The Mace and Black Rod

The Mace

The Mace, the ceremonial staff the Sergeant-at-Arms carries into the Chamber at the beginning of each afternoon sitting, is the symbol of the Speaker’s and by extension the Assembly’s authority and, therefore, the authority of the Assembly to make laws on behalf of the people.

When the Assembly is sitting, the Sergeant-at-Arms places the Mace on the table with the orb and cross facing the government side of the Chamber.

The Sergeant-at-Arms moves the Mace to brackets on the underside of the table when the Speaker leaves the Chair and the Assembly sits as a committee of the whole Assembly.

 

Assembly pages drape the Mace with a heavy velvet cloth to ensure that it is hidden from view when the reigning monarch or their representative is in the Chamber.

The Mace is removed from the table during the election of the Speaker to show that the House is not fully constituted until the new Speaker takes the chair and the Mace is laid on the table.

Although the Mace has no constitutional significance, it is important as a symbol because the Assembly cannot conduct its business unless the Mace is present.

Alberta’s History

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In the excitement of becoming a province and planning for the first sitting of the Alberta Legislature

in 1906, Premier Alexander Rutherford’s government neglected to arrange for a Mace. One was hastily ordered and created in only a few weeks by Rufus E. Butterworth in the lead up to the first session of the Assembly. Alberta’s first Mace was made entirely from scrap, featuring a plumbing pipe for the shaft, a toilet tank float for the orb, ornamental decorations made from old shaving mug handles, bits of an old bedstead and other scraps of wood, a piece of red velvet and a coat of gold paint.

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The Assembly used the makeshift Mace for 50 years until it was finally replaced in 1956,

when the provincial employees’ union presented the Legislative Assembly with a new Mace to be held in trust for the people of Alberta in honour of Alberta’s 50th anniversary. The story of the makeshift Mace delighted Queen Elizabeth II during her royal visit to celebrate Alberta’s centenary in 2005, and the object graced the Chamber again in 2006 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Assembly’s first sitting.

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Alberta’s Mace is approximately three feet long and contains 200 ounces, or 5,669 grams, of sterling silver overlaid with gold.

A figure of a beaver mounted on the traditional crown adorns the top of the Mace, which features both the royal coat of arms and the Alberta coat of arms on the orb and two bison heads just below it. Wild roses and a sheaf of wheat decorate the shaft. Engravings of the same alternate on the crown, which includes seven gems and semiprecious stones, the names of which spell the word “Alberta” – amethyst, lazurite, bloodstone, emerald, ruby, topaz and agate – on its headband.

Edmontonian Lawrence B. Blain designed the Mace, and English silversmithing firm Joseph Fray Limited in Birmingham, England, built the object.

Historical Roots

Like so many other features of the Legislative Assembly, the Mace has a history going back to medieval England, where a battle mace was a metal club with a spiked head.

Gradually, the Mace became a symbol of the monarch’s authority instead of a real weapon.
 

As the Mace developed symbolic stature, its appearance changed accordingly.

The spikes and other warlike features were replaced by jewels, precious metals and other lavish decorations. The royal coat of arms became the Mace’s most important emblem and as a result increased in size and moved to its position of prominence at the top. As the monarch’s power decreased and Parliament’s grew, the Mace became Parliament’s symbol as well. The modern Mace thus represents the authority of a Parliament or Assembly as well as that of the monarch.

The Black Rod

The Black Rod is a ceremonial baton the Sergeant-at-Arms uses when accompanying the Lieutenant Governor to the Legislative Assembly on such occasions as Royal Assent or the Speech from the Throne. The Sergeant-at-Arms carries the Black Rod in lieu of the Mace when escorting the Lieutenant Governor, Governor General, a member of the Royal Family or the Sovereign to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. It represents the authority vested in the Sergeant-at-Arms to ensure the security of the people and process within the Legislative Assembly.

It was only in 1991 in Alberta that the Speaker instituted the practice of having the Sergeant-at-Arms knock on the Chamber door when the Lieutenant Governor sought permission to enter the Assembly.

Prior to 1991 a Cabinet Minister simply announced when the Lieutenant Governor would enter the Chamber. The Speaker routinely permits the Lieutenant Governor to enter the Assembly, but the tradition dictates the Assembly’s right to control its own proceedings and its own space, including the right to exclude the Queen’s representative.

Alberta’s original Black Rod was a simple length of hardwood dowel that was painted black and had brass clamped on both ends.

The Alberta-Northwest Territories Command of the Royal Canadian Legion presented the Legislative Assembly with a new, handcrafted Black Rod in 1998.

 

The shaft is made from a piece of ebony gifted by the Parliament of Sri Lanka, and within its base is set the 1905 British gold sovereign, which was a gift from the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Sterling silver features include a British lion at the top holding a golden Alberta wild rose and a band of alternating Canadian maple leaves and Alberta wild roses. The base features the engraved crest of the Royal Canadian Legion and has the gold sovereign on the bottom.

Robert Watt, then Chief Herald of Canada, designed the Assembly’s Black Rod, Calgary artisan Charles Lewton-Brain created it and John Vandenbrink, based in Edmonton, engraved Alberta’s ceremonial baton.

Historical Roots

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The Gentleman Usher in the United Kingdom today uses the Black Rod when escorting the Queen or the Queen’s representative and knocks on the House of Commons’ door three times to request the Assembly’s permission to enter the Chamber and deliver royal messages such as the summoning of the Members of the Commons to attend the Speech from the Throne. The Speaker grants permission to enter the Chamber.

Every Parliament has a Mace, but not all use a Black Rod.