Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada

Forms of Commemoration

6. Specific Guidelines: Forms of Commemoration

6.1 Monuments Not Owned by the Department
6.2 Distinctive Monuments
6.3 Quality and Content of Plaque Inscriptions
6.4 The Use of Non-Official Language on Commemorative Plaques
6.5 Consultation on Commemorative Plaque Texts
6.6 Style and Layout of Plaque Inscriptions
6.7 Dual or Multiple Plaquing of a Designation

6.1 Monuments Not Owned by the Department

In October 1967:

The Board reviewed the proposal of the Montmagny?L'Islet Historic Monuments Society, requesting federal assistance for a monument to Étienne?Pascal Taché. Considerable discussion ensued on the Department's monuments [guidelines]. The Board then passed the following resolution:

The Board as a policy does not recommend that the Minister contribute to the construction of monuments not owned or built by the Department, and further, recommends that in those cases in which the Department builds a monument, the Department should determine and control the design.

The above guideline was reiterated by the Board at its June 1985 meeting.

Return to Top Return to top of page

6.2 Distinctive Monuments

In June 1968, the Board recommended the following:

The Criteria Committee of the Board has had under consideration the future [guidelines] that should be followed with respect to distinctive monuments. It makes the following recommendations:

1) It is essential, for the future guidance of the Board, that precise and more restrictive principles should govern the choice of such monuments;

2) The Board believes that in the vast majority of cases the desire for a distinctive monument could and should be satisfied by a slight modification to the existing setting of the standard plaque. Where practical and appropriate, the design of the setting could be varied so as to represent the achievement of the person or the nature of the event to be commemorated, and in a manner suitable to the location;

3) Where existing standard plaques or settings must be replaced, the principles given in (2) above should be borne in mind;

4) With respect to distinctive and more elaborate monuments the Board believes that even its limited experience has indicated the many and serious problems involved. In the light of that experience it seems clear that those subjects selected for such commemoration should be few in number and should, in the opinion of the Board be either persons of quite exceptional importance, especially outstanding or unique fields of significant endeavour, or events which would be nationally regarded as turning points of decisive importance in Canadian history.

The Committee then considered what guidelines should be followed by the [Program] in respect to the design of distinctive and elaborate monuments, and recommended that the following considerations should be borne in mind:

a) The National Historic Sites [Directorate] should be leaders in the field of designing distinctive monuments, and should not be slaves to tradition. Designs in all cases should be distinguished and exciting and not second?rate or banal, and landscaping should always be carefully planned.

b) The [Directorate] should, in the choice of sculptors, be guided by the advice of the Directors of the National Gallery of Canada and of the leading government-operated gallery in the province concerned, and of the Board member in that province.

c) The type and design of the monument in each instance will vary according to the person or event to be commemorated, the theme to be emphasized, the location of the monument and any special local circumstances that have to be taken into consideration.

d) Generally the design will not be completely abstract and should be able to convey to the average member of the public some feeling of the theme to be emphasized in connection with the person or event.

e) The most important audience to reach in every instance is the younger generation, for whom Canadian history must be made to live in all its excitement and significance.

Return to Top Return to top of page

6.3 Quality and Content of Plaque Inscriptions

In June 1988, the Board, following discussion, accepted the following recommendations regarding plaque inscriptions.

The Board first stated that it believed that the primary purpose of its plaques was to educate and it followed, therefore, that plaque inscriptions should be above all else informative. With this in mind, the Board put forward a number of specific recommendations to serve as guidelines when drafting plaque inscriptions:

1) a plaque inscription must state clearly why the subject of commemoration is of national significance;

2) an attempt should be made to put a human face on all inscriptions, in order to make them understandable to a general audience;

3) appealing words and phrases (e.g., Alegendary character@) should be used in inscriptions when appropriate, as they add colour and tend to make the text more memorable;

4) when possible the title of the plaque should be used to convey information B this information need not be repeated in the text;

5) if in the title, birth and death dates should not be repeated in the text;

6) dates should be used judiciously in texts and be inserted only when relevant;

7) texts dealing with architecture should, whenever possible, have a historical anchor;

8) architects and architectural firms need not be identified in an inscription if they are not of some prominence in their own right.

In November 1997, the Board further added:

that in preparing inscriptions, staff should ensure that the first sentence clearly indicate the reason for national significance. Further, national significance must be a single, compelling justification and not a layering of many unrelated items, none of which on its own would constitute grounds for national significance.

Return to Top Return to top of page

6.4 The Use of Non-Official Language on Commemorative Plaques

In June 2000, a report was presented to the Board on the use of non-official languages on commemorative plaques. The Board approved the following guidelines:

  • The Board may recommend the use of non-official languages when the national historic significance of the subject makes it appropriate to do so.
  • Inscriptions which include non-official languages must conform to the Official Languages Act and the AFederal Identity Program Policy@ with respect to precedence of English and French, and bilingual HSMBC corporate signature.
  • Additional languages appear with the official languages on one plaque. In exceptional circumstances the Board may recommend separate, non? official language plaques. Such plaques will be erected with the bilingual plaque and will carry the Board's bilingual corporate signature.
  • Non-official language inscriptions will be written according to the same linguistic standards as the official languages.

Return to Top Return to top of page

6.5 Consultation on Commemorative Plaque Texts

Since 1993, commemorative plaque texts have been sent to appropriate groups and/or individuals for comments or "vetting" before being reviewed by either the Inscriptions Committee or the full Board.

The vetting process provides stakeholders with the opportunity to verify historical facts and to offer their perspective for the text. While the Inscriptions Committee and the Board give every consideration to vettors' comments, not all comments may be incorporated into the final text.

The Board adopted the following guidelines in June 2000 and made modifications in November 2001. The final version reads:

  • A Board plaque commemorates a person, place or event of national historic importance. It has a commemorative objective defined by the Board, and from a technical point of view, it must conform to a standard length.
  • The text, usually in its first sentence, must clearly indicate the reason for national historic significance, as described in the Board Minutes.
  • The authorship of the plaque text lies with the Board, and final approval of the text is given by the full Board.
  • The Board seeks consistency in style, tone and arrangement of its plaque inscriptions; vettors are therefore discouraged from making comments on these matters.
  • A report of the vettors' comments is included with the text when it is submitted to the Inscriptions Committee for review.

Return to Top Return to top of page

6.6 Style and Layout of Plaque Inscriptions

In June 2001, the Board approved the proposed plaque design and editing guidelines as follows:

  • Textual material should be written for a high school reading level.
  • A dynamic writing style should be used as opposed to a documentary style, which is more suited for a specialized audience.
  • Titles for plaque inscriptions should be brief, simple and set out in distinctive type, using familiar and descriptive language, designed to draw the readers attention.
  • Length of text should be limited to a maximum of 500 characters in each language in order to attract and retain reader attention.
  • Plaque inscriptions should be divided into three short paragraphs. Each paragraph should begin with a larger capital letter than the capital letters used in the text.
  • A line of text should have at least 45 characters and not more than 55 to 65 characters to facilitate scanning the information.
  • Type style should be a serif character which helps to clearly delineate each letter. Goudy font meets this requirement and in addition, offers the proper combination of height, width and thickness of character to enhance text readability.
  • The font size for the body of a plaque text should be between 40 and 45 points, with 60 points for the title and 40 points for the sub-title.
  • Factors such as spacing between letters, lines and paragraphs facilitate scanning, as well as left and right text justification.

Return to Top Return to top of page

6.7 Dual or Multiple Plaquing of a Designation

In December 2002, the Board approved these guidelines as follows:
Under normal circumstances, a single plaque will be erected for each person, event, or site designated of national historic significance. In rare instances, a dual or multiple plaquing of a designation may be considered as an option:

  • where two or more discrete locations are explicitly and meaningfully associated or identified with a national historic person, and are integrally related to the national historic significance of the person; or
  • where there are two or more discrete locations in different regions that are explicitly and meaningfully associated with a national historic event, and that played an integral part in establishing its national historic significance; or
  • where there are two or more distinct components or phases of a national historic event that played an integral part in establishing its national historic significance, and are essential in conveying national historic significance; and that are directly associated with different locations; or
  • where the significance of a national historic event resides in its great geographical extent and impact on two or more regions, and its national historic significance can be conveyed in a substantially more explicit and meaningful manner by marking its geographical extent; or
  • where the configuration of a national historic site is such that it would render the commemoration substantially more explicit and meaningful.

For national historic events that encompass great geographical extent, only one plaque should be erected in any one region or province.