Dal says its symbol of authority reflects colonialism and it wants it replaced

Dalhousie University wants to shed a ceremonial symbol of authority it says reflects European colonial values by replacing the mace used at the school's convocation ceremonies.

The current mace, which measures 1.4 metres and is made of oak, silver and enamel, has been carried to the stage to begin convocation ceremonies since 1950. It is carved with symbols representing Lord Dalhousie, medieval scholars and references to the European colonization of North America.

But that kind of depiction is out of step with Dalhousie's student body, according to Dalhousie Art Gallery curator Peter Dykhuis, who said the mace has no representation or honour for Indigenous culture.

"It really reflects European values, particularly … a very British set of values," he said. "And it also does represent a weapon of sorts."

Dykhuis is chair of a committee "revisioning" the mace. Its aim is to gather ideas for a ceremonial object that better reflects the diversity of Dalhousie and Canada. The university wants a new symbol by the 2018 convocation, which coincides with Dalhousie's 200th anniversary.

Symbol used in universities, politics

Maces were originally developed as a medieval battle weapon, said Dykhuis. "To put it very sharply and bluntly, the sharp end was for gouging and the larger end was for bashing."

While the mace was replaced by bladed weapons in the 12th and 13th century, it was reborn in the 16th and 17th centuries as a symbol of state authority.

"The sergeant-at-arms would be carrying this retired weapon as a symbolic protection of royalty and other state leaders that would be processing behind him," Dykhuis said. "It indicates safety in the house."

Dalhousie isn't the only institution that has a ceremonial mace. Canada's House of Commons and Nova Scotia's legislature both have maces, which represent the authority of the speaker. 

Submissions process

The Dalhousie mace includes a sea nymph calling across the water, an image that represents the "impulse" to sail to westward, Dykhuis said. The are also references to the Mayflower plant, which symbolizes both Nova Scotia and "the flowering of a new civilisation in the province."

The mace committee struck to review submissions for a new ceremonial object consists of representatives from the Mi'kmaq and African-Nova Scotian communities, along with students and other Dalhousie community members.

The current round of submissions closes April 10. From there, the jury will select five finalists to provide detailed submissions.

"I think [Dalhousie] is taking very much a leadership role in rethinking what the old symbols mean," said Dykhuis. "We are really excited about replacing it with something that reflects our current landscape and culture of inclusivity and diversity."