The caribou symbol is closely linked with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment but it is also a resilient icon for Newfoundland and Labrador. In the early 1900’s the majestic caribou was synonymous with Newfoundland. The first use of the caribou to represent Newfoundland can be traced back to Ferryland Governor Sir David Kirke’s coat of arms issued in 1638. Prior to World War I images of the caribou had been used in tourist brochures, picture post cards and stamps. When war broke out in 1914, the Government of Newfoundland, eager to show its patriotism, raised a battalion of infantrymen who adopted the symbolic icon as their own. After the war it was once again adopted by Padre Thomas Nangle as the most suitable symbol of the Newfoundland Contingent’s sacrifices overseas and erected 5 oversized caribou’s overlooking the battlegrounds of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. In the Newfoundland War Memorial Park at Beaumont-Hamel, the bellowing caribou reminds visitors of all of Newfoundland’s losses during the war as it stands vigil over the names of our missing on both land and sea.
A copy of the battlefield caribou was used on the grounds of the Newfoundland Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley in 1924. It was used as a symbol of the British light cruiser HMS Newfoundland in WWII that was present at the surrender of Japan in Tokyo Bay. When volunteer medals were issued to Newfoundland veterans of all services in the 1980’s it was the caribou that was chosen for the obverse of the medal.
While the caribou is most closely linked with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, this iconic image of the braying caribou is an appropriate symbol to represent all Newfoundland and Labrador servicemen.
The majestic caribou that stands proudly over five Newfoundland Battlefield Memorials in France and Belgium has been re-created by sculptor Morgan MacDonald in half-size and is available to communities, organizations and corporations who wish to proudly commemorate soldiers and sailors from Newfoundland and Labrador in all conflicts.