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Canada’s First Artefact and its Little-Known, Patriotic Message

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By Roderick Benns

We were not prone to flowery language when this country was formed. There were no constitutional ‘declarations’ made after our quiet and amicable separation from Britain. No city was named for John A. Macdonald, as Washington D.C. was named for its first president. In fact, there were no grand gestures of nationhood on par with our southern neighbour at all, whose own identity was bound up in revolution, as my colleague David Warrick writes.

But are we, perhaps, overlooking something?

There remains a little known and little appreciated gesture from John A. Macdonald and the first government of the day. At our inauguration as the Dominion of Canada in 1867, a special medallion – large enough to cover a man’s outstretched palm – was commissioned with an inspiring message.

The ‘Confederation Medal’ was meant to commemorate the founding of the country on July 1, 1867. In Latin, the following phrase is etched on the coin: JUVENTAS ET PATRIUS VIGOR, CANADA INSTAURATA 1867.



– Image courtesy Michael Lambert

Michael E. Lambert has written a little-known but important treatise on the medallion after he happened upon one in a curiosity shop in Ottawa. He suggests in his book The Confederation Medal, 1867 that this would be a suitable rallying cry for Canada at 150 years old in 2017. Here at Leaders and Legacies, we agree.

JUVENTAS ET PATRIUS VIGOR…YOUTH AND PATRIOTIC STRENGTH. What an impressive pronouncement for the nation as it began; what a meaningful declaration for Canada as it nears its 150th birthday!

It is arguably the first artefact of Confederation and a promise, of sorts, from ‘the man who made us,’ to use Richard Gwyn’s phrase for Macdonald. For a new-born Canada, the phrase was forward looking, hopeful, and an avowal of triumph that our English and French nations came together to form a unique country, despite the tremendous challenges of developing so close to the expansionist Americans. For Canada now, it is a phrase that speaks to renewal, innovation, and inspiration.

As Lambert has pointed out, the phrase on the medallion is neither French nor English, but in Latin. It thus symbolizes Macdonald’s attempt to reach beyond linguistic rivalries and place the new nation on a safe, firm, and confident footing.

Canada’s first government had precisely 551 medallions made – 500 bronze, 50 silver, and one gold. The imagery on the medallion, created by Joseph Wyon, the leading medallist of the time, is striking. On one side there is no surprise – an image of Queen Victoria prevails. However, on the reverse side of the medallion, things get interesting.

Britannia is personified as “an armed goddess with trident and shield, wearing a centurion’s helmet, strong and valiant” as Lambert writes. The four maidens opposite Britannia represent the four provinces. Ontario, symbolized by a sickle and sheaf, is a nod to agriculture; Quebec, with a fleur-de-lis on her shoulder, grips a canoe paddle, which was then representative of commerce; Nova Scotia, with a shovel, represents mining; New Brunswick with an axe, denotes forestry.

That was Canada at its birth. Now, it’s time for Canada at 150 to be heard as well – to declare our founding message with full enthusiasm and intention. It’s time to build national pride around this passionate declaration.

A Unique Project 

JUVENTAS ET PATRIUS VIGOR…YOUTH AND PATRIOTIC STRENGTH. The Macdonald government’s inspiring message for all Canadians is a clarion call even today, as Canada gets closer to 150 years in 2017.

Leaders and Legacies wants to heed this call to action. We would welcome a strategic partner or sponsor from the business or non-profit community to help us fund the creation of original Canadian content to bring John A. Macdonald’s declaration to the forefront of Canada’s sesquicentennial.

We propose to create all-new Canadian content three to five times a week based on the premise of the medallion’s message — YOUTH AND PATRIOTIC STRENGTH. The news site would be called:


Youth and Patriotic Strength

It would be found at canadainspired.com and the project would run until the end of 2017, to create new and relevant content as we take a consistent look at the medallion’s message. Essentially, we propose to break down Macdonald’s vision (YOUTH AND PATRIOTIC STRENGTH) over the course of the project’s lifespan. Nothing creates buy-in better than storytelling, especially stories that hold up a mirror to who we are.

We will:

  • conduct interviews with young Canadians from youth organizations like Cadets, Junior Achievement, Scouts Canada, and other youth groups to ask questions and write stories about what Canada means to them and how they are contributing to nation-building through their youth organization.
  • mobilize elementary and secondary school teachers to encourage students to create one minute videos about what the phrase YOUTH AND PATRIOTIC STRENGTH means to them. We could also hold a contest for this, with donated prizes from community businesses, right up to sponsored scholarships.
  • Conduct interviews with university and college students about what Canada means to them and what they would do as prime minister.
  • Interview young entrepreneurs who are contributing to Canada’s prosperity

Within these stories we will ensure we feature the voices of Aboriginal Canadians, Canadian immigrants, and youth not presently in the school system.

We will also invite well-known columnists to write about related issues from time to time and produce commentary to bring more attention to CanadaInspired.com. The site would also be conceptually connected to Leaders and Legacies where we will cross-promote the stories each day.

It’s Who We Are

JUVENTAS ET PATRIUS VIGOR…YOUTH AND PATRIOTIC STRENGTH was Macdonald’s message – Canada’s message – to all Canadians nearly 150 years ago. It is a phrase of significance, etched into our primary artefact. We were never meant to be passive recipients of the gift of nationhood, but rather its inspired custodians. This is who we are, and who we were meant to be.

Let our legacy be not only that we have survived for 150 years; let it instead be that we will continue to prosper as a caring, strong, inspiring nation capable of far greater things to come.

– To explore the idea of becoming a strategic sponsor or to partner with us for Canada Inspired, contact Leaders and Legacies here or at 905-666-1249.





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