Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Speech on the Occasion of the Order of Canada Investiture
Ottawa, Saturday, October 30, 2004
I'm so happy to have you here at Rideau Hall for this terrific and truly Canadian ceremony, in which 46 outstanding citizens will be joining their peers in the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honour that our country can give.
As Chancellor and Principal Companion of the Order, it will be my duty and honour to present the snowflake symbol that designates them as Members, Officers, or Companions of the Order of Canada. The office of the Governor General has evolved a great deal over the last 150 years, but one of the things that has not changed – whose emphasis has only been strengthened – is the tie between the Governor General's function and excellence. In 1873, Lord and Lady Dufferin began the Governor General's Medals for Academic Excellence, which are still being given out – some 3000 of them a year. You'll be happy to know that many of the young people who stand first in high school, university or graduate school still care enough about it to write rather beautiful letters. They thank us for it and say how much it means to them, as they move on to the next stage of their lives.
Then, Lord Tweedsmuir, the novelist John Buchan, started the Literary Awards in 1937; we will be giving those out in a couple of weeks. They've grown in size and importance, starting out as an English fiction prize and then expanding over the years to embrace non-fiction, drama, children's literature and illustration, translation, and poetry, all in both languages. Also, there are medals named in honour of Vincent Massey, our first Canadian Governor General, and for Roland Michener, particularly the Michener Awards for Journalism. There's hardly any part of our country's activities that is not recognized by an honour administered through this office or in memory of its former holders.
And the idea did not meet with universal approval. Some worried that it was elitist, or that it did not suit our temperament or our sedate ways of building democracy and equality. Some might even have been concerned that there wasn't enough excellence to go around! It was not until 1967, a turning point of national maturity and pride, that the third Canadian Governor General, Roland Michener, welcomed the first Canadians into the Order. Among them were Vincent Massey, Louis St. Laurent, Hugh MacLennan, Father David Bauer, Gabrielle Roy, Donald Creighton, Thérèse Casgrain, Wilder Penfield, Arthur Lismer, and Maurice Richard.
Laureates, this is the legacy of the Order. Among its 3000 living members remain a few of the first laureates, such as Pierrette Alarie, Maureen Forrester, and the Cape Dorset artist Kenojuak. As we call your fellow recipients to their moment of honour, and as we enjoy the reception that is to follow, you will see the extraordinary company that you now keep! You will see that the Canadian approach to equity and justice is not an invitation to blandness. Today, we celebrate the initiative, drive and astonishing talent that, to the ongoing surprise of some, are among our most important national characteristics.
As many of you know, I returned last night from Italy, where we commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Italian Campaign during the Second World War. I went there as Governor General, but also as Commander-in-Chief of the Canadian Forces, to make sure that nobody ever forgets that nearly 100,000 Canadians participated in that campaign. Over 25,000 suffered casualties and nearly 6,000 are buried there.
We went to Cassino, which many remember for its Benedictine abbey that was destroyed by bombing. It has now been completely rebuilt, and so wonderfully that you would not know that it is new. At Monte Cassino, we suffered enormous losses, together with our allies, trying to take this small mountain. The terror, the grief, the heroism of that time is something we should always remember. You cannot belong to this Order, whose members "desire a better country", without knowing of the sacrifices that have been made for you and for all of us.
Ortona, because of the terrible battle fought there, is less a geographic place than something that is written in our hearts. We went to the cemetery at Moro River. There are 1,375 graves, all with maple leaves on them. There was no good reason, in hindsight, to have the battle there. The Germans had dug themselves into a perfect defensive position and were determined to hold it, and so the Canadians were determined to take it. The terrain along that coast is all mountains going down to the sea; everywhere there's a crevice between them, there's a river; every river had to be crossed before climbing up over another mountain and down the other side. Each side was defended ferociously and bravely by Germans.
Nobody in Ortona has ever forgotten what Canadians did. There is a museum which is really dedicated to us, to Canadian bravery, determination and, particularly, to doing one's duty when called upon to do it. And it's not at all wonderful at the time.
As I looked at the veterans who were with us – I went over with about 50 of them and others joined us there, their average age between 83 and 84 – I thought, "They have all lived through this." I just want to read something written by Farley Mowat, who won the Governor General's Award for the best memoir of that campaign, called And No Birds Sang:
"My whole being screamed resistance. Three times we were pinned, grovelling in the mud, before we reached the river and struggled through its icy waters. On the far shore we fell into a slimy ditch with the survivors of one of Charley Company's platoons. We tried to find out from them what was happening, but nobody knew. The German counter-barrage had by then become so heavy that platoons and even sections were isolated and out of communication with one another, cowering into the muck as almost continuous explosions leapt about them.
"My memory of that return must be akin to what a drowning man feels during the endless, agonizing moments when he is sinking slowly into the depths. My chest felt crushed and I was gasping for air by the time we reached the road which climbed the south slope. We were in full view of the Germans opposite. We had not gone fifty feet when they bracketed us with a salvo of Eighty-eights."
I always look through the cemeteries, whether at Juno Beach, Normandy or in Italy, for headstones that have a few little rocks on the top of them, meaning that somebody Jewish was buried there. In Ortona, I found one for a man whose name was Sterling. He died at the age of 23. There were a few veterans there from the Royal Canadian Regiment who said: "You have to come to see 'Casa Sterling'. He defended it with some of us, and that's where he was killed."
I thought, how fascinating! At a time when Jews were suffering in Europe and when we in our country – let's not mistake or forget this – did not exactly have open immigration or welcome Jews into all professions, there was this man, at that age, giving his life. We have to think of his parents, who probably had great hopes for him – maybe to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher – and who had to receive that telegram.
Being with the veterans made me understand what it is to really desire a better country. It means being the kind of Canadian who understands that we have come to maturity through a lot of sacrifice. We owe our lives today to people like them, and we owe to them our ability to be part of the creativity that we celebrate today.
And what a lot of creativity and accomplishment! We have Vi Warren, who flew Spitfires during the Second World War. We have Joni Mitchell, whose voice and songs ring within us. We have Martin Friedland, who is a great scholar, among our brightest legal minds.
When we call these people "visionary", when we call them "builders" and "innovators", we are admiring the excellence they have achieved. We are also—or we should be!—allowing ourselves and encouraging our fellow citizens to follow their examples. What is our role? Where can we make a difference? How can we "desire a better country"?
I know that you are here today, not only because of your own accomplishments, which are extraordinary, interesting, different – all of those things at once, perhaps – but also because other people believed in you. The way we look at life is inspired, in a general way, by others. For example, we are inspired by our own Canadian soldiers – those who gave their lives, those who served their countries for four or five or many more years.
But in very particular ways, you were inspired by somebody who believed in you, who thought you could do it and who told you so, who helped you feel that you were not alone in your desire to do something different, to push ahead, to be what you were meant to be. When you think about your mentor, you know that you, too, can pass on some of that understanding, some of that grace, some of that love, to somebody else.
Aristotle said, "Dignity lies not in possessing honours" – as you do today – "but in deserving them." I know that you do deserve them.