This Royal Coat of Arms forms the centrepiece of the heraldic display in Hart House’s Great Hall. One of the largest such displays in Canada, it was unveiled with the opening of Hart House in 1919. The Great Hall’s south wall includes the British Royal Arms and the arms of the 51 universities in the Commonwealth at the time, and the north wall depicts the arms of 74 universities from British-allied countries during the First World War.
The Royal Arms and the 125 other shields were painted by Alexander Scott Carter, an English-born architect and artist who came to Toronto in 1912. Carter’s heraldic works can be seen at Trinity College, Soldiers’ Tower and Simcoe Hall, but the Great Hall display remains his masterpiece. The delicate raised patterns were created by layering gesso directly on the walls. Once these raised textures were finished, Carter gilded the details with gold leaf and then painted them individually.
Decades of rough treatment prompted a major restoration of the artwork in 2003. “The situation was really desperate,” says Roumen Kirinkov, of Zograph Studios in Toronto. He and his team of restorers spent more than nine weeks carefully repairing each shield on the south wall, paid for by U of T alumni and universities represented on the arms. The north wall, however, awaits donations to fund a similar restoration.