage) over land.

Canoes were practical, functional and lightweight, focused for travelling through the bush. The canoe was able to travel 50 portage trip for the Jesuits and Huron to arrive at the Settlement of Sainte-Marie from Quebec City, in 30 days, much faster than any other method of transportation. When the fur trade picked up, the need for canoes hadn’t been higher. The French had even set up the world’s first known canoe factory at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, around the year 1750. Now outdone by powered vessels and lock systems, the canoe remains an important symbol for its important role in shaping Canadian history.


A97-045-1-1  Paper Playset, Mono Township, 1942.

This toy was owned and played with by Carrick and Francis (Brown) Young, who lived at Lot 17, Concession 3,  in Mono Township.

The playset includes paper models of military personnel and vehicles used in World War II. The Canada’s Fighters playset is an example of adjustments made by toy manufacturers to conserve precious resources. The playset bears several important symbols of Canada, including the Red Ensign (the official flag of Canada during WWII) and the Union Jack (British Flag). WWII is still an important part of the Canadian conscience and helped shape Canadian identity, especially through changes to roles for women.

This game was owned by the Young family who lived in Mono township in the 1940’s. The Young family were farmers in the area. Farmers at this time typically were very conservative with their money and all of their produced food was rationed for the war efforts.

The War Time Measures Act has a clause that included the phrase “it’s responsibilities were expanded to include the reduction of non-essential industrial activities in order to maintain minimum requirements only for civilian goods.” This means the game was made of paper because all of the precious metal needed for the war was saved for that, instead of a civilian game. This makes it so that games similar to Canada’s Fighters at this time, according to Eaton’s Catalogue (Sears Christmas Book 1942), were about 50 cents per game. Games similar to this were very popular at this time because they were relatively inexpensive and most boys at the time were very interested in the war effort. The game features vehicles that young boys could only imagine what would look like in reality, making the game a “dream come true” for children. 

The game features two different flags on it; one being the Red Ensign (Canadian Flag during WWII) and the Union Jack (British Flag). In August of 1942, Canada led an Allied raid against the German port of Dieppe. This was a major moment in Canadian history because it shows that a battle lead by Canada can still be successful without the assistance of a bigger empire, like the British.  Canada was a part of the British Commonwealth, and a part of the Allied cause.

This game is a symbol of Canadian identity because the playset is made of paper and cardboard, shows the dedication of the nation to sacrifice for their war efforts. These actions represent the fight for freedom all Canadians contain within them, from the west coast in British Columbia to a family in Dufferin County.


Beaver Felt Hat

Railway Spike

Toy Canoe

Paper Playset