Canadian Floral Emblems

This suite of piano solos composed by Beverley McKiver is inspired by the floral emblems of the ten provinces and three territories in Canada. The series was launched on August 9, 2020 on Facebook Premiere. A closing concert of the entire suite was presented on November 15, 2020. The videos of the performances are available on this page.

Past Concerts

August 9, 2020 – Ontario and Prince Edward Island

Trillium (Ontario)

Trilliums bloom in late April and May. There is no mistaking their white flowers with three petals and tender leaves. It is quite the sight to see a carpet of trilliums in the forest. I am blessed with some trilliums in our yard. I wrote this song in the spring as I was anxiously waiting for them to open.

Lady Slipper (Prince Edward Island)

There are several varieties of Lady Slipper across Canada. It blooms in late May and June and truly does look like a lady’s slipper. It is a member of the orchid family and is quite particular about its environment, taking several years to bloom.

I wrote this song in 2019 after a visit to the Purdon Conservation area about an hour away from Ottawa near Perth. There is a colony of thousands of lady slippers. It is a magical place to visit when they are in bloom.

August 23, 2020 – Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador

Prairie Crocus (Manitoba)

I originally wrote this piece as a duet for viola and piano for my sister’s birthday. I thought it was fitting to commemorate Manitoba’s provincial flower, since it’s short and sweet like my sister. Apparently, it’s not really a crocus, it’s related to buttercups and anemones. It blooms in early spring, welcoming early pollinators, who like to warm up in its flower. It’s also known as Pasque flower, wind flower, prairie smoke, blue tulip, ears of the earth, gosling flower. It is well-adapted to the prairie environment and has a distinctive seed head. Sadly, while it is not on the endangered list, its prairie habitat is declining and it is no longer as common as it once was.

Purple Pitcher Plant (Newfoundland and Labrador)

This interesting carnivorous flower, also welcomes insects, like the prairie crocus, but for more sinister reasons. It lives in bogs, where nutrients are poor, so it has to get its nutrients in another form. Its leaves have evolved into a pitcher shape that collects water. Once insects are attracted to the slippery sides of the pitcher by the sweet-smelling nectar, there is no way out. The leaves have downward-pointing hairs. The pitcher contains a pool of sugars and digestive enzymes which dissolve the insect quickly. Yum!

If you are a pianist, you might recognize that this piece is based on Ballade, Op. 118 No. 3 by Johannes Brahms. I have borrowed his harmonic structure and a fragment of the melody near the end.

September 6, 2020 – Alberta and Yukon

Wild Rose (Alberta)

Alberta’s provincial flower, the wild rose, conjures up the heavenly scent of summer from my childhood memories. I used to see them along the roadside when I was riding my bicycle. Their blossoms have five delicate pink petals and a yellow centre which is irresistible to bees. Their rose hips are high in vitamin C and other nutrients. There are several varieties of wild roses all across Canada. I hope that you’ve encountered these beauties, but look out for their thorns!

Fireweed (Yukon)

I am fond of this magenta-purple flower which can be found all over Canada, but seems well-suited to the rugged nature of the Yukon landscape. It is often the first plant to appear after a forest fire and spreads like wildfire. They are common in northwestern Ontario where I grew up. I would often see them when picking blueberries in clear-cut areas. It blooms in mid to late summer and has many medicinal properties.

September 20, 2020 – Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan

Mayflower (Nova Scotia)

I have been told by several people that you can perceive the fragrance of Mayflowers before you see them. It is also known as Trailing Arbutus. You may have heard the expression “April showers bring Mayflowers”. The low, spreading bush produces small white or pink blossoms in early spring. Throughout this project, I find myself wondering what the flowers have witnessed and this notion has been particularly poignant for Nova Scotia.

This song is dedicated to my friend Norma, who can trace her roots in Nova Scotia back to the tumultuous 1700s. Norma is related to Viola Desmond who graces our $10 Canadian bill. Viola was a Nova Scotia business woman who stood up against racial segregation.

Norma’s ties to Nova Scotia is only one example of the diverse communities in that province. Much of Nova Scotia’s population movement has been due to wars that echo conflicts between colonial powers. These events involved upheaval and displacement for groups of people like the Acadians who were driven from their communities. Peace and Friendship treaties were signed with Indigenous people that are still in effect today and recognized as such by the Supreme Court of Canada. Pier 21 in Halifax was the departure point for soldiers during World War II and also the entry point for many immigrants to Canada.

In my song, I’m thinking of the wandering nature of the flower and its elusive scent, but also Nova Scotia’s dramatic history.

Western Red Lily (Saskatchewan)

The Western Red Lily is a spectacular red/orange flower that makes its appearance in summer. It has six petals and the blossoms occur in clusters at the end of the stems.

This piece is dedicated to my friend Lesley, whose home territory is in Saskatchewan. Like Lesley, the Western Red Lily reminds me of a star. We usually witness flowers in the sunlight, but in this piece, I was thinking of flowers dancing in the moonlight under the stars. Lesley left us too soon, and I believe that she is dancing in the stars.

October 4, 2020 – Northwest Territories

Mountain Avens (Northwest Territories)

The mountain avens is a low, spreading shrub of the rose family. It’s found in higher altitudes on rocky slopes and blooms from June to July. It has eight white petals with a yellow centre.

It is in the plant genus called Dryas. The seed heads of the plants in this genus reminded scientist Carl Linnaeus of the mythological dryads or wood nymphs. Paleo-ecologists use the fossils of Dryas plants to study shifts in climate change. The Mountain Avens flowers track the movement of the sun across the sky to maximize the amount of sunlight reaching their stamens.

October 18, 2020 – Quebec and New Brunswick

Blue Flag Iris (Quebec)

The elegant Blue Flag Iris blooms from late May to early July. Their blooms have three petals and three sepals ranging in colour from light mauve to dark blue-purple. The flowers are marked with purple veins leading to a splash of white and yellow in the centre. These beauties can be found in damp woodlands and meadows and along shorelines from Manitoba to the Atlantic provinces. They attract pollinators to their pollen and nectar, but the roots are highly toxic. Blue Flag Iris is dedicated to Joyce Echaquan.

Purple Violet (New Brunswick)

Raise your hand if you’ve ever picked a tiny springtime bouquet of these irresistible little blossoms with heart-shaped leaves. It is also known as the Marsh Blue Violet and true to its name, likes to grow in damp areas. It spreads easily and is readily recognized in several provinces.

I’ve also looked to the chickadee, New Brunswick’s provincial bird, for inspiration in this song. In early spring, you can hear their two note calls and their chickadee-dee-dee song is heard year-round.

This song is dedicated to my friend Wendy. She kindly shared memories of her childhood in New Brunswick, fog from the Bay of Fundy, exploring the woods and finishing the day with a well-loved song on the record player.

November 1, 2020 – British Columbia and Nunavut

Pacific Dogwood (British Columbia)

The Pacific Dogwood is a medium-sized shrub or tree that blooms from April to June and sometimes a second time in September. The flowers are actually four to six white leaves that enclose tiny green flowers in the centre. These blooms show up well against the dark greenery. En masse, their display is spectacular. The flowers become berries that are loved by the birds. My composition was also inspired by British Columbia’s provincial animal, the Kermode bear, sometimes known as the spirit bear. They are a subspecies of black bear that has white fur due to a rare genetic trait. They are found mostly on the central and north coast of British Columbia. Pacific Dogwoods are found on the southern coast of BC and Vancouver Island. It’s unclear to me whether they share realms, but this piece is my imagining of what it might be like if they did.

Purple Saxifrage/Aupiluktunnguat (Nunavut)

In Inuktitut, the Inuit language, the territorial flower is called “Aupilaktunnguat”. In English, it is called Purple Saxifrage. I want to say nakurmik/thank you to my colleague Ashley who lives in Iqaluit, for helping me with the pronunciation of “aupilaktunnguat”. She told me that the name describes seeing red spots in the snow, when you are approaching the flowers from a distance.

It is one of the first plants to flower in the Arctic spring. It grows on rocky ground. The bright pink to purple flower is small but they bloom densely in mats. The flowers are edible and make a sweet, floral scented tea with a pink hue.

November 15, 2020 – Closing Concert

I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Digital Originals initiative funded by the Canada Council.