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Chains of office

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London Free Press Business Section:


Chains of office

The mayoral adornments are pomp and ceremony embodied, enduring symbols of municipal leadership.
DEBORA VAN BRENK, Free Press Regional Reporter   2004-01-02 04:14:58  

In London, it rests in a locked case at city hall when not adorning the mayor's shoulders for official and ceremonial events. In Sarnia, it hangs around the neck of a stuffed kangaroo -- unless worn by some proud child named mayor for a day.

Whether viewed with deference or indifference, a mayor's chain of office is an enduring symbol of municipal leadership.

You'll see it at council meetings, ribbon cuttings, sod turnings and visits from the Queen.

It is pomp and ceremony cast in gold and stitched on a velvet ribbon.

Mayors come and go, administrators are hired and retired, but the chain of office endures.

"It becomes not just a symbol but a piece of history, too," says Ken Spink of Dominion Regalia Ltd., which made London's chain of office.

A whole host of new mayors in the region entered 2004 wearing a chain of office for the first time.

Such is its symbolism that wearing a chain inappropriately can draw scorn and derision.

Recently, the Houston, B.C., chain of office was a prop -- the only prop -- when a newly elected mayor posed naked for a private photo in council chambers. The mayor's action sparked outrage from some, who believed she had violated the decorum properly due the chain.

Retired Toronto mayor Mel Lastman was (so far as we know) always clothed when he wore his chain, but never did wear it properly, Spink said. It's supposed to be balanced over the shoulders, not dangled from the neck.

Closer to home, London Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said she wears the chain at every official opportunity. "Little kids who don't know what it is think it's a big necklace and wonder if it's heavy."

And yes, though it's only a kilogram or so, it does weigh heavily on her shoulders at times.

Woodstock Mayor Michael Harding was so concerned about maintaining the proper respect for the chain, he would not touch it until his official swearing-in ceremony.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley doesn't touch his much either.

"I've never worn it," Bradley says. "I just felt it was very pompous and it didn't reflect my style and it still doesn't."

Spink said the chain of office is a long-held British tradition, although "the Americans think it's very funny."

Each municipality's chain is different: Most have a main medallion with the local seal or coat of arms. Bars and medals generally adorn the rest of the collar, which is most often made of royal blue or burgundy velvet.


A large medallion shows the city's coat of arms, suspended below a Union Jack. In mirror image beside the Union Jack are peonies, London's official flower. Above these, the coat of arms of Canada. Above these, the maple leaf, symbol of Canada; above these, a maple tree symbolizing London as the Forest City. The Ontario coat of arms hangs just below London's original coat of arms from 1840. At top centre is a medallion of a rose, chosen possibly for esthetic reasons to balance the Union Jack. Between the medallions are bars engraved with names of mayors since the chain's creation in 1957.


Donated by Polymer Corp. in 1963. A simple motif shows the city crest on the main medallion. This includes a boat, reflecting its link to water, and sheaves of wheat representing an agricultural base. There's a provincial crest above it. Former mayor Marceil Saddy wore the chain so often, he actually left money in his will to fix it up.


The chain, now under repair, is a Canadian centennial project of the now-defunct Woodstock Jaycees. The main medallion is Woodstock's coat of arms: the harp, representing Ireland, and two lions representing England and Scotland. There's a medallion with a centennial emblem and the Ontario coat of arms. Four other emblems are supposed to be on the chain, but some are missing and it is unknown exactly what they were: a plow, representing agriculture; either boxes or bricks, symbolizing industry (missing); either wheat sheaves or a barrel (missing); and beavers (missing). Above the medallion are a gavel and a sceptre.


New in 1999, when Chatham-Kent came into being. The centre medallion has a crest with a riderless grey horse of Kent (part of the county's former coat of arms) superimposed on a red maple leaf. Sheaves of wheat and two ears of corn symbolize agricultural heritage. The chain features one crest for each of the 23 municipalities that were melded into one when Chatham-Kent amalgamated.

St. Thomas

One of the more detailed chains in the region, it's made of gold and silver. Donated to the city by the Jaycees in 1967 as a centennial project. Has the 1970s version of the city coat of arms -- including carpenter square representing St. Thomas, patron saint of builders, and a seven-spoked wheel representing seven townships of Elgin County -- with the city seal on the obverse. Medallions affixed to the chain include: Canadian centennial symbol; first church built in St. Thomas in 1822; family coat of arms of the community's founder, Col. Thomas Talbot; rose signifying title of "flower city" bestowed in 1914; sheaf of wheat, a farming symbol; Caduceus symbol recalling Ontario's first medical school, built here in 1824; train representing the long tradition of railroading. The final medallion is Ontario coat of arms. The mayors' names are on bars between the medallions.


The county coat of arms is the main medallion hanging from the chain. On the velvet part of the chain are elements drawn from the coat of arms. Many are also inspired by Middlesex of England, such as three daggers, implements of war carried by the English as early as the fifth century. Other elements include a beaver, symbolizing patience and industry; a plow and sheaves of wheat representing agriculture; and a maple leaf.

Copyright © The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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