One of the most interesting symbolic aspects of Ontario's parliamentary regalia and ceremonial tradition lies in the presence of the Mace, and the long and colourful history it represents.
As an artifact, the Mace dates to medieval times, when it was a club-like weapon. This club, often iron-tipped or spiked, was carried into battle by martial bishops who were forbidden to use swords or other blood-letting arms. Gradually, the Mace became a symbol of authority rather than an instrument of law enforcement. During the 13th century, in England, Sergeants-at-Arms attending upon and guarding the King, carried royal Maces as a sign of domestic security.
It is probable that the Mace assumed its symbolic place in the regalia of the British Parliament sometime during the 14th century. Originally, it represented the authority of the Crown, as carried out by Members of Parliament. More recently, in Canada as in Britain, it has come to be associated with the authority of the Speaker. While the Speaker is officiating over the House, the Mace must be in its proper place on the Table before him. No business may be conducted in the House unless the Mace is present.
The Sergeant-at-Arms, a representative of Royal authority, is the traditional custodian of the Mace. At each sitting of the House, before prayers are read, the Sergeant, carrying the Mace on his right shoulder, precedes the Speaker to the Chamber (This is the Speaker's Procession). When the Speaker takes the Chair, the Mace is gently placed on the Table of the House with its "crown" pointing toward the Government of the day. If the entire House goes into committee, the Mace is removed by the Sergeant-at-Arms and placed on two brackets under the Table. It is returned to the Table top only when the Speaker resumes his Chair. Finally, when the Speaker leaves the Chamber in cases of adjournment, the Sergeant-at-Arms again precedes him, bearing the Mace ceremoniously on his shoulder.
The first Mace of Ontario graced the Chamber of Upper Canada's first Parliament in 1792 at Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake). It is made of pine or fir, gilded, and painted red in parts. The arches of the crown are fashioned from four thin strips of brass, and its crudely carved wooden bonnet is painted red. This Mace later travelled with the Parliament of Upper Canada when it moved to York (Toronto).
It was captured by the Americans during the War of 1812, not to return home until 1934, under special good-will orders of President F.D. Roosevelt and the United States Congress. Restored to its rightful place, visitors to Queen’s Park may view this provincial treasure in the main lobby of the Legislative Building. In addition to being an important historic artifact for Ontario, the first Mace can still be used in the House today if needed. It was recently brought back into the Legislature for five weeks in early 2009 while the current Mace was being refurbished.
From 1813 to 1841, little is known of Upper Canada's Mace. No record of its purchase or its whereabouts has ever been traced. In 1845, however, a new Mace was purchased, at a cost of $500. It was five feet long, silver and gilded, and elaborately decorated with gems and pearls. A facsimile of the one used in the British House of Commons, it also displayed an engraved rose, thistle, harp and shamrock.
This second Mace also had a stirring history. In 1849, it was stolen by a riotous mob in Montreal, apparently intent upon destroying it in a public demonstration. Fortunately it was rescued and returned to the Speaker, Sir Allan Macnab, the next day. Later, in 1854, the Mace was twice rescued when the Parliament Buildings in Quebec were ravaged by fire. The Mace continued to be used by the Union Parliament in Toronto and Quebec until Confederation, when it was taken to Ottawa, where it remained in the House of Commons until 1916. When the Parliament Buildings were gutted by fire during that year, Ontario's second Mace could not be saved. All that remained was a tiny ball of silver and gold conglomerate.
The third Mace, now used by the Legislature at Queen's Park, was made for the first opening of the Provincial Legislature at the time of Confederation in 1867. It was provided by Charles E. Zollikofer of Ottawa for $200. Although it is modest in comparison with the second Mace, it is, nevertheless, very impressive. Made of copper and richly gilded, the Mace displays a flattened ball at the butt end, which is decorated with raised ornamental leaves. The cup at the opposite end of the four-foot Mace is surmounted by the crown and is adorned in gleaming brass leaves.
This Mace originally bore the crown of Queen Victoria and her monogram, V.R., on the cup. When she was succeeded by Edward VII in 1901, this crown was removed and a new one bearing Edward's initials on the cup was installed. Through some careful detective work on the part of Legislative Assembly staff, the original cup was recently found in the Royal Ontario Museum’s collection and returned to the Legislature. It is now on display in the Legislative Building.
In 2009, two diamonds were installed in the Mace as part of the ‘Mine to Mace’ project. The diamonds were a gift to the people of Ontario from De Beers Canada to mark the opening of the Victor Mine near Attawapiskat in northern Ontario. Three diamonds were selected from the first run of the mine. Two stones, one rough and one polished, were set in platinum in the crown of the Mace while the third stone, also polished, was put on exhibit in the lobby of the Legislative Building as part of a display about the history of the Mace.
The ‘Mine to Mace’ project was realized through a partnership that included the Attawapiskat First Nation, Corona Jewellers, Crossworks Manufacturing, De Beers Canada, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, Reena Ahluwalia, jewellery artist; and Vale Inco. In addition to the installation of the diamonds, the third Mace was repaired, restored and re-introduced in the Chamber on March 24, 2009.
In these modern times, the Mace is more than an object of ceremonial beauty. It represents the dignity and richness of Ontario's parliamentary tradition, and the significance of the past in shaping the present.