The practice of wearing a lapel badge or rosette began with France’s Légion d’honneur.
When the United States founded its Legion of Merit in 1942, provision was made for wearing a miniature metal version of the badge as a lapel pin. Thus, Canada was adopting a blend of French and American traditions.
Lapel badges are essentially the civilian equivalent to the undress ribbons worn in uniform. The idea was introduced by Sir Conrad Swan, a Canadian who served as a Herald at the College of Arms in London. During the development of the Order of Canada, Swan discussed the idea of creating special lapel badges for members of the Order with Prime Minister Lester Pearson in September 1966. There was the additional advantage that, if recipients of the Order regularly wore their lapel badges, members of the general public would be able to recognize not only the Order but also its eminent recipients as having been honoured by the state. This sentiment was echoed by John Hodgson, the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, and it was at his insistence that the lapel pins were included as part of the Order of Canada and by extension, as part of the entire Canadian honours system as it developed through the 1970s.
All members of the Order receive a lapel pin shaped like a small snowflake enameled white. The various levels are differentiated by the colour of the maple leaf: red for Companion, gold for Officer, and silver for Member. The lapel badge is no longer made of sterling silver, and epoxy fill is now used in place of vitreous enamel.