The mace: What’s old is new at UNB

The Mace

The brainchild of Colin B. Mackay, UNB’s most history-conscious president, UNB’s mace was a gift from Chancellor Fredrik S. Eaton, who served from 1993-2003. 

The creation of the mace was a combination of serendipity and careful planning. 

In 1995, S.A.H. Bridge, the great-great-grandson of Sir Howard Douglas, gave a George II two-handled silver cup to the university.  Standing almost a foot tall and weighing nearly four pounds, the distinctively engraved cup was once part of a collection of silverware presented to Sir Howard by the people of New Brunswick when he returned to England after serving as lieutenant-governor of the province from 1823 to 1831.

This donation was particularly fitting as Sir Howard had also played a significant role in the university, which was then known as the College of New Brunswick.  He persuaded the British government to grant it a Royal charter, transforming it into King’s College, and to provide half the funding to construct what is now the oldest university building still in use as a university building — now aptly named Sir Howard Douglas Hall.

The cup, hallmarked LONDON 1737, is predated by its cover, which bears a 1728 hallmark.  The armorial bearing on the upper half of the cup and the crest and motto on the cover are those of Douglas of Kirkness, County Kinross, Sir Howard’s family.

Capitalizing on this valuable artifact, Dr. Eaton commissioned New Brunswick artisan Michiel Oudemans to design and fashion a staff for the cup, which together would serve as the much belated mace.  Crafted from butternut, a rare wood indigenous to the province, the staff features elements of the UNB coat of arms and symbols of New Brunswick: a book of learning, beavers (in honour of Lord Beaverbrook), a galley, fiddleheads and Atlantic salmon.

The mace is held aloft by then University Secretary Stephen Strople during the official opening of the Spring Convocation ceremony in Saint John in May 2008 For the past 14 years, the mace, symbolizing the university’s authority to grant degrees, has been proudly borne by the University Secretary in all manner of ceremonies.  At graduations, it precedes the chancellor and lieutenant-governor in the academic procession and is placed on its ceremonial stand on the stage once the chancellor has formally agreed to commence the proceedings.

With its creation, UNB joins many other venerable organizations — including the Canadian Parliament, U.S. House of Representatives, the House of Lords, churches and universities around the world — in observing the important symbolism and millennial tradition of the ceremonial mace.