Ontario symbolism a recognition of our roots

By MPP Toby Barrett

“Give us a place to grow

And call this land, Ontario”

These words from the song Ontario have special meaning as the province celebrates its 225th and Canada its 150th.

The song was commissioned for a film that was shown in the Ontario pavilion at Expo 67. It became the province’s unofficial anthem and has been revamped for Canada’s 150th.

Although Ontario is the unofficial anthem, the province does have official symbols.

Ontario’s Coat of Arms was adopted in 1909. It features the Cross of St. George, symbolic of our historical connection to Britain, as well as a deer, a moose, a bear and a Latin motto. The motto translates to “Loyal she began, loyal she remains”, referring to the United Empire Loyalists who settled Ontario in the late 1700s. The three golden maple leaves are representative of Canada.

The trillium was designated as the provincial flower in 1937 – do note this is the white trillium, not its red cousin.

The red ensign was adopted as our provincial flag in 1965. There’s an interesting story that goes along with the Ontario flag being adopted the same year our present flag became official nationally. The Ontario flag was similar to the previous Dominion flag, the Red Ensign, except for the crest. Given the affection for the Red Ensign, Premier John Robarts adopted it for Ontario’s new flag.

Amethyst was declared the province’s official stone in 1975. Also the official birthstone of February, it’s mined in northern Ontario.

The eastern white pine became the provincial tree in 1984, a tribute to its important role supplying wood for early settlers, masts for British ships and its present role in the lumber industry.

In 1994, the common loon was voted as the provincial bird by students across the province.

Ontario’s Legislative Building at Queen’s Park has been the meeting place for Ontario’s parliament since 1893. The first building in York (Toronto), dating back to 1797, was burned by American forces in 1813. Fire also took the second parliament building in 1824, only four years after it was completed. That time a chimney fire was the culprit. A third version at Simcoe and Front Streets pre-dated the current structure. And of course Ontario’s First Session of Parliament convened 225 years ago in Newark – now known as Niagara-on-the-Lake – and, depending on who you talk to, the meeting took place in Navy Hall or Butler’s Barracks, the Mason’s Hall or in a tent.

The word Ontario is derived from the Huron word for “great lake” or Iroquoian word for “beautiful water”.

Sir John A. MacDonald was not only Canada’s first prime minister 150 years ago, but also the premier of Canada West (Ontario) prior to Confederation.

Ontario is Canada’s most populous province, with nearly 14 million people – half of whom live in the Golden Horseshoe around the west end of Lake Ontario.

Ontario is a province rich in diversity, history and has made so many contributions that resound around the planet. Just one example, with a connection to Haldimand County, is Cayuga native Peter Lymburner Robertson and his creation in 1908 of the screwdriver that bears his name.