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Coat of arms for Canada's Governor General nods to astronaut past

October 6, 2017

— As a Canadian astronaut, Julie Payette had mission patches to represent her spaceflights and her personal journey. As Canada's Governor General, she now has a new symbol of her achievements — a coat of arms.

Appointed by Queen Elizabeth II and formally sworn in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Canada's 29th Governor General in Ottawa on Monday (Oct. 2), Payette serves as the Queen's representative, as well as the commander-in-chief of the Canadian Armed Forces.

"Many Canadians already know much of the story of Her Excellency's life," said Trudeau of Payette, in a statement for her inauguration. "As the second Canadian woman in space and only the fourth woman Governor General, Her Excellency has been and continues to be a trailblazer and an inspiration for all of us."

Julie Payette's coat of arms. Click to enlarge and view video in a pop-up window. (Rideau Hall)

Selected as a Canadian Space Agency astronaut in 1992, Payette flew on two NASA space shuttle missions to the International Space Station, STS-96 in 1999 and STS-127 in 2009. She was the first Canadian to visit the station, and in total logged more than 25 days in space.

Before her first launch, Payette worked with Quebec artist Gérard Dansereau to design a patch that represented her personal journey.

"It has a rocket on it, a small rocket, and inside the rocket there is a star, a musical note, a crescent and a rose. And on top of the rocket, there was this little blue cat," Claire Boudreau of the Canadian Heraldic Authority described in a video accompanying the debut of Payette's coat of arms. "All of the elements have tons of meaning, so I thought that this was very interesting, that already in her past she had had the occasion to see herself in a design."

Like Payette's personal mission patch, her coat of arms is also steeped in symbolism.

The hand-drawn and painted design features two lynx cats flanking a shield decorated with a crown and a feathered wing.

"When I was looking at photos of her, the way she looks at people, she has this frank and direct connection," stated Boudreau. "The animal that came into my mind, because I was looking for symbols, was the Canadian lynx."

"It has a way to look at its environment, but it's discreet at the same time, so I really liked it," she said.

Atop the shield are a musical stave (with the first notes of the second movement of composer Alessandro Marcello's "Oboe Concerto in D Minor") and an astronaut's helmet.

"What was clear to me was a desire, or acknowledgement, of the capacity of the human race — of humans — to go further, to transcend all boundaries," Boudreau explained.

The lynxes stand atop the Earth, shown without borders. A banner spanning the planet reads, "Per Aspera Ad Astra," or "Through hardship to the stars."

"I am an optimist but also a pragmatist," stated Payette in her first speech as Governor General. "It was clear, with the success of the International Space Station, that we can always do better together than on our own."

"Somehow, the International Space Station, but also big science brings us, forces us to think not in a microcosm of nationality only, but to think in terms of what we could do to advance matters and to push the boundaries of science as partners in a collective spirit, and with a peaceful intent. It's promising, isn't it?" said Payette.

Other imagery included on Payette's coat of arms include stars on the lynxes' collars, which are meant to symbolize "a spark of passion," and laurel leaves, as a subtle nod to Payette's 14-year-old son, Laurier Payette Flynn.

In addition to being used on formal documents, Payette's personal coat of arms will also be struck on the Governor General's Academic Medal, awarded in bronze, silver and gold to Canadian students who excel in their classes.


Canada's new Governor General, Julie Payette, has a new coat of arms that reflects her also being a former Canadian Space Agency astronaut. (Governor General of Canada)

Canadian Space Agency astronaut Julie Payette, seen in 1999 after her first spaceflight, wearing her personal patch. (NASA)

Governor General Julie Payette's coat of arms. Click on image for infographic explaining the design. (Governor General of Canada)

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